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Architecture and History Inventory
53 E MERRILL AVE | Property Record | Wisconsin Historical Society
Historic Name:St. Mary's Catholic Church
Other Name:St. Mary's Catholic Church
Reference Number:54583
Location (Address):53 E MERRILL AVE
County:Fond du Lac
City:Fond du Lac
Unincorporated Community:
Quarter Section:
Quarter/Quarter Section:
Year Built:1902
Survey Date:2010
Historic Use:church
Architectural Style:Neogothic Revival
Structural System:
Wall Material:Limestone
Architect:H. Messmer & Son
Other Buildings On Site:0
Demolished Date:
Additional Information:Previously surveyed in 1991.

1991: This fine church building is constructed of limestone and features a steeply-pitched gable roofline with a cupola and corner square towers. The towers and walls of the church are decorated with stepped buttresses. The towers feature battlements, stone corbelling, and stone belt courses and trim. The larger tower also features an oriel with battlements. There are numerous openings in the building, most of them are round-arched and filled with stained glass. A fine rose window is set into the main gable end and is decorated with a round arch. The main entrance is round-arched with a frontispiece of gable and pilasters.

The main feature of the style consists of the round arched openings, and like the Gothic Revival churches in Fond du Lac, the building features towers and buttresses as well. The limestone construction is also outstanding.

St. Mary's Catholic Church is an offshoot of the founding Catholic congregation in Fond du Lac, St. Joseph's Catholic Church. Mostly German-speaking Catholics formed this congregation in 1854, but did not complete a church until 1866. In 1902, this church was built for the congregation, who also established a parochial school in 1887.

2010-2011 Intensive Survey Info:
The St. Mary's property consists of the 1902 church (AHI#54583), along with a 1911/1964 (addition) rectory wing to the rear (93 Marquette Street; AHI#207141); a 1949 school (AHI#54586), a 1955 convent (92 Amory Street, AHI#207101); and a 1948 grotto to St. Mary/Fatima Shrine (AHI#207121). Also located across the street at 70 E. Merrill Avenue, is the is the former convent (AHI#54587).

Regarding the church, it is Neo-Gothic Revival in style and is sheathed with Fond du Lac limestone quarried in nearby Knowles and trimmed with Indiana Bedford limestone. The structure is anchored at its southeast corner by a 90-foot tower that provides for an entrance along its Marquette Street elevation; a crenelated parapet and buttressing embellish the tower. A second tower flanks the primary, Merrill Street entrance to the east and carries a combination of rectangular diamond-paned and round-arched, stained-glass windows, similar to the larger tower. A large Rose window dominates the north entry, while even larger round-arched windows with tracery occupy the central position of the eastern and western-extending gabled wings. Attached to the rear is the two-story rectory, which is also Gothic Revival in style and sheathed with limestone to match the church. Windows along this wing are regularly placed, rectangular, one-over-one-light examples, with wide smooth stone lintels and narrow rusticated sills. The structure terminates with a 1964 addition and entry, that features banks of windows.

Located immediately east of the church is the small Fatima Shrine, which is constructed of river rock-like stones, with a statue of Mary at its center. East of the Shrine is the two-story, Contemporary Style school (1948), which is sheathed with limestone and topped with a flat roof. Entrances/stairwells are located at either end of the building and visible through the glass walls, while the center of the structure provides for the primary entrance. Banks of windows are located to either side of the entrance and retain their lower awning openings; however, the upper windows have been covered over. A two-story wing extends to the rear and includes additional classrooms, as well as the gymnasium. The 1955 Contemporary-style convent is rectilinear in form and topped with a flat roof. The structure, which is faced with brick and includes stone trim, includes banks of windows along its Amory Street elevation. Finally, located across the street from the school and at 70 E. Merrill Avenue, is the convent. Although originally established in the 1890s as the Sisters of St. Agnes Music Academy, it was later renamed as St. Cecilia's Music Academy and, as of 1901, the building served as the convent for those teaching at St. Mary's until 1955.

The St. Mary's congregation was founded on 15 November 1865 with a total of twenty-one, German-speaking families and their first church was dedicated on 8 December 1866. A rectory (1868), church addition (1875) and parochial school (1887) followed. On 18 November 1900, the parish met to discuss construction of a new church, H. Messmer & Son of Milwaukee was chosen to execute the design. The cornerstone was laid on 7 July 1901. Although the first mass was held there in early September, the approximately $40,000 church was not dedicated until February 1902. A new rectory--attached to the rear of the church--was built in 1911, with an addition being added in 1964. In 1925, German language was discontinued in the school. On 30 May 1948, the Fatima Shrine--located at the end of Marr Street--was dedicated. In 1949, construction of a new school building was completed, which was designed by local architectural firm of Frank Stepnoski & Son and built by Hutter Construction, also of Fond du Lac. Six years later, a new convent--designed by Sylvester Stepnoski and, once again, constructed by Hutter Construction-- was completed. The school opened in September 1949 with 592 pupils and formal dedication occurred in 1950. In 1998, the decision was made to merge six parishes (which included St. Mary's) to form the Holy Family Catholic Community. Although a new Holy Family church was completed in 2007, mass is still held at St. Mary's, Sacred Heart and St. Peter's in Malone.

The congregation did begin as a German-speaking congregation, and further investigations regarding its ethnic component should be investigated. The church alone stands as a very good and intact example of the Gothic Revival style of architecture. Furthermore, the church complex as a whole, including the rectory, convent, school and shrine (or shrines?) combine to form the most complete and intact church complex in the City of Fond du Lac.

2016- "The Congregation of St. Mary's was founded on November 15, 1865 for twenty-one German-speaking Catholic families, although the first church building was not dedicated until December 8, 1866. The cornerstone for the existing church building was laid in 1901 and dedicated the following year. The Nee-Gothic Revival building features towers, buttresses, round arches, and a fine rose window set in the main gable, and locally quarried limestone construction. In 1911 a rectory was added with matching limestone in the Gothic-Revival style to the rear of the church; the rectory also underwent an addition in 1964. East of the church, a Fatima shrine built of river rock-like stones with a statue of Mary was dedicated in 1948, followed a year later by a two-story addition for school classrooms and a gymnasium. A Contemporary-style convent with brick and stone trim was completed in 1955. A decision was made to merge the congregation of St. Mary's with five other parishes in 1998, forming the Holy Family Catholic Community. The congregation relocated to the new Holy Family church in 2007."
-"City of Fond du Lac - Memorandum", January 20, 2016, from Dyann Benson (Community Development Director).
Bibliographic References:(A) Fond du Lac City Directories. (B) Sanborn-Perris Maps - Fond du Lac. (C) Fond du Lac Tax Rolls. (D) Carol Cartwright, City of Fond du Lac Intensive Survey Report, Fond du Lac: City of Fond du Lac, 1992. John J. Schmitz, More than Brick and Stone: A History of St. Mary's Parish (Fond du Lac, WI: by the Parish, 1966). Please see the 2010-2011 Intensive Survey Report for additional citations for material below.
Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory, State Historic Preservation Office, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin

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