Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Abandoned St. Ambrose Church in St. Nazianz, Wisconsin


St. Ambrose church and monastery in St. Nazianz, Wisconsin
There's something mysteriously romantic about old, abandoned buildings, and when that building happens to be a Catholic Church, the mystery and romance increase.   So many questions come to mind:  Who put their heart and soul into building it?  How many thousands of faithful worshiped here, their prayers embedded within the walls like the smell of incense? How is it that this holy space is no longer used for worship?  How many hearts were broken when the decision was made to close the church and no longer use it for the honor and glory of God?  How could it be put to use today? These questions and more came to mind when my family and I recently visited St. Nazianz, Wisconsin and were able to venture inside the abandoned St. Ambrose Church on the old Salvatorian Seminary grounds.
Fr. Ambrose Oschwald
St. Nazianz in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin was founded in 1854 by Fr. Ambrose Oschwald, a German immigrant who brought a group of lay faithful with him from Germany.  Together they lived a communal life and thrived in St. Nazianz (named for St. Gregory Nazianzen).  Fr. Oschwald died in 1873 and the community he built fell apart shortly afterward.  

The property was purchased by the Salvatorian Fathers in 1896, fifteen years after the order was founded in Italy.  The Salvatorians built a beautiful seminary that was very successful.  The property was continually built up through the 1920's and 30's to accommodate all of the seminarians who studied there.  Then, in 1968 with enrollment at an all-time low, the seminary was converted to JFK Prep School, named for our only Catholic President.  By 1982 enrollment at the  high school was dwindling and the school closed.  Unfortunately, all of the empty buildings were severely damaged by vandals throughout the years, and stories of ghosts haunting the building served as encouragement for curious youth to explore the property, now in dangerous condition due to the excessive vandalism.

The Seminary Gate

Entrance to the Seminary/JFK Prep
In 2008 the property was purchased by United Ministries which hopes to create a Christian summer camp program for troubled youths.  To raise funds, United Ministries has opened a thrift store in the former gymnasium.

Having grown up in Manitowoc I was familiar with St. Nazianz but had never actually been there and only remembered vague stories about JFK Prep which closed two years before I graduated from high school. Nostalgia for my youthful days in the area of my hometown piqued my curiosity about this Catholic space with such an interesting history and so I was eager to visit.

On the day we arrived we happened to be the only visitors to the property and the only shoppers in the thrift store.  After purchasing a few trinkets we noticed that the doors to St. Ambrose Church were open.  A caretaker on the grounds told us that the church is open every day until 4 pm so those who want to stop inside and pray may do so.  What we found inside the church was heartbreaking to see. A holy worship space that had obviously been stunningly beautiful at one time, and which still retained much of its beauty despite its long history of neglect, was in ruins.  We were fascinated as we marveled at the beauty that still existed here and mourned what was no more.  

The cornerstone of St. Ambrose Church


An open door inviting us inside.
Notice the tree branch growing underneath the statue of St. Ambrose?

The pews were all covered with tarps


Still beautiful even though it's crumbling

The Agony in the Garden

St. Michael the Archangel has a hole in his armor

I have these same pictures in my living room!  They were heirlooms from my parents and used to enthrone my family and home to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  I was so surprised to find these here!





We happened to visit on the Feast of St. Bonaventure


Leaving the church we wandered to the back of the property and found a very well-maintained cemetery for the Salvatorian Fathers.  Some of the grave markers were dated as recently as last year. Just behind the cemetery we discovered the quaint little Loreto Shrine Chapel, the original church of Fr. Oschwald's community which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and is maintained by the St Nazianz Historical Society.

Part of the cemetery of Salvatorian Priests some buried here as recently as this past year.

Mausoleum burial place of Fr. Ambrose Oschwald

Loreto Chapel
Inside the Loreto Chapel.
Inside the Loreto Chapel


Former Station of the Cross
The only Station of the Cross that was still standing

Close up, so beautiful!

Does that say Boss on the bottom of the statue?  The red sunlight rays are like Divine Mercy.

Today, St. Gregory Parish, not too far from the seminary, is the current church for St. Nazianz' Catholic Community, and a beautiful Orthodox monastery, Holy Resurrection, can also be found in St. Nazianz.

St. Gregory Parish

St. Gregory

St. Gregory

The Sacred Heart of Jesus at St. Gregory

1 comment:

  1. What a treasure! Thank you so much for sharing this, Anne. Great to see you blogging again! You have been sincerely missed!

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