Posted by Brad V at 11:51 AM
History of St. Nazianz
Story of the Catholic Colony
"Paranormal Analysis" - and links to historic documents
In 1854, an entire Catholic parish in a small German village uprooted under the leadership of its priest, Father Ambrose Oschwald, and departed for America.
Arriving in Wisconsin, a scouting party headed out through the forest with ox carts to locate the land and begin the settlement. One account from a newspaper article in the 1920s says a divine white heifer guided the men through the forest to the site that would become the village of St. Nazianz. Another account says the men let their own oxen wander after passing the border of the property and selected the spot where they stopped as the site.
Either way, the birth of the Catholic commune marked the beginning of a fascinating religious experiment in the forest. Property was held in common and the community, along intensely Catholic lines, was governed by an Ephorate or senate, although Oschwald seems to have been revered as the real leader of the community.
The colony lasted until 1873 when Father Oschwald - by then renowned as a wise, almost mystical healer and father figure for the community - died, leaving "The Association" in a legal battle to preserve its land. In 1896, the Salvatorian order assumed responsibility for the Catholic institutions in St. Nazianz, building a new church and monastery on the grounds of the old Loretto Monastery just south of the village. In 1939, the Salvatorian Seminary was opened on the same grounds. The building later became JFK Prep in the 1960s. It closed in 1982.
From the point onward, the imposing religious architectural complex lay abandoned and dormant, suffering a great deal of vandalism from gang activity on the premises. It served intermittently as a haunted house in the fall for a few years. After a series of owners and failed schemes, not much has changed in the present day, although Mr. Dale Ristow of Steinthal has refurbished the gymnasium enough to be used as an indoor soccer practice space. The old football field outside is also utilized. Additionally, portions of the more modern priest dormitories have been remodeled.
At one point several years ago, I obtained permission with some friends to visit the property. It was an eerie experience seeing the grand, decaying structures slouching into ruin. Water damage, animals, and vandals had left some devastating marks on the place.
There are two tunnels that I know about. One runs between the main monastery building adjoining the church, traversing the space beneath the back courtyard, ultimately coming up in the old garage/convent building with the large smokestack.
The second runs from the isolated block garage building second nearest the road and terminates in the old printing building - where my grandmother worked at one point - nearest the road.
Father Oschwald's sarcophagus currently rests in the hillside crypt at the rear of the property below the little Loretto Chapel on the hilltop that looks down on the priest and brothers' cemetery. Originally, Oschwald's body was entombed beneath the altar of St. Ambrose Chapel in the space that now comprises the back of the main St. Ambrose Church (the chapel was the original worship place of the Loretto Monastery portion of the building, a lower stucco part which was constructed in the 1860s). Several historical accounts note Oshwald's body was strangely well preserved both shortly after death and even in the 1920s when the body was transferred to the hillside crypt.
A number of alleged hauntings cling to the site's reputation. And while the history of St. Nazianz certainly furnishes a number of intriguing and eccentric plot elements, it seems difficult to establish any of them with much of a factual basis or evidentiary confirmation.
I made my way up to the property on the day after the devastating May 2000 windstorm that destroyed and heavily damaged most buildings in the village when I was there helping with the recovery. While several of the giant old trees on the property had fallen, it seemed little direct damage had hit the complex structures.
Check out the links for more - there's a great deal of information, rumor, and anecdote about JFK Prep to be had. St. Nazianz itself is an interesting little town - one I remember well, as my great grandfather lived there and operated a Chevy dealership. As a result, the family reunion is still, to this day, held in Oschwald Park below St. Gregory's Church.
A view of the JFK Prep gymnasium - currently in use after renovation - the spire of St. Ambrose Church and the JFK Prep main building. Wisconsin high school basketball legend Mickey Crowe played for JFK Prep. My father recalls playing against him there.
East facade, JFK Prep or the old Salvatorian Seminary. The building has suffered extensive water damage since its abandonment in the 1980s, as well as vandalism. An old safe on one of the floors was knee-deep with old financial papers from the institution as of a few years ago.
From left to right: Loretto Monastery (original 1860s Oshwald-era structure now without its original chapel and roof). St. Ambrose Church - 1898 (note the stone grotto in the bushes in front of the spire). Monastery/Seminary. The more modern priest dormitories built after 1950s are to the right, as well as the garage and the printing building. The convent/garage is in the back of the complex shown.
Built shortly after the turn of the century, the main monastery/seminary served as the principal school building until the Salvatorian Seminary/JFK Prep building was constructed across the way in the 1930s. As of 2002, there was a lot of damage inside and a dead racoon in the fourth story hallway. Some remnants of Halloweens past remained on the lower floors as well - including fake bloody limbs and other hautned house materials.
St. Ambrose Church. Built in 1898 by the Salvatorians shortly after they took over the operation of religious life in St. Nazianz, the church replaced/encompassed the earlier St. Ambrose Chapel which adjoined the Loretto Monastery (which lies west of the current church). Supposedly the bells in the tower had to be removed in the late 1990s by the village because vandals were ringing them in the night.
The Loretto Chapel - built by Father Oschwald in 1872 to replace a glass shrine and an even earlier basswood-niche shrine for a statute of Our Lady of Loretto. You can still see the older, original pinkish stucco underneath the exterior in places. Beneath it, the 1920s hillside crypt can be seen. Father Ambrose Oschwald's sarcophagus is located inside behind a barred gate, the original German tomb inscription over the door. The remainder of the hill is covered with the graves of clergy, both priests and brothers of the early Oschwald order and the later Salvatorian Order. A statute of the Salvatorian Order's founder, Father Jordan, stands among the cedars.