The Christian (Old) Catholic Church in Wisconsin

The stories of French-Canadian priest, Charles Chiniquy, and French-born priest J. René Vilatte, are an interesting and important part of Wisconsin francophone history. Associated with the Christian (Old) Catholic and Gallican Catholic religious movement, Chiniquy and Vilatte came to Wisconsin and Illinois to minister to the French-Canadian, Swiss and Belgian residents of these states. Vilatte, who had lived in Namur, Belgium and who spoke wallon, the French dialect of the Belgian settlers in Northeast Wisconsin, arrived in Green Bay in 1884. Churches of the Christian Catholic tradition in the area today include the Church of the Precious Blood, Bruxelles-Gardner,(established by Vilatte in 1886) and the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Green Bay (established by Father J.B. Gauthier in 1909), both now part of the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac, and the Robinsonville Presbyterian Church, Robinsonville, Wisconsin. The Current Bishop of the Christian Catholic Church, Mgr. Serge A. Thériault (Ottawa, Canada) graciously contributed the following introduction to the history of the Christian Catholic church in the states of Wisconsin and Illinois. Our translation of his French text follows along with further links to Fathers Vilatte and Chiniquy.

Entre 1858 et 1860, 6,200 Canadiens-français (parmi lesquels se trouvaient des Français et des Belges) ont formé l'Église catholique-chrétienne (E.C.C.) en Illinois, sous le leadership du Révérend Charles Chiniquy: 375 familles à Sainte-Anne, 40 à Bourbonnais, 100 à Kankakee, 125 à Chicago, 30 à Petites-Îles, 50 à Momence, 35 à Middleport, 20 à Sainte-Marie, 15 à l'Érable, 16 à Barren, 50 à Ava et 30 à Châteauville. Réf. Rev. Baird, The French Canadian Mission in Illinois, AFCU, 1860, p. 3. L'É.C.C. fut rattachée, en 1860, à la Communion Presbytérienne, Consistoire de Chicago, puis Synode du Canada. Les entrées de baptême, mariage et sépulture de ces premiers catholiques-chrétiens ont été compilées par Mrs. Ardis M. Boone de Sainte-Anne (Illinois) et publiées par elle, dans un document intitulé Father Charles Chiniquy's Ledger.

En 1883, 1,200 familles associées à l'Église en Illinois avaient émigré au Kansas et au Wisconsin. Réf. Bristol, Atlas of Kankakee, 1883, p. 21. Deux ans plus tard, au Wisconsin, certains d'entre eux se sont approché des catholiques-chrétiens francophones de Suisse et de France (appelés "vieux-catholiques" et "gallicans"), et ont constitué une juridiction épiscopale et synodale, sous le leadership du Révérend J. René Vilatte. Il avait été nommé à Green Bay, sur la recommandation du Père Chiniquy, qui l'appuya par une fructueuse tournée de prédications en octobre 1884. Une assemblée tenue à Duval (Kewaunee) en 1889 l'élit évêque et le fit consacrer (1892) par l'Église indienne de Malabar, rattachée au Patriarcat d'Antioche et de l'Est. Il eut pour successeurs: Mgr Casimir F. Durand du Minnesota, consacré en 1926, Mgr O'Neill Côté de Longueuil, Québec (1939-1986), et Mgr Serge A. Thériault, consacré par lui (+1982). Le siège est dans la région de la capitale du Canada (Ottawa-Hull), où l'oeuvre de l'Église catholique-chrétienne se poursuit.

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Between 1885 and 1860, 6,200 French-Canadians, French and Belgians formed the Christian Catholic Church (CCC) in Illinois, under the leadership of the Reverend Charles Chiniquy. This included 375 families in Sainte-Anne, 40 in Bourbonnais, 100 in Kankakee, 125 in Chicago, 30 in Petites-Îles, 50 in Momence, 35 in Middleport, 20 in Sainte-Marie, 15 in Érable, 16 in Barren, 50 in Ava, and 30 in Châteauville. (Reference: Rev. Baird, The French Canadian Mission in Illinois, AFCU, 1860, p.3.) In 1860, the CCC joined the Presbyterian Church of Chicago, and later the Canadian Presbyterian Synod. Baptismal, marriage and death records were compiled by Mrs. Ardis M. Boone of Sainte-Anne, Illinois, and were published in a document entitled, Father Chiniquy's Ledger

In 1883, 1,200 families that had been members of the Christian Catholic Church in Illinois, emigrated to Kansas and Wisconsin. (Reference Bristol Atlas of Kankakee, 1883, p.21). Two years later, some of these had joined French-speaking Christian Catholics (called "old Catholics" or "gallicans") from Switzerland and France, in founding an Episcopalian Synod under the leadership of Reverend J. René Vilatte. Fr. Vilatte had been sent to Green Bay on the recommendation of Father Chiniquy, who supported him by offering a series of well-received sermons in the Green Bay area in October, 1884. Fr. Vilatte was elected Bishop at an assembly in Duval (Kewaunee County, WI) in 1889. He was consecrated Bishop in 1892 in Malabar, India, in a church attached to the Eastern Patriarchate of Antioch. His successors have been: Monsignors Casimir F. Durand of Minnesota, consecrated in 1926, O'Neill Côté of Longueuil, Québec (1939-1986), and Serge A. Thériault, consecrated by Bishop Côté in 1982. The See which continues the work of the Catholic Christian Church is in the Ottawa-Hull region of Canada.

Trans. K. Fleurant


See Shepherd or Wolf? Joseph René Vilatte in Francophone Wisconsin. Old Catholicism among the Belgian settlers in Northeast Wisconsin. A senior distinction in the major research paper by Leah Kemp, University of Wisconsin--Green Bay.

Leaving the Wisconsin's French Connections site, you can also consult the following on the web site of the Christian Catholic Rite of Community Churches:
           a biography of Charles Chiniquy
           a biography of J. René Vilatte
          Christian Catholic Rite Web site where further information can be found.

In Duval (Red River Township, Kewaunee County)on the corner of routes X and A, is the Duvall Christian (Old) Catholic Cemetery. L'Eglise de Sainte-Marie no longer stands and the cemetery is in poor condition, but names of Belgian settlers can still be read on the stones. A list of those names is available on the Kewaunee County genealogy page.
 

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Page added January 4, 2000
modified July 2, 2001