Stella Maris Roman Catholic Parish
In the beginning…
The Catholic Church was built upon a rock, namely Saint Peter, with Jesus Christ as the foundation and cornerstone and each believer as a stone.
“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Matt16:18
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid which is Jesus Christ.” 1Cor.3:11
“You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1Peter2:5
“Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. And in him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Eph2:20-22
The above Bible verses metaphorically discuss the foundation of church. Stella Maris Parish foundation is laid in the five church sites of St. Michael the Archangel-Jacksonport, St. Mary of the Lake-Baileys Harbor, St. John the Baptist-Egg Harbor, St. Paul the Apostle-Fish Creek, and St. Rosalia-Sister Bay. The Parish also includes the Catholic parishioners on Washington Island who gather for Mass at the Lutheran Church. We know that Christ is the foundation and cornerstone for all the churches in the Stella Maris Parish because Jesus is completely trustworthy, precious to all believers, and the most important part of the church. This is confirmed in the mission statement: "Stella Maris Parish, guided by our patron, lives and shares the mission of Jesus Christ."
Once the decision was made to join these six Northern Door County church sites into one parish a name had to be chosen. “Stella Maris,” Star of the Sea is the title of the mosaic over the front entrance of the St. Mary of the Lake Church in Baileys Harbor. The mosaic was created in the latter 1950’s by artist Johann Minton of Oakbrook-Esser Studios of Milwaukee with specifications from Father Noonan, pastor of St. Mary of the Lake 1956-1969, and Mr. Harry Ridings who donated the mosaic. The thousands of small tile pieces from Orsoni, Italy, depict Mary with outstretched hands welcoming a fleet of ships in the quiet harbor of her protection. Another point of interest is that there are five vessels in this mosaic. Could this be symbolic of the five churches with the surrounding waters representing the Washington Island site? What great foresight!
Another interesting interpretation of the Stella Maris mosaic comes from a message written by Father Eugene Tremblay O.M.I., pastor of St. Mary of the Lake from 1969 through 1987.
“Though I saw and admired it for eighteen years, I never had an explanation of when and how it came into existence. There were two sailing vessels. The larger vessel, I reasoned, represented Saint Mary of the Lake, Baileys Harbor and the smaller vessel represented the Mission Church, Saint Rosalia in Sister Bay…they were both sailing over the sea of life headed for the eternal shores of heaven. They (along with the three other vessels) carried a very precious cargo, the immortal souls of persons living in Northern Door County, Wisconsin - those who had been baptized Catholic, who had received instructions in the Catholic Faith and received the other sacraments…Therefore, the message was simple enough. The Catholic souls of Northern Door were sailing across the Sea of Life on their way to their everlasting home in Heaven! However, there was also something different in that mosaic. There were three maritime flags flying from the mast of the larger vessel. I did not know what that meant, if anything, but it did add some color to the scene. It was years later that I learnt these flags did have a message. There are twenty-six flags on the International Flags and Pennants Chart, each flag representing a letter in the alphabet “A through Z”. The flags that fly from the mast are the fifteenth letter, the “O”, the thirteenth letter, the “M” and the ninth letter, the “I”. The three letters are O.M.I. The Religious Order caring for the Catholics of Northern Door County was the Oblates of Mary Immaculate or for short O.M.I.”
Father James Noonan, O.M.I. was the Pastor of Saint Mary of the Lake and Saint Rosalia when the Stella Maris Mosaic was designed and placed over the front door of Saint Mary of the Lake Church. It seems that Father Noonan wanted to send another message…The maritime flags carried a short message of their own. To those going to church they were words of advice, not of something we should do but rather of something we should not do. The messages are:
The “O” Flag: “Man Overboard” That can happen on the ship of life, either accidentally or willfully. Someone leaves the church and tries to make it to heaven on his own.
The “M” Flag: “I Am Stopped” Others have not abandoned ship but they followed the message of this flag. They stopped going to Mass; they stopped receiving the sacraments, etc!
The “I” Flag: “Altering Course to Port” They have not gone overboard either but they alter their course to eternity. They simply choose any course they wish or any doctrine they decide to believe or not believe.
So, for all who wish to follow Christ these three flags are warning signals: Do not abandon the ship. Keep your faith and morals. And, follow Him who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
The Stella Maris mosaic contributed to the naming of Stella Maris Parish, but another story regarding this naming process must also be told. This story begins in Chicago, 1923, when Archbishop Mundelein (1872-1935) commissioned artist, Frederic Victor Poole, to paint Stella Maris (Star of the Sea) for $5,000. However, this commission remains a bit of a mystery because Archbishop Mundelein never honored the commission nor received the painting.
Frederic Poole (1865-1936), the artist of the Stella Maris painting, was born in England and moved to the United States in 1913 where he became a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago. Poole and his family established a second home in Door County. Between 1920 and 1924 he and another artist, Frederick DeForest Schook, operated the first art school in Baileys Harbor. Though the school only ran for three or four summers it began the tradition of artists in Door County. On July 4, 1936, at the age of 71, Poole died from heart failure while in Door County. At the time of his death Poole was well known and respected as an artist both in the United States and in England. In 1937 the Chicago Art Institute honored him with a memorial retrospective exhibit.
When Poole painted Stella Maris, his daughter-in-law, Norma Poole, was the model for the virgin and her son, Robert, grandson of the artist, portrayed the infant. The painting completed in 1924, is a mixture of Art Nouveau and Pre-Raphaelite styles which predate the Art Deco period of the 1930’s. Oil paint and gold leaf is the media. It is an impressive five by four feet in size. Stella Maris was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1937, as well as Findlay Galleries in Chicago, and twice at the Mueller Art Center in Sturgeon Bay. Sadly, the beauty of this painting was never realized by Archbishop Mundelein.
Since the commission was not honored, artist Poole retained ownership of the painting which was held by his family until it was purchased by Florence Colburn Wilterding in 1983. Mrs.Wilterding had the painting restored. Roger Charles Lyons, artist and curator of the Paint Box Gallery in Ephraim, offered his assistance to clean, restore and reframe the painting. Mr. Lyons found evidence of another face for the virgin. He further discovered that originally her entire dress was gold leaf which was then painted over. Also, in the first working, the angel’s wings were horizontal, and there was a gold aureole around the child’s arm. The original frame was Spanish Baroque with a bead and floral design. It was a square-cornered frame, chosen by Poole, even though the painting is curvilinear. Mr. Lyons suggested and Mrs.Wilterding agreed that a new frame should be prepared. Marcel Art Frames Inc. of Ottawa, Canada built the present frame with 24 carat gold and rounded corners.
A St. Rosalia Church wall displays the Stella Maris painting today thanks to the generous benefactor, Florence Colburn Wilterding. After the dedication of the new St. Rosalia church in 1984, Rev. Stoeckel had the Stella Maris painting placed as a centerpiece in the back of the altar of the side chapel called the “Mary Chapel.” Later the painting was relocated to the back wall of the main sanctuary where more parishioners could admire her beauty.
Two parishioners in particular, namely Bev Njaa and Jean Casey (a good friend of Mrs. Wilterding), held Stella Maris in awe. For this reason when a new name for the unification of the six Northern Door church sites had to be chosen, Bev and Jean placed Stella Maris on the ballot.
In 2005, after the six congregational sites voted, it was decided that, indeed, Stella Maris should be the appropriate name for the new parish. Stella Maris, Our Lady-Star of the Sea stands as a guiding light of faith for all. The following is our Stella Maris Parish Prayer written by Father David Ruby:
God of Sea and sky, wind and calm,
God of all that gives us life, fulfillment and peace;
you have blessed us in so many ways as Stella Maris Parish.
Northern Door County which we call home is
surrounded by beautiful water,
filled with lush forests,
green grass and fertile crop land as well as
many of your wonderful creatures, big and small.
Our parish family is filled with many people
who have called this area their home from their birth as well as
people who have lived other places for a while,
others who have moved up here in retirement and
still others who visit us for brief periods of time.
Everyone who participates in our parish possesses great gifts
given them by the Holy Spirit
to be shared with the larger community.
The use of those gifts and talents in service,
transforms us into the Body of Christ.
Our participation in the Eucharist draws us closer together,
uniting us more and more into the Body of Christ.
We are truly blessed as well by our parish patron,
the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ and our Mother
under the title of Stella Maris or Star of the Sea.
She guides all people back to her son, Jesus Christ,
as a star guides sailors back to their home port.
May we follow her example with her help.
Filled with the Holy Spirit,
may we also guide the people who worship with and live among us
toward a closer relationship with Jesus Christ, our brother, teacher and savior.
Through this Jesus Christ,
we may rejoice in the love of God, the Father
who is the beginning and the end of all that we do, are and have.
We ask this prayer through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Stella Maris, Guide of Christians…Pray for us.