St. Anne's Chapel

St. Anne's Chapel Is A Shrine of Solemn Beauty
by Vera Scoles, Baraboo, Wis.
From the May 2001 Sauk County Historical Society Newsletter

The tiny St. Anne's Chapel was built a half century ago on top of the high, wooded hill west of the present day church. This little house of prayer was constructed on the highest hill in the area and dedicated to the glory of God and named after St. Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The hill itself has historical significance. The Winnebago, Fox, Sauk, and Sioux Indian tribes chose it many years ago as a meeting place. They called it Council Bluff and sent smoke signals from its summit. Nearby Camel Hill was used as an Indian burying ground.

From the summer of 1923 when parishioners selected the site as a shrine, until five years later when they dedicated the building on the Feast of St. Anne, July 26, 1928, they accomplished much planning and seemingly endless work. Fr. Charles Surges, then pastor of St. Luke's; Msgr. M.M. Gerend, Rector of St John's Institute for the Deaf at St. Francis; and Fr. Philip J. Klein of Sacred Heart Parish at St. Francis constructed the first worship area at the top of Council Bluff on July 26, 1923. They gathered stones and laid a cross on the ground, facing the heavens in an open spot among the trees. As people learned of this they placed flowers and made a fence of white birch sticks around the cross. A Sister of St. Dominic of St. Luke's School encased a picture of St. Anne in glass and cement and placed it on the hill. Soon a little kneeling bench appeared and this scenic, wooded hilltop became a special place of prayer.

Those armed with shovels and picks who began the first ground breaking in September 1923 included Fr. Surges, his assistant Fr. Paul Monarski and Vincent Peters and Lawrence Bindl, both students at Mounty Calvary. They found the hill was a solid mass of stone.

I visited with several people in the village, some who had constructed the shrine and others who had relatives or knew old friends who had labored so tirelessly 50 years ago. Joe Laubmeier, one of Plain's senior citizens, easily remembers the hard work to haul sand and rock to the top of the hill. He helped haul sand from Schoenmann's Pit with a farm wagon and a two-team hitch. It required two teams of horses because of the hill's steepness. At one point a 14-inch high stone bump or ridge made the pulling almost impossibile. The lead team had to have sure footing to help the second team pull and lift the heavy load. The wagon path led from the road (County Highway B) across the Luther property west of the cemetery and wound up on the hill.

Tony Blau, whose uncle, Simon Brickl, was the chief builder of the chapel and stations and did the masonry work, recalls working with his father, Joe Blau Sr., as they mixed mud for the building. They hauled stone from the Bartl Lehner farm. The late Edward Kraemer volunteered the carpentry work and all of the hand labor was donated.

Although 70 years have passed the people of the parish talk with great enthusiasm about how hard everyone worked. Young and old, they worked together and cheerfully completed the hard tasks. Many families, whom I cannot begin to name all here, donated their time, labor, materials, and money to build this holy shrine on the hill.

Henry Neuheisel hauled stones. A large one for the cornerstone of the chapel area was taken from the basement of the log house in Plain (home of George and Theresa Neuheisel) where the first Mass was celebrated in 1857.

The shrine is open at all times. A trip to St. Anne's means a climb and those who are not young or exceptionally fit will be glad to pause many times along the way. Older area residents who formerly visited the Chapel now find the climb too strenuous. St. Anne's Chapel was once a popular tourist attraction, but now stands empty much of the time. It is used in the summer for occasional pilgrimages and many conduct private pilgrimages to its doors.

The chapel at the top of the hill, the 14 stations of the Way of the Cross leading from St. Luke's through the cemetery and winding up the hill to the chapel, and a replica of the Lourdes Grotto that was built a short way down the hill from St. Anne's Chapel, are outstanding examples of the love and the labor of the faithful people of Plain. Truly, St. Luke's parishioners have much to be thankful for as they kneel in prayer in the tiny shrine at the top of the hill.