MANITOWOC, Wis. (WFRV) – Manitowoc Police Department is investigating a break-in at St. Boniface Church from last week. It has not yet been reported whether the suspect took anything, but they did cause damage when busting through the doors.
“It’s all original [material],” Manitowoc County Historical Society volunteer archivist Philip Groll said. “You start busting stuff like that or breaking up things like that, [and] its value is going down the drain.”
The Catholic church was built in 1885 but closed in 2005 due to declining attendance.
“That’s what’s bad about when you lose a congregation,” Groll said. “And with the building of that stature, and is vacant, the chances of something like that happening are great.”
Groll is not surprised to hear of the crime being committed in the church or in any vacant historical building.
“Being an empty building, sooner or later, somebody’s going to try to get into it to try to see if there’s anything of value in there.”
Aside from the break-in, the future of the St. Boniface Church remains uncertain. It was decommissioned by the Archdiocese of Green Bay 18 years ago, and a note on the door of the shuttered parish office calls it a “liability” and says that it has “no use.”
Currently, a group, Save St. Boniface, is working to ensure that the church is not demolished.
As with any historic building, the church at the intersection of South 11th and Marshall Street has had its share of ups and downs, according to Groll.
He came up the basement stairs of the Manitowoc County Historical Society with a couple of manila folders under his arm. They consisted mostly of photos and newspaper clippings, and while eagerly flipping through the contents, a few contrasting photos dated 1967 caught his eye.
“The congregation decided after a while that it was looking rather dirty, so then they decided that they wanted to have it [sand] blasted,” he said.
In a couple of months’ time, the black-and-white photos of the church managed to capture the transformation. As the cleaning crew started from the bottom and worked its way up the steeple, the church turned from black to white.
Groll hopes that the same amount of effort can be supplied to save St. Boniface Church now, 56 years after those striking photos were snapped.
He opened another folder, this one had a 112-year-old monthly church bulletin in it, with faded and yellowing pages. It was dated April 1911, and the first page began with a letter “to all non-parishioners.”
“They were a good binding force for the city, or the village, at the time,” he said.
Groll, a Lutheran, would know. He said that decades ago, he played in the church’s summer volleyball league in the parking lot and that people of all religious backgrounds were invited to participate.
Those nets are long gone. Today the empty lot remains filled with weeds, cracked and unpaved in many spots. The school has been replaced with a men’s shelter, and the only person in sight sitting on a bench outside.
But the church’s steeple is well within sight of the entire city of Manitowoc. It seems like any direction you go, you will still be able to see it above all the other buildings and trees.
There are four clocks on each side of the steeple. They tell no time, they have no hands. But Groll hopes that there is still time to save the troubled church.
“This is something that is worth saving, and I’d hate like heck to see it get torn down.”