Our Founder

Mazzuchelli brochure cover
Above images, clockwise: Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, OP. Illustration courtesy of the Northwest Passage Heritage Corridor, Rockford, Illinois. • Father Mazzuchelli ministers to Native Americans. Stained-glass window located in St. Joseph the Worker Cathedral of the Diocese of La Crosse, La Crosse, WI. Image courtesy of Sinsinawa Dominican Archives (SDA). • Father Mazzuchelli works with builders in Iowa City. Mildred Pelzer, We Build the Capitol, 1840, 1934, Oil on canvas, 53 1/4 x 125 3/4 in., Collection of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Gift of Richard T. Feddersen, 91.8.2 • The doors at St. Augustine Church, New Diggings, Wisconsin. Fr. Mazzuchelli designed and built this church, which is the only church of his that is preserved today in its original form from the mid-1800s. Photo courtesy Kristen Meidal. •  Luganao, Switzerland, where the young
Mazzuchelli attended school.
Photo courtesy SDA.


Cathedral in Milan, Italy
Father Mazzuchelli grew up in a house behind this
Milan, Italy, Cathedral. The Cathedral was begun in
1385 and completed during Mazzuchelli’s lifetime.
Image courtesy SDA.

Two hundred years ago in the beautiful Italian city of Milan, Luigi and Rachele Mazzuchelli rejoiced at the birth of their youngest son, Samuel. Little could they have imagined where God’s providence would lead him: across the Atlantic to the dense forests and prairies of the “old Northwest Territory,” where he would minister to the early settlers, traders, miners, and Native Americans.

 

“Let us wake up then, open our eyes in apostolic charity, and if we are called, set out for any place where the work is great and difficult.”

 

An image of Dubuque, Iowa, circa 1845 when Fr. Mazzuchelli ministered there.
An image of Dubuque, Iowa, circa 1845 when Fr. Mazzuchelli ministered there. Photo courtesy SDA

He would become a builder of churches, a founder of more than 30 parishes, a civic leader, a defender of the native peoples, an educator, and always and everywhere, a man on a mission. When he later wrote about his early experiences as a missionary, he spoke about what impelled him to serve the people of God: “Let us wake up then, open our eyes in apostolic charity, and if we are called, set out for any place where the work is great and difficult.”

 

Fr. Mazzuchelli’s portable writing desk. Image courtesy SDA. • Fr. Mazzuchelli’s signature. Image courtesy SDA. •

Fr. Mazzuchelli’s portable writing desk. Image courtesy SDA. • Fr. Mazzuchelli’s signature. Image courtesy SDA. •
A painting of Samuel Mazzuchelli commissioned by his father at 18 years of age, before he left Italy for the USA. Padesti Anconitani, artist. Image courtesy SDA.

 

Heeding the Call to the American Missions

This ship, the Edward Quesnel,
This ship, the Edward Quesnel,
brought Mazzuchelli from France
into the New York harbor, USA,
at age 22. Photograph courtesy
Peabody Essex Museum.
www.pem.org

When, at age 17, Mazzuchelli entered the Dominican Order, his family could hardly understand his desire to join a Catholic religious order that, like so many others in Europe, seemed destined to dissolve. The young man traveled to Rome to study for the priesthood. There he heard the call to the American missions.

 

In 1828, at age 21, Mazzuchelli began his journey through Italy, over the Alps and through France. He and 30 other passengers boarded a small sailing vessel bound for New York. It was 40 days before the ship reached America.

 

 

Mackinac Island, Michigan, where Fr. Mazzuchelli put an
Mackinac Island, Michigan, where Fr. Mazzuchelli put an
addition on St. Anne Church. Photo courtesy SDA. • Bishop
Edward Fenwick of Cincinnati, who ordained Fr. Mazzuchelli.
Photo courtesy SDA.

Mazzuchelli traveled from New York to Cincinnati where Bishop Edward Fenwick warmly welcomed him. In 1830, the young Samuel was ordained by Bishop Fenwick and sent to be the only missionary priest in an area larger than Italy.


A map created by Fr. Mazzuchelli
A map created by Fr. Mazzuchelli
of the Upper Mississippi River
Valley. Image courtesy SDA.

Extending south from the Canadian border through the Great Lakes region, the territory contained huge forests and virgin prairies, lakes, and rivers. His first base was Mackinac Island, Michigan, where his knowledge of French enabled him to preach to the fur traders. Many of them had married natives, and Samuel turned to these women to help him teach the native peoples of the region.

 

A mural of Wisconsin pioneers by Cal Peters at the Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, Visitor’s Center. Photo courtesy SDA. • St. Patrick Church, Benton, Wisconsin, which Fr. Mazzuchelli designed and built
A mural of Wisconsin pioneers by Cal Peters at the Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, Visitor’s Center. Photo courtesy SDA. • St. Patrick Church, Benton, Wisconsin, which Fr. Mazzuchelli designed and built. Fr. Mazzuchelli is also buried next to this church in the cemetery, as he served as parish pastor here at the time of his death. Photo courtesy Kristen Meidal.

He quickly became a builder of churches and schools, first enlarging an old frame church of St. Anne on Mackinac Island, then building the first church in the Territory of Wisconsin—St. John the Evangelist, Green Bay. In all, he would design and build more than 20 churches, as he established parish communities and schools in more than 30 places.

 

A Native American family on the move.
A Native American family on the move. Image courtesy SDA.

Mazzuchelli visited scattered Native American families by canoe, on horseback, and on snowshoes or sleds, sharing their food, joining them in ice fishing, hunting, and maple sugar gathering. He came to understand and respect their deep sense of religion, their love of children, and their reverence for the aged. Unlike many whites who had come to this region for profit and who despised the natives, Samuel came only to share with them the spiritual riches of the Gospel and a knowledge of the deep love of God for all people.

 

Fr. Mazzuchelli featured in a stained-glass window that reads “Providence will provide.”
Fr. Mazzuchelli featured in a stained-glass window that reads “Providence will provide.” Image courtesy of the O’Connor Center, Diocese of Madison, Madison, Wisconsin.

 

Serving the People

A stained-glass window of Fr. Mazzuchelli and a carpenter working on
A stained-glass window of Fr. Mazzuchelli and a carpenter working on
St. Raphael Cathedral, Dubuque. The window is located in Sacred Heart
Church, Dubuque, Iowa. Photo courtesy SDA.

As the U.S. government pursued Indian removal policies and violated treaty agreements,Samuel protested the injustices he witnessed,writing to congressmen and to President Andrew Jackson. He began schools for the native peoples, insisting that they be first taught in their own language by their own people. He published a Winnebago prayer book in 1833, and in 1834 a liturgical almanac in Chippewa—the first book printed in what was to become the state of Wisconsin.

 

Later, his zeal took him to the booming mining areas along the Mississippi—to northern Illinois and to what would become the states of Wisconsin and Iowa. Here Irish and German immigrants were working the lead mines or farming the prairie lands. They, too, like the Native Americans, had been without a priest, not having access to the Church’s sacraments and the preaching of the Gospel.

 

Moving Forward

 

St. Augustine Church, New Diggings, Wisconsin.  The Stone Building at Sinsinawa Mound.
St. Augustine Church, New Diggings, Wisconsin. The only church
that remains as Fr. Mazzuchelli built and designed it, interiorly and
exteriorly. Photo courtesy Kristen Meidal. • The Stone
Building at Sinsinawa Mound built by Fr. Mazzuchelli. Originally, it
was an all-male college. Today, it is living space for
Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters. Photo courtesy SDA.

The tri-state area, where Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois meet, was where Mazzuchelli finally settled. He became a respected leader in civic affairs as well as in religious ones. The first Wisconsin Territorial Legislature asked him to be their chaplain. He was appointed to superintend the construction of the county courthouse in Galena, Illinois, and he designed the county courthouse in Fort Madison, Iowa. One of his most enduring civic actions was the naming of the streets in Shullsburg, Wisconsin—the street crossing signs there still bear witness to his unique vision: Faith and Wisdom, Peace and Charity, Judgment and Truth, Friendship and Mercy.

 

George Wallace Jones, a congressman from the state of Iowa. Fr. Mazzuchelli purchased the Sinsinawa Mound property from him. Photo courtesy SDA. • Antoine St. Pierre, his wife Maggie, and son Oliver. Antoine was born in Benton and baptized by Fr. Mazzuchelli in 1850. Photo courtesy SDA. • A Winnebago Indian chief. Photo courtesy SDA.
George Wallace Jones, a congressman from the state of Iowa. Fr. Mazzuchelli purchased the Sinsinawa Mound property from him. Photo courtesy SDA. • Antoine St. Pierre, his wife Maggie, and son Oliver. Antoine was born in Benton and baptized by Fr. Mazzuchelli in 1850. Photo courtesy SDA. • A Winnebago Indian chief. Photo courtesy SDA.

 

Many of his buildings no longer survive, yet the ones that remain attest to his keen sense of proportion and beauty—in Prairie du Chien, in New Diggings, in Benton, or in Galena, as well as his brick academy of St. Rose in Galena and the stone college building at Sinsinawa.

 

The Living Legacy

In 1847, he established a community of Dominican Sisters to help him carry on his mission of preaching and teaching. He ended his work on earth as pastor of St. Patrick’s parish in Benton, Wisconsin. In 1864, he died of pneumonia, having contracted the illness while visiting the sick on a bitterly cold winter morning. However, the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa and the people and pastors of the parishes he founded continue to revere his memory as they carry on his mission today.

 

Sisters and students at Benton school, which was founded by Fr. Mazzuchelli and the Sinsinawa Dominicans, circa 1862. Photo courtesy SDA. • The Sinsinawa Mound today. Photo courtesy Sinsinawa Dominican Communication Office.

 

In 1993, Pope John Paul II recognized his holy zeal and virtues by declaring him “Venerable”—the first step in the process of official Church recognition of his sanctity.

 

If you would like copies of this brochure, please send an e-mail request to communication@sinsinawa.org