Sinsinawa dominican sisters


Portrait of Father Mazzuchelli


Samuel Mazzuchelli, born in Milan, Italy, Nov. 4, 1806, descended from a family of merchants and bankers. At age 17, Samuel entered the Dominican Order of Preachers against his father’s wishes and at a time when the Order was struggling.

This remarkable Italian-American, at the age of 22, came to the American frontier in 1828. After his priestly ordination, he was assigned by Cincinnati Bishop Edward Fenwick to be missionary priest of the whole of the Northwest Territory.

Father Mazzuchelli traveled this vast area on horseback, in native canoes, and on foot to serve the people scattered on the vast Northwest frontier, from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi and beyond. Those who called him to ministry were families of native tribes and new immigrant settlers, miners, and farmers, as well as political leaders, Catholics, and Protestants.

He established many local parish communities that remain to this day, designing and building more than 24 churches and civic buildings before his death in 1864 at the age of 57. From that time until now, increasing numbers of people have asked his help in prayer.

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

In 1993, Pope John Paul II declared Father Mazzuchelli Venerable, meaning he exemplified heroic virtues during his lifetime and was a servant of God, thus beginning the process of someday possibly recognizing Father Samuel as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.

Cause for Sainthood

On July 6, 1993, Father Samuel Mazzuchelli was declared “Venerable” by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. This is the first step to canonization or official Church recognition of his sanctity. Rome formally acknowledged that his virtues were heroic: “Beyond doubt” Father Samuel exemplified the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. The title “Venerable” was granted in response to a formal request made to Rome 30 years before, in 1964. We are now praying that Rome will name him “Blessed,” the second step toward sainthood.


Four times a year (February, May, August, and October), a novena (devotional prayer) to Father Samuel Mazzuchelli is held. This is a private novena, meaning that the prayer to Father Samuel is said privately by an individual or small group. All participants of the novena pray for the intercessions sent to the Sinsinawa Dominicans.

If you would like someone to be remembered in our novena prayer, please email us at with the name of the person and your intention. If you would like us to email you the novena list when it comes time to pray together, please make note of it in your email to us and we will email you the novena list once it is prepared.

Father Mazzuchelli

Life and Works


Samuel Mazzuchelli was an eminent Italian American missionary of the 19th century. When he reached the port of New York in 1828, he was one of the few immigrants (about 200) from Italy who came to the United States in the entire decade of the 1820s. From a Milanese family of merchants, bankers, artists, and scholars, his background seemed to promise him success in any career. When Samuel chose to become a mendicant friar of the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, his family was predictably disappointed.

At the age of 17 he became a Dominican novice in Faenza, and in 1825 began his studies in Rome. After three years, he answered an urgent call from America. The pioneer bishop of Ohio and Michigan, Edward Fenwick, needed help in his far-flung ministry to natives and new settlers on the frontier. In response, the young Italian traveled alone to Cincinnati, where he began to learn English and adapt to American culture. In 1830 at age 23, Mazzuchelli was ordained and sent to be the only missionary in an area larger than the whole of Italy.

Mazzuchelli adopted the life and culture of many different people: natives of the woodland tribes; French Canadian fur traders and trappers; and Irish and German immigrants in the Mississippi Valley who came to mine the rich lead ore and remained to farm the land and build the first towns.

Keeping in touch with Italians at home, Mazzuchelli empathized with their political problems and desire for a united nation, while missing their rich culture. Among the Americans, the priest never heard his own tongue. Nevertheless, he cherished the writings of his contemporary Alessandro Manzoni, shared the beauties of Italy with frontiersmen, and introduced students to literature, music, and history of Italy.

Among the Menominee and Winnebago natives, Mazzuchelli was the first resident missionary since the Jesuits, who had been withdrawn 50 years earlier. He traveled on snowshoes or by canoe to their homes, shared their meals, and joined them in ice fishing and gathering maple sugar. He understood their religion, their love of children, and their respect for aging members. As the government pursued its Indian removal policies, he protested the injustices to his congressman and to President Andrew Jackson. The priest also defended the rights of American citizens and deplored the enslavement of African Americans.

In meeting the needs of the people, Father Mazzuchelli displayed his own remarkable talents. In 1833 he published a Winnebago prayer book, and in 1834, a liturgical almanac in Chippewa, the first printed item in Wisconsin. In 1836 he addressed, at their request, the first legislature of Wisconsin Territory. He designed and built more than 24 churches in the upper Mississippi River Valley. He founded a college for men at Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, in 1846. He also gathered in Sinsinawa the first members of a community of Dominican Sisters who, enrolling more than 3,000 members in subsequent years, have conducted schools and served in various ministries throughout the United States. With the Sisters, he founded the St. Clara Academy for young women in Benton, Wisconsin. Through its charter, granted in 1848 by the state of Wisconsin, this frontier prototype of secondary schools became the forerunner of two colleges for women: Rosary College (now known as Dominican University) in River Forest, Illinois, and Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin.

Mazzuchelli became a devoted citizen of the United States and admired its democratic principles, but was not blind to its weaknesses such as slavery and the ravages of Civil War.

Both Catholics and Protestants loved this priest, whom the Irish and others called “Father Kelly,” for his zeal, courage, and selfless generosity, especially in tending to the sick. He died suddenly on February 23, 1864, as a result of exposure in bitter cold weather when he was summoned to visit the sick. After his death, there appeared accounts of his life and ministry in newspapers from California to New York. One writer stated the following:

Another efficient servant of God is gone to receive the reward of eternal life, and he who was once the only priest west of Lake Michigan has left the people of that vast region in mourning! He was a good man; faithful to his vocation, prompt and zealous in the performance of every duty, inflexible in principle, but so mild, affable and obliging that in him seemed to have been centered for a time all the reverence and respect of a heterogeneous and frontier people.

Descendants of those served by Samuel Mazzuchelli have kept alive their memory of him and their conviction that he was a saint. In 1993 he was given the title Venerable by Pope John Paul II as a first step toward possible canonization.

By Sister Mary Nona McGreal, OP

Penance Chain


Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, OP, was a man of deep faith. After his death there was found embedded in his flesh an iron chain which he had worn around his body in order to be united with the sufferings of Christ. All knew of his unobtrusive fasting and abstinence. Now they discovered that he believed the many hardships of his life were not quite enough to express his love for the all-loving Redeemer. Those who visit Sinsinawa Mound, where the chain is available for veneration, find in it a powerful reminder of the sacrifices of the missionary and his selfless service.


Praying with Father Mazzuchelli’s chain has been an important ministry at Sinsinawa for decades. During this time of renovation and transition at Sinsinawa, we cannot provide a reverent in-person experience. We have prepared an alternative prayer experience and ask all interested parties to contact the Mazzuchelli Office at (608) 748-4411, ext. 870 or email for further information.

Father Mazzuchelli


Beyond physically building churches, Father Mazzuchelli spiritually built the Church in the Upper Mississippi River Valley.

Father Samuel Mazzuchelli documented building more than 20 churches in the tri-state area. Five of those original churches are still in existence. His first endeavor was to enlarge St. Anne Church on Mackinac Island, Michigan, in 1831. He also established more than 35 parish communities. Parish communities he established without building a church include Portage, Mineral Point, Patch Grove, Dodgeville, Diamond Grove, Mill Seat, and Elk Grove, Wisconsin; Rock Island, Savanna, and Menominee, Illinois; and Rockingham and Fort Madison, Iowa.

Father Mazzuchelli erected the following churches in Wisconsin.
1831 Green Bay, St. John the Evangelist
1834 Kaukauna
1838 Potosi (then called Snake Diggings), St. Thomas
1839 Prairie du Chien, St. Gabriel
1841 Shullsburg, St. Matthew
1842 Near the Wisconsin state line, St. Augustine (This was later moved to Sinsinawa Mound in 1844.)
1844 New Diggings, St. Augustine
1844 Sinsinawa, St. Dominic
1847 Hazel Green, designed St. Francis de Sales
1851 Cuba City, St. Rose of the Prairie
1852 Benton, St. Patrick

Father Mazzuchelli built the following churches in Iowa.
1835 Dubuque, St. Raphael Cathedral
1838 Davenport, St. Anthony
1840 Burlington, St. Paul
1840 Garryowen, St. Patrick
1841 Iowa City, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
1842 Muscatine, St. Mathias
1842 Bellevue, St. Andrew

In Illinois, Father Mazzuchelli planned the construction of St. Mary Church, Galena, in 1850. He also constructed St. Michael Church in Galena in 1835.

The following churches built by Father Mazzuchelli are still in existence today.

St. Michael - Galena


The Catholics of Galena had many opportunities to hear Father Mazzuchelli preach. He delivered more than 280 sermons in Galena from 1835 to 1843. Preaching was only part of his service. Besides aiding Galena in building a courthouse and market house, he also built the first Catholic church begun in 1835 and completed in 1842 at the cost of $14,000, a great sum for those days. The parish extended throughout Jo Daviess County—about 24 square miles—and contained more than 2,000 Catholics. Disaster struck Galena when a fire destroyed a section of the city. St. Michael Church lay in the path of the fire and was completely destroyed. Father Mazzuchelli came to the aid of his former parish and began work on a new church. The present church is the result of his architectural genius. One unique feature is the roof at St. Michael. It is carried on a truss formation which eliminates the need of pillars.

St. Anthony - Davenport


When Father Mazzuchelli prepared to build St. Anthony in 1837, there were only 25 Catholics among the 100 inhabitants of the city. By 1843, the figures showed a change to 300 Catholics and 1,200 total population. By removing the east wall of the church, a 35-foot addition was constructed. Successive changes have been made through the years, but the original building is still being used today, sturdy after more than a century and a half. The bell of the original St. Anthony Church, costing $102 in 1839, still hangs on the outside of the present church. Though silent now, it reminds parishioners of the zealous pastor who established their parish.

St. Gabriel


Father Mazzuchelli first visited Prairie du Chien on September 22, 1832. He wanted to build a church but decided against it since he was stationed 400 miles away in Green Bay. When he returned to the city in early 1835, he found that no priest had been there since his visit three years earlier. In 1839, the church was started and Bishop Loras laid its cornerstone on July 21. Father stated in his Memoirs that he was the architect of this stone building which measured 100 feet in length by 50 feet in breadth. Father considered it necessary to visit often not only to direct the work, but also to rouse the people to contribute the necessary material to minimize expenses. He worked in the stone quarries with the people helping to get the necessary rock. The quality of his material and workmanship is attested to by the fact that St. Gabriel still serves as a place of worship.

St. Mathias


In his Memoirs, Father Mazzuchelli described St. Mathias Church as tiny, 20 x 30 feet, and built from material that floated down the Mississippi River. It was built on land purchased by Bishop Loras. A plaque on the church today reads “First Catholic Church in Muscatine erected on Cedar Street in 1842 by Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, OP, and Mathias Loras, Bishop.” It is gratifying to know that the current parishioners have restored the old church as it was originally built. Father Samuel’s hopes are also realized as he stated “when these new villages shall have become transferred into populous cities, our holy religion will there have its splendid temples where the praises of God will be daily sung.” Its new roof, freshly painted exterior, and lovely museum attest to present parish appreciation of the past.

St. Augustine


The famous Menneally bell in the tower of St. Augustine can well afford to ring a tribute to its architect and builder, Father Samuel Mazzuchelli. Erected in 1844, this weather-beaten Greco-Gothic church has withstood the battering of time. Having been restored by the Father Mazzuchelli Assembly of the Knights of Columbus of Lancaster, Wisconsin, it has created interest throughout the country. Designated by the American Historic Building Survey as worthy of preservation, one has a sense of reverence upon entering it. Three rooms behind the altar provided living quarters for the priest whenever he could stay in the village. In these three rooms, Father Mazzuchelli opened a school in 1847 and brought Sisters from Sinsinawa Mound to staff it. Account book records preserved in the Archives at Sinsinawa, as well as letters and recollection of the pioneer citizens of the village, provide a fascinating chronicle of American life a century and a half ago, attesting to the self-sacrificing virtue of Father Samuel.

St. Patrick


Benton was Father Mazzuchelli’s home for the last 15 years of his life. The present St. Patrick Church made of stone still serves the parish. It was built in 1852 after the first church became too small for the growing congregation. However, his ingenuity showed him that the old church could be used while the new church was under construction, so he planned the new stone walls to encompass the old church. When the old church had to yield to the new, he had it carefully dismantled, moved across the street, and rebuilt it as St. Clara Academy.