History

The beginnings of the Parish of Notre Dame are found in the occasional visits of priests to the French Canadian, Native American, Irish, and German Catholics settled along the Chippewa River. In the fall of 1855 a first wooden church structure was erected to the south of the current building (thus along “Church Street”). The parish was formally established in the following year. With the development of lumbering in the area, and with the enterprising leadership of Fr. Charles F. X. Goldsmith, the Catholic community in the region grew exponentially. The current church, built of local sandstone, was dedicated August 22, 1872. A grade school was organized in 1865, and Notre Dame High School graduated its first class in 1889. In time new parishes were developed from what originally had been Notre Dame Parish on the West Hill (St. Charles) and “Frenchtown” (Holy Ghost) areas of Chippewa Falls. Thus Notre Dame gained the title, “The Mother Church of the Chippewa Valley.” Priests of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (The Holy Ghost Fathers) served the parish from early 1891 until 1960. Lumber baron Alexander B. McDonell endowed the building of a new parish high school that was dedicated in 1908. In 1968 a new central high school was built on the West Hill, and in 1999 the former school building became the Heyde Center for the Arts, serving as the home of the Chippewa Valley Cultural Association. With the consolidation of the city’s parish schools and the end of the presence of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the former parish convent building was leased to the Chippewa Valley Historical Center as the home of its extensive museum. The Parish continues to use the grade school building for religious instruction, meetings, parish socials, and as the home of the Goldsmith Coffee Bar. As the base of the Chippewa Falls economy has moved from lumber to shoes to microchips, The Parish of Notre Dame has continued to serve as the home base in faith for its generous and loyal members.