• Given at St. Peter’s, in Rome, under the Fisherman’s ring, on the 3rd day of March, 1868, in the 22nd year of Our Pontificate.” At the same time, Pope Pius IX confirmed the appointment of Father Michael Heiss as the first bishop of the new diocese of La Crosse.
  • Things moved slowly for the new diocese’s first bishop. Heiss received his appointment in June, 1867; however, the official documents, dated March 3, 1868, were not received until July 9, 1868. He was consecrated at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee on September 6, 1868. This was the first episcopal consecration in the state of Wisconsin.
  • The far flung diocese included English-speaking, American-born Catholics, as well as newer arrivals from Ireland and Germany, French Canada, Bohemia, Poland, and Italy, as well as Native Americans
  • Heiss found 30,000 Catholics who were served by a scant eighteen priests. Scattered across 28,000 square miles were forty churches, very few of which were built of brick or stone.
  • Heiss was convinced he needed a group of religious order priests who could dedicate themselves to ministry among the Native Americans. In 1878, Bishop Heiss succeeded in securing the services of the Franciscans Fathers of the Province of the Sacred Heart, St. Louis, Missouri.
  • New as the diocese was, the idea of a cathedral had been contemplated for a long time. Early on, it had been assumed that Prairie du Chien was the natural place for the cathedral when the new diocese was created. But the fur trade had waned by the time the new diocese was formed, and La Crosse, not Prairie du Chien, was to be the city of the future.
  • The only church in La Crosse at the time of Bishop Heiss’s arrival was St. Mary’s Church, a small wooden structure, completed in 1856, which served mostly Irish and French Catholics. Plans for St. Joseph’s, which was intended to serve German-speaking Catholics, had been drawn up but the church had not yet been built. Heiss immediately adopted these plans for the new Cathedral and work was begun.