Rev. Theodore B. Meyer, pastor of St. Mary’s church at Racine, has done effective work among the Catholic families of this locality since October, 1896, and his labors have been most effective in advancing the growth of the parish. He is a native son of Racine County, his birth having occurred in Caledonia, February 13, 1853. The family name, however, indicates his German lineage. His grandfather was a native of Kaltenborn, Germany, where he engaged in farming and mining, his death resulting from a mine accident. He married a Miss Jungmann and their large family included Peter Meyer, who was born near the city of Treves, in the Rhine Province, Prussia, and was there reared and educated. In May, 1845, he crossed the Atlantic and after a brief period spent in Racine secured employment on a farm at Milton Junction, Rock County, Wisconsin. In 1847 he returned to his native land, but in the spring of 1848 again came to the new world, accompanied by his sisters, Mary and Magdalene. In 1850 he established his home upon a farm of eighty acres in Caledonia Township, Racine County, and became one of the organizers of St. Ludwig’s Roman Catholic church of that locality, giving two acres of ground from his farm as a site for the church and cemetery. He was also prominent in community affairs, serving as town clerk, town treasurer and supervisor. After coming to America he studied English at Milton, Wisconsin, and taught one of the first schools in Madison and also one term near that city. He married Angeline Epper, who was born near Trier, in the Rhine Province, a daughter of Jacob and Susan (Huss) Epper, who came to America in 1848, settling in Paris, Kenosha County, where her father engaged in farming. Her mother reached the advanced age of ninety-two years. They had a large family and it. is said the eldest son, a Prussian soldier, was the strongest man in that army.
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Rev. Theodore B. Meyer, one of a family of thirteen children was reared in Caledonia and from 1.858 until 1865 attended the first Catholic school there. In the fall of 1868 he became a student in St. Francis Seminary at. Milwaukee and was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Henni on the 24th of June, 1877. He became assistant to Father Reindl at the Vincent de Paul church in Oshkosh, where he remained from July until December, 1877, when he was transferred to become pastor of St.. Catharine’s and St. Michael’s church at Granville, Milwaukee County, there continuing until December, 1880, when Archbishop Henni assigned him to Wilson, Wisconsin, to take charge of the two churches of St. George and St. Rose. His duties there continued until September, 1887, and during that time he had the interior of both churches beautifully decorated and also made extensive repairs on the parish schoolhouses, while in 1886 he erected a fine parish home in Wilson in connection with St. George’s church.
For nine years, .from September 16, 1887, until October, 1896, Father Meyer was pastor of St. Mary’s church in Saukville, Wisconsin. When he began his labors there the indebtedness of the parish was four thousand dollars. He set t o work to liquidate this and not only did so, but in 1889 made extensive improvements and in 1891 decorated the church in fitting style. In 1896 the school building was enlarged and yet he left the parish practically free from debt, having himself collected eight thousand dollars.
Through appointment of the Most Rev. Archbishop F. X. Katzer, Father Meyer came to Racine as pastor of St. Mary’s in November, 1896. The church here had an indebtedness of seventy-five hundred dollars, there was little interest manifest in the different societies and conditions on the whole were rather discouraging, but Father Meyer brought courage and optimism to the work and soon his presence was felt in renewed co-operation and vigor in the church work. In this connection a contemporary writer has said: “On January 6, 1897, he changed the Woman’s Sodality to a Christian Mothers’ Association, under the direction of the church. The reception of members on that day was one hundred and thirty-seven, while now there are one hundred and ninety-four active members. In May, 1897, he founded the Sodality of the Immaculate Conception, which now has a membership of one hundred and seventy-two. On St. Aloysius Day, 1897, the St. Aloysius Society, which now has ninety members, was organized. The St. Bonifacius School Society, which now has one hundred and fifty members, was also put upon a solid basis. During July, 1898, under the auspices of the different societies, a successful fair was held to raise money for the discharge of the debt. The profits were two thousand four hundred and sixty dollars, this lessening the debt considerably.
“In 1900, through the influence of Father Meyer, the parish house, which is located at No. 800 Wisconsin Street, was renovated at an expense of one thousand eight hundred dollars. A story was added over the kitchen, and the whole house was equipped with hot water heat and all modern improvements. As the schoolhouse was in very bad condition it was resolved at a meeting held in June, 1901, to build an addition to the building and also to repair the old school. The resolution was passed unanimously, and the new building was commenced at once according to plans made by D. R., Davis. The contractors were Louis Tharinger, carpenter, and John Siepler, mason, both of whom fulfilled their obligations to the utmost satisfaction of all concerned. The cost of putting up the new structure and completely equipping the old one with modern improvements amounted to six thousand two hundred dollars, and the work; was finished by the beginning of November. The dedication, by Rev. J. A. Birkhauser, assisted by various priests of the city, took place on Thanksgiving Day, and that evening an entertainment and supper were given in the building, which netted a profit of one hundred and eighty dollars. The church is located at the corner of Eighth Street and College Avenue, and the school adjoins it on the south. All the buildings of the parish are now complete and in good condition, and although the current expenses are heavy the congregation can look forward to a future of great prosperity and contentment. The church now has a membership of about two hundred families, and one hundred and seventy pupils are enrolled in the school.
“On July 2, 1902, Rev. Theodore B. Meyer celebrated the silver jubilee of his entrance into the priesthood. He had no intention originally of specially observing the day, but at the solicitation of his friends he decided to hold appropriate services, and the occasion resolved itself into one of great festivity. Over seventy priests were present at the ceremony, among them the vicars general of Milwaukee and La Crosse. The spirit displayed by his own parishioners is worthy of special notice. Young and old vied in honoring their spiritual guide and wishing him future joy, and the various societies, all of which owe their present flourishing condition to his untiring labors, took advantage of the opportunity to show their appreciation and affectionate esteem for one who has given his best effort in their behalf. Thanksgiving Day of 1902 (November 27th) was the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of St. Mary s congregation, and under the auspices of Father Meyer, on that day, was celebrated the golden jubilee of the event. The services were impressive and largely attended, Archbishop Katzer being among the distinguished dignitaries who lent their presence to the religious festival.”
Father Meyer was one of the organizers of the Gonzaga Union of the Catholic young men of Wisconsin, was its first president and for fourteen years was director and manager. Adolph Weber and Henry Broecker, of Racine, and Lucas Riedl, of Milwaukee, were also connected with the organization of the Union, which now has over three thousand members.