St. Mary’s Big River priest placed on leave

Posted 9/13/22

Parish will move forward, celebrate 150th anniversary Father Kevin Louis of St. Mary’s “Big River” Catholic Church has been placed on administrative leave, according to a statement …

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St. Mary’s Big River priest placed on leave


Parish will move forward, celebrate 150th anniversary

Father Kevin Louis of St. Mary’s “Big River” Catholic Church has been placed on administrative leave, according to a statement from the La Crosse Diocese. Most Reverend William Pat- rick Callahan, the bishop of the diocese, said in a statement Aug. 30 that Louis was placed on leave for “person al reasons to allow a time of discernment.” The leave is not related in any way to misconduct with a minor, the statement said. “Robust protocols are in place to report and investigate such allegations and they are not a factor in Fr. Louis’s current administrative leave,” Callahan said. A parishioner, who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed Louis had had a con sensual romantic relationship with a 39-year-old woman and church member. An email sent to parishioners from Deacon Dan Gannon Friday, Sept. 2 said Louis would be moved out of the rectory and that he had changed his cell phone number. The church held a listening session for prayer and support at 6 p.m. Sept. 2, which about 60 people attended. The purpose was to provide each other support and how to move forward as a congregation. The diocese has no plans to close the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church (its formal name), said Erik S. Archer, director of communications and public relations for the Diocese of La Crosse. “The parish is vibrant and these families and faithful represent a devoted congregation,” Archer said Sept. 9 in an email to the Journal. “We are thankful for Deacon Gannon and his leadership at the parish. Clergy from the Diocese of La Crosse will continue to assist in responding to the spiritual needs of the parish.”

Louis has served the parish, located at W10137 570th Ave., River Falls, for the past seven years. The parish dates back to 1861, founded by 11 German families and five single men, Callahan’s statement said. The rural parish has about 140 families and an active homeschool population. “The parish family is really strong and we will do what we need to do to move for- ward,” the parishioner said. “There is a strong, strong, strong faith in the people and the community. First and foremost, where is the Holy Spirit going to take us? None of us will condone or condemn. We are faithful and faith-filled.” Church operations will continue as normally as possible, with Sunday masses at 9:30 a.m. and Tuesday adoration ending at 6 p.m. Knights of Columbus meetings will also be held as usual. On Sunday, Sept. 4, Fr. Billy Dodge said mass at St. Mary’s. Dodge, who is from Big River area, was mentored by Fr. Louis. “He said the greatest things about healing,” the parishioner said. “We couldn’t have had a better person to come.”

While the diocese is searching for a new priest for St. Mary’s, parishioners have been asked to pray for six other parishes in the diocese who are also currently without a priest.

150th anniversary

This year is a big year for the church, which will celebrate its 150th anniversary. A small log church was built in 1861 a half-mile south of the cemetery; then in 1872, a frame building was constructed at the church’s current site. The church has been enlarged, remodeled and redecorated and has been called the “Little Cathedral.”

The church will host a benefit gala 2-6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25 at Mystical Rose Gardens (W5415 890th Ave., Baldwin) Registration closes Thursday, Sept. 15. Tickets are $60 per person (for ages 18 and older only). The event will include a social hour, appetizers, dinner and drinks, live music by the Travis Anderson Trio, guest speakers Fr. Billy Dodge and Fr. Jake Anderson, and emcee Dustin Dodge. Proceeds will go toward St. Mary’s Blessed Solanus Casey Shrine.

“Everything will go on as planned,” the parishioner said. “Just because we don’t have a resident priest doesn’t make it necessary to cancel anything. We are celebrating 150 years of our wonderful parish, not a priest.”

The church is also undergoing a three-phase sanctuary restoration, which has begun construction.

To learn more about the gala or restoration, visit www.

St. Mary’s Big River Catholic Church is celebrating 150 years this year, complete with a fundraiser gala on Sept. 25. Photo by Sarah Nigbor