Saint Patrick’s Church and graveyard is located at the east end of the main street. A shrine at the front was dedicated on July 13, 1975 by the Reverend Cletus F. O’Donnell, Bishop of Madison.
The shrine is in memory of Father Samuel Mazzuchelli who became the resident pastor of Benton in 1849 and spent the last 15 years of his life there. The Irish miners called him Father Matthew Kelly but he was neither Irish nor a Kelly.
Father Mazzuchelli was born in Milan, Italy on November 4, 1806 to wealthy parents. Instead of following in his father’s footsteps into business he became a priest. He arrived in the lead mining region of south-western Wisconsin in 1835. He set about establishing schools and preparing teachers for the education of miner’s children. 1n 1847 he formed the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters which was Wisconsin’s first teaching sisterhood.
The grave of Father Mazzuchelli at Saint Patrick’s Church in Benton is visited by many people. Some consider it a religious pilgrimage.
He designed and built 20 churches in the Upper Mississippi Valley during his lifetime.
The present Saint Patrick’s Church was built of stone in 1851 after the congregation outgrew the first church. The new church was build over the old one so there was no interruption in the mass during the building. When the new church was completed Father Mazzuchelli had the old building carefully dismantled and reconstructed as the Saint Clara Academy. The academy taught science with the earliest laboratory instruments. He actually helped with the construction of the new church by quarrying stone. Having a keen knowledge of architectural design his Italian influence can be observed in Saint Patrick’s Church.
Father Mazzuchelli’s life was cut short by pneumonia which he is said to have developed while making a call to a sick parishioner. He was only 58 when he died and there is little doubt this remarkable man had much left to offer the region he made his home far from his native Milan.
Lead mining brought laborers to the corner of Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota from all over Europe. When mines closed in places like Cornwall it was normal for mining families to immigrate to the new mining locations in America. The workers got along, unified by their common professions, and practiced their various versions of Christianity with the freedom the writers of the U.S. constitution had intended. Most towns in the area have several churches of different denominations within sight of each other. While the miner’s work was hard their spiritual lives were fulfilled.
Many people hope that one day Father Samuel Mazzuchelli will one day be declared a saint.