Prior to 1958, Catholics living in Middleton Township on the far west side of Madison area were served first by St. Bernard Parish, then by Our Lady Queen of Peace. On June 13, 1958, Bishop William P. O’Connor founded Saint Thomas Aquinas Parish on a ten-acre site at the corner of Rosa Road and Mineral Point Road. In the early days the parish community had no church—just a vision and some land known as the “bean patch.”
Initially, the pastor, Father Arnold Lehman, celebrated Masses at the original Westside Businessman’s Club near Odana Road and Whitney Way. Because two other churches also used this building, Masses were limited to 7 a.m. and noon. After four months, the parish moved its Masses to the studios of WMTV. A trailer at the “bean patch” served as the rectory. As the first church building neared completion, parish members themselves installed the altar and kneeling pads. On July 10, 1960, Bishop O’Connor dedicated the building and anointed the altar.
The reforms of Vatican Council II profoundly affected parish life. In the late 1960s, during the tenure of Msgr. Andrew Breines, a parish council and various commissions were established. Catechism classes (now Religious Education or Faith Formation) moved from individual members’ homes to the parish’s six new classrooms. This was also the period when liturgical reforms of the Council were implemented and our first “vernacular” choir began.
By the early 1970s it was clear that the city of Madison was not developing as expected, with few houses being built south of Mineral Point Road. During the pastorate of Father John Flanagan, a study was commissioned and the parish decided to sell the property on Rosa Road to CUNA and invest in land on Everglade Drive. A new building was built there and dedicated on August 13, 1976. The parish flourished in this new location, growing to nearly 1,000 families by the mid-1980s.
In the 1980s the parish faced many challenges, including the serious heart attack of Father Flanagan in June of 1984, followed by his death at the parish on January 25, 1985. He was succeeded as pastor by Father Donald Murray. For the rest of the decade and into the 1990s the parish dealt with challenges created by growing membership: a shortage of classroom and meeting space, renovation needs, and concerns about how to expand programs and ministries.
In the 1990s a comprehensive building plan was executed to double the parish’s space by adding a new parish education center and library and expanding the social hall, kitchen, nurseries, bride’s room, ushers’ room, and gathering area. The Blessed Sacrament Chapel was also expanded to seat up to 100 people for daily Masses, intimate weddings and funerals, and other prayer services. On August 29, 1999, Bishop William Bullock presided over the re-dedication ceremonies of our current facility.
The new millennium brought more changes. Father Murray retired in 2001 and was followed by Father (later Monsignor) Terrence Connors. With its space needs addressed, the parish was able to turn its attention to further development of its community life through more conscious, intentional practice of stewardship and greater involvement of parishioners in leadership and building parish ministries. Outreach expanded beyond our long-time support for San Rafael in Waspam, Nicaragua, to include Middleton Outreach Ministry (M.O.M.), Mgolole Orphanage in Tanzania, and the work of a vibrant parish conference of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.
In 2006 Msgr. Donn Heiar became the new pastor, bringing to the parish increased emphasis on the role of the Sacraments as foundation for all we do. Simultaneously we recognized the need to expand our definition of community to extend beyond the parish. As part of the Diocesan Guided by the Spirit process, St. Thomas Aquinas engaged in discussions about how we can collaborate in a time of fewer active priests and a growing Catholic population. In 2007 we formed a cluster of cooperation with St. Bernard, Middleton, St. Francis Xavier, Cross Plains, St. Peter, Ashton, and St. Martin of Tours, Martinsville. When Our Lady Queen of Peace took over primary responsibility for the Catholic Multicultural Center, St. Thomas Aquinas directed some of its outreach efforts toward the Center’s support. The parish circle of caring expanded further to include members of the military when Msgr. Heiar became a chaplain with the Wisconsin Air National Guard in 2010 and subsequently served two deployments abroad.
Shortly after our current pastor, Fr. Bart Timmerman, arrived in 2013, nearby Latino families approached the parish seeking assistance with their religious education and sacramental needs. This led to the development of a growing Hispanic ministry, the latest way in which St. Thomas Aquinas works to provide a warm welcome and spiritual home where people can deepen their relationship to God through Our Lord Jesus Christ.