It is on the fourteenth of April of 1857 that our story really begins. On that day the first railroad train in Prairie du Chien traveled into the roundhouse located then just south of what is now the fertilizer plant. It was during this same year and on this same railroad that a certain John Lawler came to Prairie du Chien to become the local station agent for the Milwaukee and Prairie du Chien Railroad. He was to stay for a long while and make quite a name for himself.
In anticipation of the visitors to be brought in by the railroad, a hotel was built in Prairie du Chien by a joint stock company for $56,000-Brisbois House. The hotel was a failure, however, and in 1864 it closed its doors and was turned over to the government to be used as a war hospital. So from the battlefields to the south, a steady trickle of wounded soldiers flowed into Brisbois House, now known as Union Hospital.
After the Civil War was over civic leaders of Prairie du Chien attempted unsuccessfully to have the State of Wisconsin utilize Brisbois House as a State Normal School. On May 1, 1866, the huge frame building passed into John Lawler's hands. Lawler in turn handed it over to a group of trustees who opened it as a school on September 12. 1866. Prairie du Chien College, as it was known, offered courses in languages, history, mathematics, and science.
Prairie du Chien College ran short of funds in 1869 and was forced to close. The property was restored to Lawler. He then attempted to give the building to the Missouri Province Jesuits by having Father Arnold Damen, S.J., offer it to his superior in Chicago. Since the order was short of manpower, it was compelled to decline the offer and Lawler on February 9, 1871 gave the property to the Christian Brothers. In August of the same year, the Brothers opened on the property St. John's College.
St. John's College, however, lasted no longer than did Prairie du Chien College, being forced to close in 1876 with the property once again reverting to Lawler. Finally, on June 16, 1880 Lawler deeded the property over to the Jesuits of the Buffalo Mission.
In September of 1880, the enormous structure in the wilds of Wisconsin became the College of the Sacred Heart and was placed under the direction of Father William Becker, S.J. From that time on the history of Mr. Lawler's generous gift to Catholic education has worn a much brighter aspect.
During its first year of operation the College had a registration of sixty-one students. Listed among these first students were Joseph Busch, past Bishop of St. Cloud, Minn., and George Pickel, a Jesuit and former teacher at John Carroll University in Cleveland and at Campion.
On August 20, 1881 the College received a charter from the State of Wisconsin for "The College and University of the Sacred Heart, with power to confer the usual degrees and academic honors."
In the following year the new establishment saw four graduates of the high school leave its walls. Two years later the College gave seven Bachelor of Arts degrees.
Naturally, the students for the first few years came only from neighboring counties with a few from Iowa and Minnesota. Nonetheless, by 1884 the number of students had increased so that more accommodations were deemed necessary and Kostka Hall was built.
The year 1885 graduated a certain Arthur Dunne, the man who later became a popular orator of great demand. From this class too, came the Reverend Charles Lechtenberg, who was some years later to become the first president of the Alumni Association.
Fr. Anselm Leiter became Campion's second president in 1884. Before coming to Prairie du Chien, he had spent several years in the Bombay missions in East India, but broken health forced him to return to Europe, and from there he was sent to the Buffalo Mission, and finally to Prairie du Chien.
The College of the Sacred Heart closed June 26, 1888, and for the next ten years the building served as a Jesuit novitiate and house of studies. While the property was being put to this use, John Lawler, the man who had made all this possible, died February 25, 1891.
In 1898 the school opened once again to lay students, and Fr. Leiter again assumed his position as Rector. In this position he stayed but for a few short years, and then died in August, 1901.
The next Rector was Fr. John Heinzle, S.J. Before coming to Prairie he taught physics at Wood- stock College, Maryland and had been Rector of Canisius College, Buffalo. Fr. Heinzle made plans but because of the impending merger between the American provinces and the Buffalo Mission he was not able to carry them out.
Fr. Joseph L. Spaeth came to Prairie du Chien in 1904 to become Fr. Heinzle's successor. Like Fr. Heinzle, Fr. Spaeth desired to continue the development of the school. Conditions were still uncertain but progress was steady.
In 1909 Campion Hall was erected. In 1910 the Junior gym was built and the much needed study hall above it was used for the junior students.
Fr. Spaeth was transferred to St. Louis University in 1910 to become a teacher of Dogmatic Theology, a job which he held for more than twenty years. The next man to become Rector of the fast growing school was Fr. Horning, S.J. After being in office only a short time, Fr. Horning decided that the school was badly in need of athletic activities and he began to look around for someone to moderate school sports. At this he was extremely successful for he engaged William S. Hoffman to coach the school's athletic teams. It is not necessary to enumerate the many talents of Coach Hoffman for he is today known far and wide for his outstanding athletic teams as well as his exemplary Christian character.
Then, in 1911, Fr. Horning became the second Rector to die in office. Fr. George B. Kister, S.J., formerly of St. Mary's College in Kansas, stepped in to fill the job.
Another outstanding personage arrived on campus in 1911 in the form of Fr. James Daly, S.J., the nationally known poet and litterateur. Fr. Daly, however, was not the only man of great fame on the faculty at that time. This was the age of the "Million Dollar Faculty". Almost every teacher in the school was known far and wide for his activities. It was through the talents and efforts of this faculty that the school changed from one of local fame to one of national fame.
April of 1913 saw a change in the name of the school. Boys now attended Campion College of the Sacred Heart.
The next big change to take place was in 1915 when Marquette Hall took shape on the campus. The 1915-16 school catalogue says of it: it "is of re-inforced concrete construction, thoroughly fire-proof, the only wood being the doors, window-frames and sashes, and the flooring of the rooms."
After six years Fr. Kister's term of office came to a close and Fr. Albert C. Fox, S.J., succeeded him. Under this Rector the school was to undergo many changes. The first thing he effected was a district severance between the College and High School departments. Under his direction, in 1920 Campion bought and remodeled the infirmary. Fr. Fox also took a special interest in the fund raising for a new chapel building but before it was dedicated he left the school to become President of Marquette University.
Under the next Rector, Fr. Aloysius Rohde, S.J., the building program was furthered. First the powerhouse was built in 1922 on the northeast corner of the campus. Then Our Lady of the Angels Chapel was built. The dedication of the magnificent new chapel took place on June 2, 1925. This building is a special tribute to the late Fr. Theodore Schutte, S.J., (1872-1952) who almost singlehandedly collected the money for the building. The raising of such a large sum required fifteen years, but now the structure stands as a fitting memorial to the perseverance of Fr. Schutte, a close friend to generation after generation of Campion students.
Five days after the dedication of the new chapel, on June 7, 1925, it was decided that the college department would cease to be and that Campion would be changed into a high school. The next fall the school opened under its new title, Campion Jesuit High School.
In 1928 Fr. Rohde was assigned to the post of Assistant Provincial of the Chicago Province and Fr. Bartholomew J. Quinn, S.J., took his post as Rector. Fr. Quinn left in 1934 and was succeeded by Fr. Peter A. Brooks, S.J., who in turn left to become Provincial.
During the Rectorship of Fr. Brooks the Senior gym and the club room next to it were built. That was in 1936. Then in 1938, under a new rector, Loyola Hall was erected. This edifice is possibly the real center of the campus since three times daily the entire student body gathers under its roof. The Rector who oversaw the erection of this building was Fr. William Bowdern, S.J., who is now serving as pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church in St. Louis.
Fr. Thomas J. Stemper, S.J., became the Rector in 1942 after serving for a short time as assistant principal. Fr. Stemper served in this capacity as Rector until 1948 when the present Rector, Fr. A. F. Giunta, S.J., arrived.
And so seventy-five years and sixteen Rectors later John Lawler's gift is renewed in the new building that bears his name. Whatever fame Campion possesses, whatever influence she has exerted on the thousands of young men who have passed through her doors may in truth be traced back to that far-seeing man of the nineteenth century.