In the mid-nineteenth century, Kewaunee County attracted many Czech immigrants, who fled Central Europe to escape political upheaval, military conscription, and the forced-labor requirements of the Hapsburg emperor. A group of Catholics from Domazlice, Bohemia, began settling the town of Franklin around 1855, and St. Lawrence Church, then as now, provided a center for ethnic cohesion. The annual Kermis, held on August 10, marks the feast of St. Lawrence with traditional Czech delicacies.
When St. Lawrence’s parish decided to replace its original log structure in 1892, Paulu, a church architect of Czech descent in Milwaukee, created this Gothic Revival building. The cream brick church features a square tower at the center of the facade, which rises to a pedimented, pyramidal spire. Stepped buttresses, crenellations, and corner pinnacles enrich the facade. The wide nave is sheltered under a dramatic vaulted ceiling, which is painted with six frescoes illustrating episodes in the life of Christ. William Scheer of Appleton, who created these frescoes in 1912, had studied church decoration in Germany. In 1957, Louis Shrovnal, a Czech painter from Kewaunee, restored Scheer’s paintings and added stenciled decoration along the ribs of newly installed Tudor-arched vaults. The apse, outlined with a stenciled pattern of chevrons, frames a lavish Gothic-styled altar, approximately thirty feet tall, created c. 1894 by Joseph Svoboda, a Czech immigrant. He also carved smaller side altars with an array of Gothic motifs—lancet arches, quatre-foils, and pinnacles—and trimmed them in gold and silver. Czech-language inscriptions abound, and statues and stained glass windows depict the patron saints of Bohemia and other holy figures dear to Czechs.
On a knoll near the church is a small cemetery, where many headstones bear Czech-language inscriptions and crosses executed in a traditional Czech style. Czech remained the official language for religious instruction at St. Lawrence until 1930, and worship services in Czech persisted into the 1940s.