The local Indians and most early settlers called Holy Hill the big hill. After hearing the story of the black robe chief from the Indians, some of the Irish settlers dedicated the hill to the Blessed Virgin Mary as a special place of prayer. These Irish were the first to call this place Holy Hill. From 1858 until 1891, most area Catholics referred to the site as St. Mary's Hill or Maria Hilfberg. Because Francois Soubrio resided there within this same time period, many called it hermit's hill. The name Holy Hill was first used formally by Fr. George Strickner in the course of his sermon when dedicating a log chapel as the first Shrine of Mary - Help of Christians on May 24, 1863.
The summer of 1873 brought the United States Army Corps of Engineers to the hill. The engineers erected an observatory on its summit in order to map out Lake Michigan's coastline. In 1881 the Treasury Department surveyed the area to establish baselines between points on the Mississippi River, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Again in 1891, the engineers returned to make a topographical survey for the Department of the Interior. The presence of these United States survey teams and the work they accomplished, resulted in the hill being referred to as Government Hill.
Holy Hill is in the eastern part of Erin Township and sits on the highest peak of the Kettle Moraine. The Kettle Moraine is a specific chain of hills and pot shaped valleys that begins in the Whitewater area and extends northeast to Door County. The hill upon which the Shrine has been erected is a moulin kame. These kames were formed from the silt, sand, gravel and boulders left by torrents of water flushing down channels at the periphery of stagnate ice sheets. This meltwater deposited the debris into the cone formation in much the same way that sand forms a cone as it trickles through an hour glass."
Originally Holy Hill embraced forty acres of land and stood 289 feet above its base, 824 feet above the level of Lake Michigan and 1409 feet above sea level. Since the erection of the first log chapel, the top of the hill has been leveled twice to provide a suitable foundation for this present shrine and its predecessor. Holy Hill rises 1335 feet above sea level.'" Today, Holy Hill stands as protectorate over an additional 400 acres of natural woodland. This acreage has been acquired by the Discalced Carmelite Friars over a period of years for Holy Hill in order to preserve its contemplative atmosphere.
The atmosphere is felt as one walks through the woods along the outdoor Way of the Cross or looks out over the wooded hills and valleys from the observation deck of the present shrine. During the early morning and evening hours of spring, summer and fall, the fragrant air is filled with the music of nature's symphony. In this ambience, a passage from the psalms comes alive before us: "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" (Ps.8: 3-4).
Title to Holy Hill
The original forty acres of land comprising Holy Hill remained government property until purchased by Fr. Francis Paulhuber for $50 in 1855. Fr. Paulhuber, a native of Salsburg, Austria pastored three local parishes: St. Boniface, in Germantown; St. Hubert's, in Hubertus; and St. Augustine's, in Richfield. While visiting his friend Joseph Kohler, Fr. Paulhuber gazed on this hill and made a prophetic statement: "That beautiful hill yonder, reminds me very forcibly of a hill near our home in my native country. I feel sure and the day is not far distant, when that hill will become one of the most noted places in all this land; when it shall be consecrated and made holy; a place of worship and pilgrimage when tens of thousands shall come to do homage to the Virgin Mary and her Son..." After his prophecy Fr. Paulhuber made a commitment to buy the property for the church: "Only lately have I learned that the hill is still owned by the government and it is my intention to secure it without delay, and then permanently established the title by deed to this Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church."
Fr. Paulhuber purchased the land with the intention of transfering the deed to the church. According to government records, the deed was recorded in his name and entered by him on May 1, 1855, by duplicate No. 38710. Apparently Fr. Paulhuber left the deed with John M. Gans, an area notary public, giving him instructions to transfer the deed to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. During this era records were not always kept and the matter was either forgotten or overlooked. Fr. Paulhuber returned to his Austrian home and died there without leaving further instructions. Mr. Gans also died without leaving witnesses to the transaction. This caused serious tax problems as well as complications in the title of the land. Since the land was legally recorded in Paulhuber's name, it was taxed and assessed as private property.
The land was sold for taxes and bought by Martin L. Cutler of Albany, New York. Cutler's deed was dated August 13, 1856, only fifteen months after Fr. Paulhuber purchased the land. This was sooner than the law allowed for deeding of land for taxes. It appeared, because of an error in the description of the land, that some other property was sold for taxes and inserted into Cutler's deed. He continued to pay the assessed taxes for twelve years until March 9, 1868 when he entered a quit claim deed to Washington Co. for $8.84. This step was evidently encouraged by diocesan authorities in order to correct the imperfect title to the property. The quit claim deed from Washington County to the trustees of St. Mary's Chapel in Erin Township was recorded November 5, 1868 at 2:00 p.m. The price was $10.00.
Eight years later, on May 26, 1876, a quit claim deed was entered by the trustees of St. Mary's Chapel (Roman Goetz, John Piek and Bertram Schwarz) to Archbishop John Martin Henni, Archdiocese of Milwaukee. This deed, recorded at 2:00 p.m. June 29, 1876, is located on page 17 in volume 36 of Deeds at the Washington County Register of Deeds, West Bend, Wisconsin. The total for the deed was $1.00.