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Oconto Christian Science church still relevant

OCONTO - One hundred fifty years ago, Mary Baker Eddy had a. quick recovery from a near-fatal accident by reading and pondering a biblical account of one of Jesus’ healings. That experience set her on a quest that eventually resulted in a worldwide spiritual movement, which she named Christian Science.

Wisconsin has a unique connection to this movement because the first edifice built for Christian Science services in the world was built in 1886 in Oconto.

Services are still held at the Oconto church as well as in 29 other Christian Science churches in Wisconsin and in 128 countries around the world. The modest structure in Oconto was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

More important than the physical structure is the reason those first members came together. Each of them had experienced a healing through prayer of anything from a broken bone to a life-threatening illness, and their gratitude impelled them to form and build the Oconto church.

Oconto County Historical Society

As the Oconto County Historical Society website documents:

“It started in 1883 when Hugh McDonald, owner of a sawmill in Fort Howard, now Green Bay, overheard a steamboat inspector say, ‘My wife is getting better. She is having something they call Christian Science.’ Mr. McDonald’s wife had been seriously ill, so he questioned the inspector and learned of her treatment by a Christian Science practitioner in Milwaukee. But Mrs. Emma McDonald was reluctant to make the trip since she felt she had very little time to live and should spend it with her family. She did go, however, and upon finding that the treatment helped her, she sent for her friend, Mrs. Laura Sargent of Oconto who was also in ill health. Both women returned home, healed …”


Fulfilling Jesus’ promise

Healing was central to Jesus’ life work, and his promise that his followers would heal the sick through prayer was the foundation on which Eddy based her church. She’d been an invalid half her life, but after her healing in 1866, she healed others and taught them to heal, based on the principle of God as Love.

At the suggestion of a doctor who had witnessed the healing of a patient he’d given up on, Eddy wrote a textbook of this science and its healing method. Titled “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” the book was voted in 1993 by the National Women’s Book Association as one of the 75 books by women “whose words have changed the world.” It has been translated into 16 languages and English braille. In 1998, Mary Baker Eddy was chosen by PBS’ “Religion and Ethics News Weekly” as “one of the 25 most significant religious figures for Americans in the 20th century.”

So how did the first church for Christian Scientists happen to be built in Wisconsin?

According to the Oconto Historical Society: “When Mrs. Eddy was in Chicago in 1884 to teach a class, several women from Oconto went to take instruction including Mrs. McDonald, Mrs. Sargent, Mrs. Lovina Millidge, and Miss Elizabeth Beyer.” This was the only class Eddy ever taught in the “West.”

Upon returning to Oconto, Mrs. Millidge opened her home to the students of Christian Science for Sunday worship, the historical society noted. The group grew steadily, and with Eddy’s permission, Laura Sargent’s sister Victoria accepted donations for a church. Laura studied further with Eddy in Boston, the site of the world headquarters of the Christian Science church, and worked for her from 1903 to 1910.

To ‘injure no man, but to bless all mankind’

Mary Baker Eddy challenged the time-honored doctrines of her day, such as God as the creator of both good and evil, or health as entirely at the mercy of our bodies. She considered herself a spiritual pioneer whose discovery — that God’s laws are always present and operating to heal, redeem and bless humanity — encompassed science, theology and medicine.

Undaunted by opposition from clergy, doctors, the press and the courts, Eddy went on to found, at age 86, an international daily newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor, giving it a distinct purpose: to “injure no man, but to bless all mankind.” Generations have come to trust and respect the quality and fairness of The Christian Science Monitor, which has won many Pulitzer prizes.

Mary Baker Eddy’s achievements are astounding when viewed in the context of her era, when most women had no more than a 12th-grade education, a life expectancy of 57 and no voting rights.

These words from her textbook "Science and Health" show her vision for mankind: “One infinite God, good, unifies men and nations; constitutes the brotherhood of man; ends wars; fulfils the Scripture, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself;’ annihilates pagan and Christian idolatry, — whatever is wrong in social, civil, criminal, political, and religious codes; equalizes the sexes; annuls the curse on man, and leaves nothing that can sin, suffer, be punished or destroyed.

For more information about Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science, visit and

Services are held at the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Oconto at 9:30 a.m. every Sunday and 7 p.m. the first and third Wednesday of each month. The church is located at the corner of Main and Chicago streets.


Margaret Lewis is the media and legislative representative for Christian Science in Wisconsin - April 7th, 2016.

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