Patrick Smith has mice in his house – lots of mice – but they are welcome guests who only come out of hiding during the holidays. They are the special Cathedral Mice of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Fond du Lac, Wis.
Smith is originally from Fond du Lac, where volunteers at St. Paul’s Cathedral make the little stuffed mice as Christmas decorations. Parishioner Dorothy Duket made 25 mice to sell for $1 each at a church fair in 1960. The mice were dressed as members of the church choir one year and Duket made a new character another year.
The mice were so popular after a few years that people began asking to purchase mice from previous years and Duket knew she had a good thing going.
Today, 55 volunteers make 3,000 mice a year. They add new characters each year and the Smith family keeps the volunteers busy.
“I have received the mice as gifts from my parents each Christmas,” Smith said. “They order a set each year, one for each of my brothers and sisters and for me. They have been collecting the mice for over 30 years, and I acquired my set 17 years ago, when I moved to Texas. I have 37 Cathedral Mice, and three ‘contraband’ mice that were bought at various gift shops. The contraband mice are about the same size, but are made from different materials.”
Smith said his mice make their appearance once a year.
“The mice are carefully stored in shoe boxes in our closet, except during the Christmas season,” he said. “We place them on the fireplace mantel. One year, we hung them from ribbons in the foyer archway, and our holiday guests would pass under the ‘ribbon’ of hanging mice.”
With 40 mice in his collection it would seem difficult to pick a favorite, but Smith knows his mice.
“I really like the set of the Wizard of Oz mice with Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Lion, but my favorite is ‘Gangway Mouse.’ He’s the one lying down on a sled with a red sweater and stocking cap. It reminds me of all the winter sports I participated in as a child growing up in the ‘frozen tundra’ of Wisconsin.”
Even though no one in Smith’s family lives in Fond du Lac any more, they all manage to keep the collection going.
“My parents still order each of us a mouse every year. One of my siblings takes a turn picking them up in our hometown, Fond du Lac, even though none of us still live there. My parents moved to Texas seven years ago, so now there are two sets of Cathedral Mice south of the Mason-Dixie line,” Smith said.
Always looking toward the future, Smith said he has a succession plan for his mice.
“My mouse collection will be passed on to my son, Daniel. Hopefully he’ll keep the collection going. Since he is my only child, he won’t have to split the collection with siblings,” he said.
Anyone can join the Cathedral Mice club by visiting the church website. Mice now cost $15 each, but a new mouse collector can order mice dating back to the choir mice of 1962. Other mice include a fireman, Old Mother Hubbard, Red Riding Hood, and many more.
Smith said collectors need to act quickly to get their mouse in time for the holidays.
“Orders need to be placed early each spring for delivery in November, since all the mice are made by hand.”