Little did Bill and Melissa Waddle realize when that they joined St. Anne Parish in Pleasant Prairie this month that part of Bill’s past would merge with his new life. When he was young, he spent many Sundays and holy days of obligation serving the parish priest at St. Casimir Parish, Kenosha, as an altar server. He remembers seeing his parents and family members proudly watching him from the pews.
Although Mass was celebrated for the first time in their new building on Sept. 11, 2004, the church was far from complete, as lack of finances precluded completion of the interior, including pews, kneelers and a pipe organ.
Thanks to the generosity of the parishioners of St. Elizabeth Parish, Kenosha, members of St. Anne Church are getting one of their long time wishes granted this Christmas. They will sit on pews for the first time since the parish was established in 1998, and, ironically, the pews are from the shuttered St. Casimir Church. Members of St. Anne Parish and students from St. Joseph High School moved the pews to St. Anne on Saturday, Dec. 15.
“It is a great feeling to be getting these pews – I didn’t even know that St. Casimir still had them; this was a surprise to me,” Bill said. “It is a great feeling to know that I can share my faith with my family from when I was younger. I wouldn’t be able to take my children to St. Casimir, but to know that I can share it at my new church I call home is a great feeling. My wife and I are excited for this journey.”
When Tom and Sue Kratowicz were married, both had dreams of joining St. Casimir Parish, where Tom was baptized and spent most of his life. His earliest memories included climbing on the wooden pews, dropping the wooden kneelers on the floor by accident, listening to the enormous pipe organ during Sunday Mass, and feeling at home with his parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles by his side.
“When they closed the church in 2000, we were so sad,” said Sue, who said that Tom had fond memories of attending religious education classes and helping at parish festivals, “So we decided to just join a brand new parish for the both of us. We have been members of St. Anne since 2000, before our current church was built.”
According to Fr. Sean Granger, pastor of St. Elizabeth Parish, his parish inherited the St. Casimir campus after the archdiocese closed the church.
The vacant building has not been maintained.
“We knew that St. Anne needed pews, and thought it might be nice if we could donate the pews to be used for the original purpose that they were donated for,” said Fr. Granger. “I spoke with Archbishop Jerome Listecki about it and he liked the idea of upcycling to another church. He thought it was a great example of working together and of collaboration in the area.”
Until now, the numerous folding chairs rattled along the concrete floor and served as makeshift pews for the 930 households that comprise the parish. Having 50-60 pews in the worship space is exciting for Fr. Robert Weighner, St. Anne pastor, who expects to be able to seat 450 to 500 parishioners with the pews.
“My plan is to fill in the pews and then fill in along the side with chairs,” he said. “This was an extremely needed donation and greatly wanted. This is a wonderful gift and fills me and my parishioners with great joy.”
For the Kratowiczes, the pews have an extra special meaning attached to them, as some of the pews have the nameplates of their relatives on them.
“I heard about this from one of Tom’s aunts that when St. Casimir had a fundraiser for the church many years ago, they placed nameplates on the pews for those who donated,” said Sue. “I am not sure if Fr. Bob will keep the nameplates on the pews, but I would like to have them if he decides to take them off. Having his family’s history in our church is just incredible.”
The generosity of St. Elizabeth members has created a childlike enthusiasm among parishioners that they have not experienced in a long time, according to Margie Mandli, leader of outreach ministry.
“This is so wonderful to have the pews and awesome to be able to kneel at those sacred moments, such as the consecration and the Lamb of God, as they are such a part of the Mass,” she said, as three pews were delivered earlier in the week for daily Mass attendees.
“To be able to be on our knees and adore the Lord in that way will be putting a reverence in the Mass that is meant to be. We are all super excited and it is bringing a new harmony, order and reverence that is just beautiful. It is my hope that having the pews will attract more visitors and people to our parish. We are a young and vibrant parish and having these pews gives us such a sense of completion.”
Included in the donation is the St. Casimir pipe organ, which will be installed in the spring.
“We had been looking at pricing organs, but as with the pews, we just couldn’t afford it, so this is amazing,” said Fr. Weighner. “It is a beautiful organ and the pipes are in good shape. It will have to have some updating and we will need to get it cleaned, but Fr. Sean played it when we saw it at St. Casimir, and it worked well.”
For Fr. Granger and members of St. Elizabeth Parish, the donation is something they are happy and honored to do.
“St. Casimir members spent money on these things intended for Catholic worship,” he said, “and it is wonderful that these things, that were part of their church will be used once again by Catholics for Catholic worship.”