As one takes a drive down West Capitol Drive toward St. Dominic Catholic Parish, it becomes obvious that this is a location quite easily accessible from a variety of different communities in the Milwaukee area. That’s a feature that stuck out right away to Fr. Dennis Saran when he took over as pastor back in September.
“I think what’s interesting about St. Dominic is that it’s so on the borderline,” said Fr. Saran. “We’re not in the heart of a city, we’re on the north border of Brookfield. We draw attention from Menomonee Falls, Pewaukee, Brookfield and even a little bit from Wauwatosa and Milwaukee. Because of that, I think we have a very diverse group of people that come to our church. What‘s special about St. Dominic’s is that I’m only the fifth pastor here and so I hope that I will have as long a stay as the other pastors have.
“When I first came here, what was interesting to me was both the place and the people. When I first came into the church, I was so impressed with the light. It was almost like Jesus is light, this church is light. The way that it’s arranged in a semi-circle is really inviting for people. It’s not where people are standing behind anybody but they can see people. One of the things I enjoyed even at my first homily is being able to talk and see almost everybody in the parish.”
When Jeff Kucharski first walked into this church about 15 years ago, he noticed many of these same characteristics: a beautiful worship space and a congregation of people who truly made him and his wife feel welcome from the start.
“My wife and I have always lived in the Brookfield area and we just decided to try this parish, and from the very first time, it felt like a home,” Kucharski said. “I feel like there’s something for everyone at this parish with so many different offerings. Of course, we have the school here where parents can decide to send their kids to Catholic school.”
The fresh, contemporary feel of the St. Dominic sanctuary almost belies this church’s rich history, which dates back to 1842.
As the church’s historical documents say, “In 1842, Irish Catholics gathered at small log cabins to celebrate the Eucharist. In that same year, Rev. Martin Kundig, among the first missionary priests to Milwaukee, identified St. Dominic as a 20-family enclave in the town of Marcy. St. Dominic was founded as a pioneering mission of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee. The original church building, dedicated to St. Dominic, was located on a site at West Lisbon and Marcy Roads. Some records indicate that this was the first Catholic Church in Waukesha County.”
St. Dominic was officially established as a parish June 26, 1956, by Archbishop Albert Meyer with the purpose of serving Catholics in Brookfield and Menomonee Falls and Rev. Edward Grohall was named as its first pastor. On July 27, 1958, 150 parishioners gathered to participate in a groundbreaking ceremony for the first church and a new school. In June 1959, St. Dominic Parish purchased the property at 3935 Mountain Drive to be used as a site for its new convent. The school opened that same year with eight grades, eight classrooms, a library and 259 pupils.
By 1961, the parish had grown to 600 families and a split-level north-south wing was added to the school. Plans to build a new rectory and administration building were not financially feasible until 1965 and on May 6, 1979, a campaign began to raise $1 million for the construction of a new church and a permanent gymnasium.
In 1981, the parish celebrated its Silver Jubilee in the new church. Two years later, on Dec. 4, 1983, Fr. Vincent Silvestri was named pastor. In 1989, Fr. Grohall passed away and he left the parish with two gifts: the first was seed money for the Endowment Fund for the purpose of educating any parishioner in the growth of their faith, the second donation was for the construction of the bell tower.
On July 1, 1993, Fr. Curt Frederick was named as the third pastor in parish history, shepherding a parish of 1,450 families. Fr. Frederick initiated two fund drives, one in 1995 to retire the debt, to create the Marcy Center gathering space and to create a formal Parish Office Center. The second fund drive provided for structural repairs and building maintenance. In 1996, the parish mission statement was introduced to the parish community. “To Seek Christ, Know Christ, and Become Christ, each one for the sake of all.” On June 22, 2004, Fr. David Reith was appointed as the fourth pastor of the parish which consisted of 1,968 families.
On Aug. 8, 2006, the first phase of The Prayer Gardens of St. Dominic was opened with a special blessing. From the Vision 2012 process, a master plan for capital improvements was developed.
On Dec. 5, 2010, Archbishop Jerome Listecki blessed the newly renovated Church during a special Mass and on Oct. 30, 2011, Bishop Donald Hying blessed and dedicated the athletic facility and Arts and Activities Center.
Which brings us to present day with Fr. Saran, who has a definite vision for leading St. Dominic into its next phase. It’s a vision of warmth, welcoming and diversity of the kind he experienced when he first set foot in the building.
One of the many ways people at St. Dominic are able to expand their faith experience beyond Mass are individual groups for men and women.
“We have men’s groups to help them grow in their faith and we have the same groups for women,” said Kucharski. “Our men’s group is very dynamic and I see a lot of fruit coming out of that group, whether it be men joining the choir, becoming Eucharistic ministers, or men just stepping up to lead and praying with their families. There are also a few men who are informally discerning the diaconate program. Our church is a very holy place to come and worship.”
So what does Fr. Saran most want people to know about St. Dominic Parish?
“That you come here and feel like family. I have really felt like we’re a family,” said Fr. Saran. “Kids that come from college, I want them to come back to church and feel like they’re part of a family. Pope Francis said the family is the core of your faith and I want that family feel to extend into our church.”