He walks into the room with a broad smile, an enthusiastic bounce in his step and a firm but friendly handshake. “Hello. I’m Fr. Blanco and welcome to St. Paul the Apostle Church.”
Fr. Yamid Blanco has been serving as parish administrator at both St. Paul in Racine and at St. Louis in Caledonia since 2017. As he prepares to formally assume the mantle of pastor for both churches, Fr. Blanco has a clear sense of where this parish is and where he wants to take it in the years ahead.
“My impressions are that this is a very welcoming community, a community that really opens its arms to receiving every single person,” said Fr. Blanco. “It’s a community where everyone can feel loved and welcomed. People are very nice and kind, and very faithful, and really respect and love the sacraments. That’s why I am so happy here, and it gives me encouragement to continue working hard for the Lord and continue (supporting) the vocation of priests or life.”
Every church exudes its own unique flavor or personality. As Fr. Blanco describes his impressions of St. Paul the Apostle, he explains his particular emphasis on the Sacrament of Baptism, which he conducts in a manner many in the parish had not experienced before.
“It is a very sweet flavor,” said Fr. Blanco. “People are so tender and I’ve been bringing new things to them like the celebration of baptisms. I do it in a way they’ve never seen before but they love it because it’s all about the baby and the family. We are there to witness and share in the joy of this family who is bringing this new baby to be part of Jesus’ family.
“I ask the family to go by me after the baptism and after my homily, I take the baby and walk with the baby around the church to welcome the baby into our community. I ask the family to stay there so they can see me walking around the church with the baby, and presenting this new member to our community.”
Marie Brandl has been part of this faith community for more than 50 years, long before the present church building opened in 2002. She remembers when the first of four previous pastors, Fr. William Cox, was sent to the area in 1963 by Archbishop William Cousins to establish a new parish.
“This is an absolutely terrific location and we love the facility we have now,” Brandl said. “Actually, the parish began in a little storefront when Fr. William Cox was sent by the archbishop to begin a new parish in what was kind of the outskirts of Racine. Of course, the city has spread out and from that storefront (5320 Washington Ave.), we moved into a church building at 5700 Washington Ave., which is currently a shopping center.”
On Sept. 10, 1965, St. Paul the Apostle was canonically established and on April 22, 1967, ground was broken for the second Washington Avenue location. Fr. Cox continued to lead the parish for the next 25 years as it grew its membership and its ministries. He retired in 1991 after celebrating his 75th birthday and was replaced by Fr. Paul Esser, who was installed by Bishop Richard Sklba on Sept. 8, 1991.
Three years later, the church conducted a long-range study defining the needs of the growing parish, and it was first decided that the church at 5700 Washington Ave. should be expanded. However, in 1995, an unsolicited offer to purchase the 23 acres of church property was received and, after consulting with parish leaders and the parishioners, it was overwhelmingly decided to put the renovation project on hold.
In November 2000, the property was sold and the final Mass was celebrated at the Washington Avenue church May 5, 2001. For the year and a half it took to build the new church on the 14-acre site at the corner of Spring Street and Emmertsen Road, the congregation met in a storefront space at the Shopko Mall.
Excitement and anticipation filled the air as the new church evolved into a 44,500-square-foot multipurpose facility that includes a worship space to accommodate 1,000 people. It also features an education or meeting wing, parish hall, library, kitchen and office wing. A beautiful set of stained glass windows depicting the life of Christ adorns the walls on either side of the spacious altar. A well-detailed statue of Paul of Tarsus, blinded by the light on the road to Damascus, is located prominently off to the left side of the altar.
Completed in October 2002, the new church hosted Archbishop Timothy J. Dolan, who officiated at his first solemn church dedication as Archbishop of Milwaukee. More than 1,200 people attended the Mass and reception as this new worship site was dedicated to the honor and glory of God.
Through all of the moves, construction and changes in parish leadership, Brandl points to the consistent thread of welcoming family unity so evident at St. Paul’s.
“This is a wonderful family parish,” said Brandl. “We don’t have a school but we have a delightful religious education program beginning with 3-year-olds and a nursery. So, we actually cover everyone, and it’s accessible for the disabled and those who use a walker or are limited in moving around.
“It’s a family atmosphere and we have great liturgy, wonderful music with various choirs and I’d invite anybody to come and visit us. The beautiful stained-glass windows tell the story of the life of Jesus Christ from the Annunciation when (angel) Gabriel approached Mary, all the way through Pentecost,” she added.
As Fr. Blanco surveys the future of St. Paul the Apostle and leading this church as well as St. Louis in Caledonia, what would he most like people to know about this faith community and the man who will be leading them in the years ahead?
“I want people to know that at St. Paul you don’t need to be a member of the church and everyone is welcome here,” said Fr. Blanco. “I am an approachable guy and, as a priest, people can come to me, they can give me a hug, they can shake hands and I am very open-minded.
“I tell people that I am a hugging guy so don’t hesitate to come and give me a hug. I can see now that men and women are coming up to me at the end of Mass to give me a hug. Sometimes, that’s the only hug that we get during the week, at least for me. Some people are living alone and that’s the only hug that they get during the week. I want people to know that this is a church for everyone.”
“We’ve always had faithful parish priests and pastors, and we are now on our fifth pastor in Fr. Yamid,” added Brandl. “I don’t have the words to describe how that makes a congregation grow. You feel welcome, and yet we are learning about Our Lord Jesus Christ and they lead you in the faith.”