OK, folks, let’s take a stroll along Memory Lane!
The time: the 1930s. Catholic families, for the most part, attended Mass at the nearest parish church which, generally, operated an elementary school.
For those of us who attended Catholic grade school, including myself and brothers Severin and Leon (both now deceased), the parish was the center of our faith and activity.
It’s where we attended classes, first through eighth grades. It’s where we learned our catechism lessons from faith-filled priests and sisters. It’s where we received the sacraments. It’s where we developed friendships, still lasting today. It’s where we graduated. It’s where some of us were married. Over the years, some stayed on; others moved away.
Now, let’s fast forward to the year 2000. It’s a time when priests and parishes were going through vocational, cultural, geographical and demographic changes. It’s at the peak of parish mergers … and as a result many long-standing parishes ceased to exist.
Currently, the 10-county Archdiocese of Milwaukee is comprised of 210 parishes, compared to 277 in 1998, indicating a loss of 67 due to mergers.
Among the mergers, the largest was in Fond du Lac, where five city parishes and rural St. Peter in St. Peter, were merged into a newly-formed Holy Family Parish.
In Racine five parishes were merged into a new St. Richard Parish. Areas of four-parish mergers included the north side of Milwaukee, now Blessed Savior Parish; South Milwaukee, now Divine Mercy Parish; Eden, now Shepherd of the Hills Parish and Random Lake, now Our Lady of the Lakes Parish.
In Cudahy, on July 1, 2000, three parishes, St. Frederick, St. Joseph and Holy Family, were merged into a newly-baptized Nativity of the Lord Parish, centered at the former St. Frederick facilities. St. Joseph, much to the dismay of its members, was closed and eventually sold. Holy Family facilities have limited usage with its former grade school now a child care center.
We Horn boys grew up in Cudahy and attended St. Frederick Grade School … all eight years. In 2000, St. Frederick, the parish of our roots, disappeared. The sad experience was not only ours, but of many other parish-centered families in the archdiocese.
However, for myself, brothers, friends and former neighbors, St. Frederick never died. Whenever we would get together, our conversations reminisced the “old days” in Cudahy … and St. Frederick.
Obviously, after spending 20, 30 or more years there, how could we forget? I’m sure readers with similar experiences will agree: How can we forget the dedicated priests and sisters who molded our lives and nurtured our faith?
St. Frederick was founded in 1896; and a combination school-church-auditorium building in which we attended classes was built in 1921. The existing church was dedicated in April 1959.
Recalling those early days and the devoted priests and sisters who served us, several names come to mind.
Among St. Frederick’s zealous priests were Fr. John P. Herbst, its longest-serving pastor, and assistant pastor, Fr. Victor A. Kemmer. Why do they come to mind? Not only were they contrasting personalities but they were there for us.
Fr. Herbst was pastor for nearly 36 years before being reassigned to St. Agnes Parish (now All Saints) at North 26th Street, just north of Capitol Drive in Milwaukee. Fr. Herbst was there when we were baptized and received first holy Communion but left before my graduation in June 1943. He was popular, gregarious and well-known in the community. He was the Good Shepherd of his flock.
Fr. Kemmer came to St. Frederick after ordination in 1943. Like Fr. Herbst, he was committed to his vocation and priesthood. Unlike Fr. Herbst, he was quiet, unassuming, creative. He played a valuable leadership role in our CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) activities.
Also, he loved to fish, which provided a means for his creativity and inventiveness. For his fishing convenience, he built a row boat that would fit in the trunk of his 1940s Plymouth. For fishing, he would bolt the three sections together … and, voila, … a unique and probably one-of-a-kind fishing boat.
Furthermore, years later, while serving at St. James, Kenosha, he acquired an American Motors Rambler that hadaccidentally toppled off of a car carrier. Some way, some how, he was given the damaged vehicle, which he subsequently rebuilt to its newness.
The Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, commonly known as the Lake Drive Franciscans, served the parish from 1915 until the school closed in 1970 due to declining enrollment and increasing costs.
How can we forget those intelligent and dedicated women who taught us so well? They left a lasting impression on all of us. I still remember each of their names: 1st grade, Sr. Julia; 2nd, Sr. Bona; 3rd, Sr. Lawrencia; 4th, Sr. Philothea; 5th, Sr. Mona; 6th, Sr. Evarista; 7th, Sr. Aloysia; 8th, Sr. Lewein.
The sisters lived in a convent behind the church-school building and alongside a 1/2 block-long playground.
In addition to their devotion and dedication to our education, one thing that stands out is their witness to their Franciscan vocation, reflective of their namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.
Oftentimes while playing softball on the playground during noon hour, we would observe unexpected visitors at their side door … disheveled men of all ages, known then as bum or hobo, now called a homeless person. They came because they were hungry and they were aware of the time when the sisters shared the day’s main meal. How did they know?
The sisters never turned anyone away. In warm weather, a visitor was directed to an outdoor bench where a plateful of food was served. In rainy or cold weather, they were served in an enclosed porch … in the true spirit of Franciscan hospitality.
These are among the many memories of my life at St. Frederick … 60 to 70 years ago.
But, as we’re often reminded, times change.
For current members, it’s Nativity of the Lord.
For us who attended grade school, daily and Sunday Mass, and received the sacraments, it’s where those unforgettable sisters and priests taught us to live up to and fulfill our Christian responsibilities.
For us, it was and will always be St. Frederick. For us, St. Frederick never died.
And, for many of you who are “parish merger orphans,” I’m sure we share similar experiences … and memories.
(Out and About is a regular feature of Mature Lifestyles that looks at issues affecting the older adult community. Horn, a retired Catholic Herald reporter, is a member of St. Roman Church, Milwaukee.)