Archbishop Listecki blesses the new sign.

Staff at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will now be under the watchful, caring eyes of the Mother of the Church.

In another step in the ongoing process of healing from the wounds of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, Archbishop Jerome Listecki announced Friday, March 22, the new name for the building on Lake Drive in St. Francis that houses the central offices and agencies of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

The Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center, 3501 S. Lake Drive, is a tribute to the Blessed Virgin’s role in the Church.

During his comments, Archbishop Listecki said, “Pope St. Paul made the pronouncement of this title for Mary Mother of the Church during a speech upon the closing of the third session of the Second Vatican Council on Nov. 21, 1964. He stated, ‘For the glory of the virgin and our consolation, we proclaim Mary the Most Holy Mother of the Church. That is, the mother of the whole people of God, both the faithful and pastors.’”

In previous days, the names of Archbishop William Cousins and Archbishop Rembert Weakland were removed from prominent buildings within the archdiocese. Cousins’ name was removed from the central offices building on Tuesday, March 19, and Weakland’s name was removed from a building at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.

The Pastoral Center was named for Cousins in 1983 at the former DeSales Prepratory High School, which had closed in 1979.

“It’s been a journey of 15 years since 2002, but really since the late 80s when the diocese began its response to those abuse survivors who had come forward,” said Jerry Topczewski, the archbishop’s chief of staff, on March 19. “Today is one more step in a positive direction. If these names have caused angst, anxiety, stress, hurt, harm, for themselves or their families, those who have walked with them in their journey as they have moved forward from the abuse they experienced, then removing these names is something we want to do as a church and extend ourselves forward to reconcile in whatever way possible.”

Archbishop Listecki announced in his Love One Another weekly blog and his Herald of Hope column in the March 21 issue of the Catholic Herald that he was making the name changes and, “I will remind parishes of our policy that buildings, centers, gym floors, cafeterias, etc., are not to be named after a priest or bishop, regardless of the esteem in which they may be held by the parish.”

The March 22 unveiling, which drew media from around Milwaukee and almost 100 central office employees, was a reaffirmation of Mary’s role in the Church and a way of moving forward for the archdiocese.

“We now know how important and central Mary is to the Church, and at this moment we call upon Mary to help us in the healing that is necessary for our Church to move forward,” Archbishop Listecki said.
Last year, Pope Francis added the memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mother of the Church to the liturgical calendar to be celebrated every year on the Monday after Pentecost. Recently, Pope Francis added a memorial to the Roman calendar, after careful consideration of how promotion of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under this particular title might encourage growth in the maternal sense of the Church.

The mosaic next to the wording on the banner with the new name is also in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, having been installed after St. Pope John Paul II survived an assassination attempt in the 1980s.

In the years since the 2002 Dallas Charter, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has been at the forefront of implementing that document’s recommendations, including listing the names of all priests with a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor on the archdiocesan website, seeing more than 85,000 volunteers and church employees go through safe environment training, and cooperating with law-enforcement agencies when a priest or lay employee is accused of misconduct.

“We’re looking, really, to restore trust,” Archbishop Listecki said. “That’s a long process. When you violate a relationship and destroy that trust, it takes a constant re-affirmation of your willingness to open up for reconciliation and the seeking of forgiveness. In that sense, I continue to offer my apologies to those who have been abused. I have to do that, and I have to say it again and again and again, because it’s important for us as a Church to let those abuse survivors know that that’s not what Christ would have wanted. Therefore, this is a moment in that process. If it just brings consolation to one abuse survivor, then basically this sign and symbol is worth it.”

Despite the steps taken in the years since the Dallas Charter, Archbishop Listecki said the keys to restoring trust to those who lost faith in the church are vigilance and listening.

“We have a program; we have a Charter. I see problems happening when people aren’t vigilant, when they become complacent, when they think they have done everything,” he said. “Then I see what happens is a laxness that creates environments that help to do the wrongs we’re trying to eliminate. What has happened here today has come out of listening to people.”

“As we look to the future and move forward, always under the care of Christ and His Good Mother, I have decided to rename the building Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center as a reminder that we can always look to ‘mother’ for care, support, healing and guidance.”
-Archbishop Jerome Listecki

A mosaic of Mary as Mother of the Church is seen above St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. And in 1981, St. John Paul II had a mosaic commissioned for the outside wall of his papal apartment called “Mater Ecclesiae” (“Mother of the Church”) in gratitude for his recovery after being shot in St. Peter’s Square.

“The decree said the pope approved the celebration because he thought it might ‘encourage the growth of the maternal sense of the Church in the pastors, religious and faithful, as well as a growth of genuine Marian piety.’” — Carol Zimmerman, Catholic News Service