SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC HERALD
St. Edward Catholic Church is celebrating 100 years of ministry in the heart of Racine. Celebrations throughout the year will mark this milestone.
It was established in the fall of 1919 after Archbishop Sebastian G. Messmer appointed Fr. John Bott to begin a parish in a new neighborhood on Racine’s west side. He was assisted by Fr. Florian Zuchowski.
From the 1840s, most Catholic Churches were immigrant churches as Germans, Irish, Italians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes and Lithuanians sought a mixture of economic opportunity and religious and political freedom in a new land. After World War I, the flow of immigration waned.
According to Laura Gellott, parishioner and Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, St. Edward became the first “territorial,” or non-ethnic parish in the city.
“The name St. Edward, a medieval English king and saint, was chosen to avoid association with any of the ethnic groups from continental Europe,” she said. “The first St. Edward Church was a wooden frame chapel, purchased from Gethsemane Lutheran Church. The wooden church would be the site of worship until 1927, when St. Edward School was built. Until the building of our present church in 1953, all Masses, weddings and funerals would be celebrated in the school basement.”
Fr. Bott served as pastor of St. Edward until his 1934 transfer to St. Lawrence Parish on Milwaukee’s south side. Fr. George J. Hegeman served from 1934-42, followed by Msgr. Richard Schaefer from 1942-68. Three associate pastors, Fr. Donald Surges, Fr. Robert Glisch and Fr. James Mantasch assisted him during his 26 years at the parish.
St. Edward Church was dedicated Oct. 18, 1953, closest feast day of St. Edward the Confessor, Gellott said.
“A solemn Latin High Mass was concelebrated by Archbishop Albert Meyer, Msgr. Schaefer and a number of bishops and priests from the archdiocese and beyond. The choir from Holy Assumption Church in West Allis sang the Mass,” she said. “The new parish choir … sang at a special evening Benediction service.”
Three years after the church’s completion, St. Edward added an addition to the school and built a convent for the Dominican Sisters who taught in the school and assisted in the parish.
“The need for decent housing for the sisters was critical,” said Gellott. “Since the beginning of the school in 1927, the sisters lived and slept in curtained cubicles in a second-floor classroom and cooked their meals on a stove in the basement.”
On May 12, the parish honored 35 sisters at Mass.
“Sr. Kathy Slesar, a former director of religious education at St. Edward gave a reflection,” said Gellott. “A reception for the sisters followed the Mass.”
In 1968, Fr. Matthew Urban replaced Msgr. Schaefer and remained pastor of the parish until his retirement in 1983. Fr. Richard Molter served as the associate pastor following his ordination in 1964.
In 1983, Fr. Robert Schneider became pastor until serving as administrator of the Milwaukee inner city Catholic schools in 1987. That year, Fr. Charlie Wester became pastor of St. Edward, followed by the return of Fr. Richard Molter in 1993-2006.
“Several associate pastors served the parish during these years,” said Gellott. “They included Fr. Gene Neuman (1979-83) and Fr. Howard Haase (1983-88). St. Edward’s was Fr. Howard’s first assignment, and he too quickly earned a reputation as a skilled homilist. In 1988, Dcn. David Verhasselt came to St. Edward for his internship year; upon ordination in 1989, he was assigned to the parish as associate pastor. Fr. Dave was succeeded in 1992-95 by Racine native Fr. Bill Burkert, also noted as an effective liturgist and preacher. In the late 1990s, Fr. Marty Simon, a retired priest of the archdiocese, came to live at the rectory and to assist at weekday and weekend liturgies. He soon became ill with terminal cancer. Many parishioners will recall the unobtrusive but inspiring example that Fr. Molter gave to the parish as he provided care to Fr. Marty in the last months of his life.”
Fr. Allen Bratkowski served as pastor from 2006 until his retirement June 30, 2019. The current pastor of St. Edward is Fr. Antony Primal Thomas.
As part of their celebration, St. Edward is hosting an Ice Cream Sundae Sunday on Aug. 11.
“We welcome back to St. Edward anyone who was once a member of the parish or attended St. Edward School,” she said. “Join us for the 9:30 a.m. Mass and then for an ice cream social afterwards.”
On Sept. 13-15, the parish is hosting its Fall Fun Fest to commemorate its centennial and the 10th annual festival. There will be food, music, games, raffles and an exhibit on parish festivals over the decades.”
An All School/All Years Reunion will take place Friday, Oct. 11, at the parish hall. All graduates of St. Edward Grade School and Our Lady of Grace Academy (since 2011) are invited. Tour the school, reconnect with friends, enjoy drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The cost is $20 per person.
Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki will celebrate the parish’s Centennial Mass at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 12. Former pastors and priests from the parish will concelebrate. A dinner will follow in the church hall. The cost is $25 per person or $40 per pair.