CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
When Fr. Fred Alexander became the administrator at St. Florian Parish in West Milwaukee on Nov. 1, he went about seeking input from his parishioners on what they were seeking and what they were interested in.
He conducted several meetings, including with the pastoral and finance councils, with volunteers on committees and he hosted a town hall meeting of the parish.
“This is going to be a major part of my pastoral plan,” said Fr. Alexander. “I want to see and hear what the parishioners are looking for, as opposed to coming in with my own plan. What came to the surface was evangelization, how can we grow our parish? What I’ve suggested to all of them is it doesn’t just begin with me, I said it begins with you. That’s evangelization.”
That answer might not have been what the parishioners were expecting.
“(The reaction) was a little surprised and shocked because with them, they were thinking this is something the priest needs to do, from the top down,” Fr. Alexander said. “I’m saying, ‘No, there’s another model. It’s from the grass roots up.’ You all have relationships with people I’ll never know.”
For Fr. Alexander, the assignment was a homecoming of sorts, as he had been at the parish for previous tours and was ordained a Discalced Carmelite priest at the parish 37 years ago.
“Many of the older parishioners were the young parents who had children in what used to be our elementary school and high school,” Fr. Alexander said. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen those who were the youth back then with their own families.”
Located on South 45th Street, the parish is across the street from Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, which also rents space in the former basement church that was the home to St. Florian from 1911 to 1939.
“The more I learn about them, the more I think every high school should go to that model where you’re in school four days and you’re working one,” Fr. Alexander said. “There’s connections with businesses around here. I think that’s the way to go.”
Fr. Alexander has celebrated school Masses at Cristo Rey, along with reconciliation services, since he has been back.
The parish was founded in 1911 by the Capuchins and it became a Discalced Carmelite community in 1913. The Discalced Carmelites first came to Holy Hill in 1906, so the order’s presence in the Milwaukee area was still quite new at the time.
The parish is known to outsiders for its fish fry (which Fr. Alexander claims is the best in the area), chicken dinners and Casino Nite. The parish also has a St. Vincent DePaul Society that connects with poor people in the area.
Going forward, Fr. Alexander said he is excited to see how the parish celebrates the Triduum and is considering adding a Spanish-language Mass.
“I just want to build relationships because no matter what grandiose plans I have, unless I can build relationships and win over the trust of the parishioners, it’s not going to happen or it’s going to limp,” Fr. Alexander said. “Right now, I want to listen to them, see what things they are doing and how they do it.”
PLAN A VISIT
St. Florian Parish
1210 S. 45th St.
West Milwaukee, WI 53214
Saturday: 4 p.m.
Sunday: 8 a.m.
WHO WAS ST. FLORIAN?
St. Florian was an officer of the Roman army, who occupied a high administrative post in Noricum, now part of Austria, and who suffered death for the Faith in the days of Diocletian.
His legendary “Acts” state that he gave himself up at Lorch to the soldiers of Aquilinus, the governor, when they were rounding up the Christians, and after making a bold confession, he was twice scourged, half-flayed alive, set on fire, and finally thrown into the river Enns with a stone around his neck.
His body, recovered and buried by a pious woman, was eventually removed to the Augustinian Abbey of St. Florian, near Linz. It is said to have been at a later date transported to Rome, and Pope Lucius III, in 1138, gave some of the saint’s relics to King Casimir of Poland and to the Bishop of Cracow.
There has been popular devotion to St. Florian in many parts of central Europe, and the tradition as to his martyrdom, not far from the spot where the Enns flows into the Danube, is ancient and reliable. Many miracles of healing are attributed to his intercession and he is invoked as a powerful protector in danger from fire or water. His feast day is May 4.