CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
Fr. Paul Hartmann is known by many people for the nine years he spent as president at Catholic Memorial High School.
However, since June 2017 he has been the pastor at St. Monica in Whitefish Bay (and also St. Eugene in Fox Point).
He said it has been a blessing to have landed in a parish with so many advantages, including architecture, demographics and the strength of the parish.
“I think the image is old-line, old-money, big Catholic church on a main street,” Hartmann said. “Physically, this church is an edifice in the community. It’s an old-line, very successful Catholic parish with demographics that are, generally speaking, well-off. That tends to hide (that) for every person who lives on Lake Drive, I’ve got a dozen, two dozen who live on the other side of (Interstate) 43 who are living in a (small home). The generosity of people is wonderful. It’s more economically diverse than people think. I’m not dealing with poverty; I will admit that. I know my brother priests at other parishes have far greater challenges with poverty and drugs.”
The parish, founded in 1923, now celebrates Mass in a building that was once the biggest in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, seating 1,200 people. Holy Family in Fond du Lac now seats more. The large facility for St. Monica, nestled at the corner of Silver Spring Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard, serves 1,250 families and almost 6,000 parishioners.
The architect was William Sherer, a parishioner who designed it in the Southern Italian Romanesque style. The windows have rounded arches, designed by Herb Hirschboeck, a parishioner and an attorney.
Over the 90-plus years the parish has been in existence, the ties to the community have only strengthened.
“I’ve got kids in the grade school who are the great-grandchildren of people who attended,” Fr. Hartmann said.
The first Mass at the parish was celebrated Dec. 25, 1923 at Whitefish Bay Village Hall. On May 4, 1924, the parish’s first Mass was celebrated in the “Little Chapel,” a converted barn. The first students attended classes at St. Monica School in September 1928. The first Mass in the basement of the present church was May 7, 1939. The first Mass in the Upper Church (the current building) was Dec. 24, 1955.
Hartmann, who will celebrate 25 years since his ordination later this year, said he has enjoyed the return to parish work.
“I wanted to get myself re-acclimated to parish work,” Fr. Hartmann said. “There’s a lot of great things going on here already so there’s not some dire need. Now, I’m starting to settle in and reflect on things I am comfortable doing theology-wise, skillset-wise. I have a great staff and lay leadership.”
The parish is attempting to start a twinning relationship with All Saints on the city of Milwaukee’s north side, and last summer, Fr. Hartmann traveled to the former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan, a nation of just six priests and just a few thousand Catholics. He hopes to formalize a relationship with between his parish and that central Asian nation on the Chinese border.
PLAN A VISIT
St. Monica Parish
5681 N. Santa Monica Boulevard
Whitefish Bay, WI 53217
Saturday: 5 p.m.
Sunday: 8 a.m., 10:15 a.m.
WHO WAS ST. MONICA?
Monica was born in 322 into a Christian family in Tagaste, in North Africa. Her parents selected a husband for her, a pagan named Patricius.
Monica and Patricius had three children. The eldest son, Augustine, although a talented scholar, was a source of constant worry for Monica. She prayed constantly that he and her husband would someday join her in worship. Eventually, her faith and kindness were partially rewarded: her husband and his mother converted to Christianity.
But Monica’s son Augustine seemed hopeless. He ran away from school, returned to the house and insulted Monica.
Still, Monica did not give up. Eventually, Monica turned to the Bishop Ambrose in Italy, who brought Augustine to God by appealing to his intelligence instead of his emotions.
Her son became so strongly drawn to the faith that he was eventually canonized – as St. Augustine, one of the Church’s greatest teachers and philosophers.
She is the patroness of wives and mothers.
We celebrate her Feast Day on May 4 or Aug. 27.