Body of Christ

Inspired by the work of his grandfather, Peter Budnik is on a mission to help Catholics appreciate and rebuild the intellectual, cultural and artistic legacy of their forebears in faith.

— Born in Texas, Budnik grew up in New York and graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in religious studies. He later achieved a master of architecture degree from the University of Notre Dame and works as an architect in Milwaukee.

— He married his college sweetheart, Ariel, in 2007, and the couple have seven children.

— The Budniks attend the Basilica of St. Josaphat, where Peter coordinates the men’s group and helps to plan a quarterly family-friendly adoration evening.

— He is the Chairman of the Board of the Wethersfield Institute, founded by his grandfather Chauncey Stillman in 1984.

The Wethersfield Institute is, of course, a family legacy for you. When did you become involved yourself?

In 1984, my grandfather Chauncey Stillman founded the Wethersfield Institute after a life of pursuing and patronizing the artistic, intellectual and religious life. The Wethersfield Institute was originally created to help conserve and transmit Catholic culture and strengthen the ties between the Church in Rome and the Church in the United States. The Wethersfield Institute continued after his death in 1989 and started to go quiet in the mid-2000s. I first became involved in 2014, when I planned a reception commemorating the 25th anniversary of my grandfather’s death. I became board chair in 2019. Now we are looking to increase the level of activity of the Wethersfield Institute, particularly here in Milwaukee.

Why is it important for you to carry on your grandfather’s work?

Though he is virtually unknown now, in his time he touched the lives of thousands of people. Among his many endeavors was hosting a summer camp for an orphanage on his property which, later in life, became a summer camp for families from Harlem. My grandfather was trying to address not only the artistic and intellectual problems of his time but the social ones as well. Unfortunately, over the last 30 or 40 years we have passed the point of conserving the traditional aspects of culture that were handed down from generation to generation and now we need to actively work to remember, restore and rebuild them for the health of the Church as well as society.

Why do Catholics need to understand their intellectual and cultural heritage?

From the very beginning, Catholics understood their religion to be based on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. At every Mass, we remember and re-present Jesus’ life, Death and Resurrection. At the very heart of it, we are inheritors of the living memory. The Spirit has been active in the Church since its inception, and I believe it is our duty as Catholics to be able to understand the movement of the Spirit across the arc of history in order to, as St. Peter said, “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give an answer for the hope that you have.”

You have said that as Catholics, we need to “remember, restore and rebuild” our cultural legacy. What are some ways we can do that?

In order to remember, I believe that we must begin with the liturgy and the Bible, which has its roots in the living memory. Restoration begins with remembrance but carries it a step further. It has to do with reclaiming the value of customs and practices of our forebears, whether they are religious devotions, construction, artistic techniques or modes of gathering together in community. Finally, upon the shoulders of remembrance and restoration, we can begin rebuilding. As the 20th-century Catholic historian Christopher Dawson wrote, “in all ages, the first creative works of a culture are due to a religious inspiration and dedicated to a religious end. The temples of the gods are the most enduring works of man. Religion stands at the threshold of all the great literatures of the world. Philosophy is its offspring and is a child which constantly returns to its parent.”

If you could have any saint over for dinner, who would it be, and what would you want to talk about?

There are many saints that I would like to interact with if I had the chance, but I imagine many of whom wouldn’t be the best dinner partners. I would love to have over St. John Bosco because I think my kids would enjoy spending time with him and learning to juggle from the master.

Where is the most interesting place you have traveled?

In college, I spent a summer studying in St. Petersburg. Being there at the summer solstice and experiencing the white nights was unforgettable.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

In my free time, I most enjoy playing with my kids. I also enjoy trying to recapture some of the lost culinary arts, particularly cheesemaking and fermentation. Fermentation is my real hobby where I enjoy specifically tinkering with recipes for sauerkraut and kimchi.