After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the beloved French festival “Bastille Days” will return to downtown Milwaukee from July 14-17. Many of the traditional features associated with the celebration will be available for enjoyment, including live music, an international marketplace, French and Cajun cuisine, francophone cultural exhibits, roaming busker (street) entertainment and the 5-kilometer run/2-mile walk “Storm the Bastille” race (Thursday at 9 p.m.). And, just as important, the resumption of the festival will mark the return of the special evangelization offerings of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist throughout Bastille Days.
It was the Year of Faith declared by Pope Benedict XVI calling all Catholics to give witness to the meaning, beauty and promise of the Gospel which inspired the parishioners of the Cathedral parish to open wide its doors and welcome one and all to experience the “Mother Church of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee” in the summer of 2013. Given the proximity of the church to the center of the festival grounds in Cathedral Square Park and the prospect of more than 200,000 plus visitors planning to attend the event, the decision to reach out to share the treasures of the Catholic faith seemed a natural one – prompting now the intention of renewing many of the experiences which have been previously popular with guests.
Chief among the evangelization opportunities will be tours of the Cathedral church. Touring of the building and its grounds will be possible from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 14, 15 and 16, and 3 to 5 p.m. July 17. The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist and its iconic role in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has a fascinating history dating back to 1847. Especially significant are the transformations and adaptations the church has undergone to serve the faithful during changing times. Many people enjoy exploring the church at their own pace, and self-guided tour books facilitate this personal adventure. Additionlly, a number of docents or guides from the parish will be present to answer any questions or explain the key elements of the worship space. Personally, I am planning to spend my days during the festival inviting guests to visit the crypt in the lower level of the Cathedral and sharing a presentation about the bishops of the archdiocese who are laid to rest there.
Even if you already have taken a tour of the Cathedral, I would encourage taking advantage of this opportunity to make another excursion to see two of our more recent acquisitions of religious art. “Father’s Instruction” is a wood carving of St. Joseph the Worker teaching his young foster son, Jesus, about both carpentry and the faith. This heart-warming statue was crafted specially for the Cathedral by the artist Timothy P. Schmalz and donated in memory of parishioner Anthony Joseph Pogorelcz, given by his wife Ann and their family. A second work of original art created for the Cathedral is a tapestry of St. John the Evangelist. This depiction of the patron saint of our Cathedral was woven in Brussels, Belgium, in a manner of the tapestries designed by artist John Nava for Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. It is a striking combination of a depiction of the apostle accompanied by his representative symbols, which also includes a special image uniting him with our local church. The tapestry was given in memory of parishioner William R. Morehouse via the generosity of Gordon A. Schuetz and their friends.
A second evangelization opportunity involving prayer will be made available Friday, July 15, from 7 to 9 p.m. Entitled, “Oremus,” meaning “Let us pray,” it is a very simple and yet touching form of liturgy which encourages the lifting up of intentions by those who have gathered for the festival. It begins as members of the Cathedral parish and the family of four East Side congregations walk amidst the Bastille Days grounds with baskets of small votive candles — they ask visitors if they would like to enter the church to offer a silent prayer for their personal intention while lighting a candle and placing it around the altar. As more and more visitors respond to the invitation, the accumulation of the votive candles in the semi-darkened church slowly emanates a glow that is nothing less than radiantly holy. As more and more people begin to realize that their personal petitions have been gathered with the many intentions of the Body of Christ, there is an impact that is visibly emotional. In previous years, there have always been more than 1,000 candles lit to symbolize and signify those intentions.
A third evangelization opportunity involving music will take place Saturday, July 16, beginning at 3:30 p.m. There will be a special concert entitled “French Perspectives from the Cathedral Pipe Organs.” The concert will feature James Grzadzinski, the director of liturgy and music of the Cathedral, and Rachel Mallette-Grzadzinski, Cathedral cantor. St. John the Evangelist is one of six Cathedrals in the world that houses two organs that can be played simultaneously. The Nichols and Simpson Organ and the classic Noehren Organ (recently restored with fully completed ranks of pipes) are remarkable instruments which truly give praise to the Lord.
Unfortunately, the Cathedral will not be able to honor its tradition of celebrating a Mass in both the French language and theme on the Saturday of Bastille Days. The news of the return of the festival this summer arrived a bit too late for the planning, recruitment of musical talent and rehearsal necessary to celebrate such a liturgy. There is an expectation that the French Mass will take place again in 2023. In the meantime, the regular liturgical schedule of the Cathedral will be celebrated during Bastille Days with Masses at 5:15 p.m. July 14, 15 and 16, and at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. (Spanish) Sunday, July 17.
Please pray for a large turnout for the Bastille Days and for the welcome of many in our evangelization efforts. May this be a time for both fun and a renewal of faith and spirit. Please consider doing your part in this opportunity for evangelization by inviting and accompanying a family member, friend, neighbor, co-worker or acquaintance to both the festival and the Cathedral.