Young adults worship at Cor Jesu on Wednesday, Nov. 10, at St. Robert Parish in Shorewood. (Photos by David Bernacchi)

It’s a Wednesday evening at St. Robert Parish in Shorewood, the lights are dimmed and as the pews slowly fill, there is a solemn feeling in the sanctuary, as opposed to the joyous greeting of familiar faces that accompany a typical Mass.

Wednesday after Wednesday. Week after Week. Month after Month. Year after Year.

For almost a decade, Cor Jesu has been there for young adults (and not so young) throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to enter into encounter with Christ through Eucharistic Adoration, reconciliation, praise and worship, and Mass.

From its humble beginnings in 2012, Cor Jesu has grown organically to the point where it now attracts 200 to 300 attendees every week.

“I’m convinced that Cor Jesu, as an initiative and as an experience, is a work of God,” said Milwaukee native James Cardinal Harvey, who helps celebrate Mass at Cor Jesu when he is in town during the summer.

According to Archdiocese of Milwaukee Vocations Director Fr. John LoCoco, because of the sense of encounter that is inherent in Cor Jesu, the weekly gathering is a key part of fostering vocations — even marriage.

In the summer of 2012, Fr. LoCoco had just moved into the rectory at St. Robert, which became the John Paul II Discernment House. Fr. Luke Strand, who is now the vice rector and director of human formation at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, had just been named vocations director for the archdiocese.

“The rectory was mostly unlivable,” Fr. LoCoco said. “We all lived on cots in the living room.”

Fr. LoCoco said they spent much of that summer tearing up carpet and making the former rectory inhabitable.

Cor Jesu grew steadily throughout its first year, eventually outgrowing its first home at the UW-Milwaukee Newman Center and relocating less than a mile away at St. Robert.

In addition to the prayer and Mass, there is a 6 p.m. discernment dinner every week before Cor Jesu, where men in the discernment house can experience some of the fraternity of the priesthood and those discerning can see priests as people.

“In ministering to young adults, Cor Jesu has fostered priestly and religious vocations because it’s given those of us who are working with these young people regular contact with these young men and women who are discerning, and we have been able to walk with them to discern whether or not their call is to the priesthood or religious life,” Fr. Strand said. “Frankly, Cor Jesu has fostered many more holy marriages in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee than it has priestly or religious vocations. I’ve celebrated more weddings of individuals who have been impacted by Cor Jesu than I’ve seen men get ordained as priests. The reach is way beyond religious vocations. It’s just been a place for young adults to really feel at home and have a beautiful opportunity for prayer weekly.”

More than half of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s 45 seminarians at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary have lived at the discernment house.

“In the past 10 years, the John Paul II House of Discernment and Cor Jesu have been the most influential initiatives for fostering vocations in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee,” Fr. Luke Strand said. “Those young men have been very invested in the formation of young men in our diocese. I don’t think we would be where we’re at vocationally if not for both.”

As vocations director, Fr. LoCoco said weekly gatherings allow him to have low-pressure follow-ups with men and women who have expressed an interest in vocations.

Fr. Strand said Cor Jesu was never designed to foster vocations, but it just became something that was an organic way to do so.

“It was designed to minister to young adults, where they would have a consistent place to come for prayer, for confession and to attend a beautiful Mass every single week,” Fr. Strand said. “The most important part of Cor Jesu is that it’s consistent. With the exception of Christmas falling on a Wednesday, Cor Jesu has happened every single Wednesday since 2012. The consistency for young adults is very important.”

Fr. Strand said the secret to Cor Jesu’s success is in its simplicity.

“It’s nothing earth shattering,” Fr. Strand said. “It’s an hour of prayer, a Mass and a social. It’s not like we’ve developed some new kind of ministry.”

Cor Jesu is held every Wednesday at St. Robert Parish, 4019 W. Farwell Ave., Shorewood. Adoration and reconciliation is at 7 p.m. and Mass is at 8 p.m.

“What’s been remarkable to me and a sign of its great fruitfulness is, despite the incredible change, it’s remained remarkably consistent,” Fr. LoCoco said. “It’s not something I need to look up.”