St. Aloysius Parish, a 101-year-old West Allis parish serving neighborhoods surrounding 92nd Street and Greenfield Avenue, will celebrate its last 7 p.m. Mass on Sunday, May 16. Bishop of Madison Donald J. Hying, a former auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, will preside. Bishop Hying is a priest son of the parish.
The parish’s final Mass and decommissioning will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 23. Celebrants will be Fr. Alan Jurkus, a retired priest of the archdiocese who is serving as temporary administrator, and Fr. Ken Omernick, pastor of St. Charles in Hartland and a priest son of the parish. A decommissioning service will also take place, followed by a tour of the school.
In 1973, the church began offering the 7 p.m. Sunday evening Mass. Since it was at an unusual time, it drew Catholics from all over the Milwaukee area.
According to Kathy Luty, who formerly served the parish as a liturgical musician, Fr. Jeff Prasser, the pastor who oversaw St. Aloysius throughout the merger and closing, died on Palm Sunday of this year.
“This has made all the changes even more difficult,” she said. “Add COVID-19 to all of this, and it became a long and difficult process.”
In 2018, three parishes in West Allis (Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mary Queen of Heaven, and St. Aloysius) merged into Mother of Perpetual Help Congregation. The three parishes worshiped separately, but by September, all will worship under one roof at 2322 S. 106th St., West Allis.
The idea for the parish began Aug. 3, 1919, when Archbishop Sebastian G. Messmer selected Fr. Francis J. Knoernschild to start a new parish in West Allis. The priest met with 15 prospective members to plan St. Aloysius Parish.
The parish and school began operating out of two wooden World War I barracks, and Archbishop Messmer formally dedicated the parish on Nov. 20, 1920.
“The growth was phenomenal,” said Fr. Jurkus. “On Jan. 6, 1921, three Schools Sisters of Notre Dame came and were present in the school when they opened on Jan. 10, with 75 kids.”
The School Sisters of Notre Dame served the parish as teachers, principals, musicians and pastoral care ministers for most of the century. At its peak, the school had an enrollment of 1,390 students.
During the parish’s heyday from 1955-69, there were 4,784 baptisms, 2,787 confirmations, and 1,145 marriages. During that time, membership ranged from 759 in 1954 to 1,536 in 1969. The highest number of members was during the benchmark years 1963 and 1964 when 1,740 families called St. Aloysius home.
The longest-serving pastor of the parish was Msgr. Oscar Winninghoff. He served St. Aloysius from 1946-73. During his tenure, he oversaw the construction of the new church building, convent and gym.
“The current church building was dedicated in 1957,” said Luty. “It was unique in that the altar was in the center of the church and built before Vatican II. I have heard that it was modeled after the church at St. Coletta’s in Jefferson, which is very similar.”
Luty said she has fond memories of belonging to St. Aloysius and recalled the many groups, such as CYO, Christian Mothers/Women, Holy Name Society, dartball, Scouts and numerous athletic teams. Most of the groups utilized the parish gym.
“My father belonged to the parish, went to grade school there, (and) was married and buried there. All of my seven siblings also graduated from St. Aloysius. I was involved as one of the musicians and on the liturgy committee for many years,” she said. “I was on the staff at St. (Gregory the Great) for a while and so became a member there. After I ‘retired’ from (St. Gregory’s), I re-joined St. Aloysius because my mother still belongs there. She will be 97 in July. We are sad that when her time comes, she will not be able to be buried from the church where our roots are.”
Margaret Rondeau began attending St. Aloysius School in 1970 after St. Therese Elementary School closed and has belonged to the parish ever since. She said the community has been welcoming from the beginning and never wavered.
“Sr. Mary Peter Eberhardy was the principal at the time. Her response to accepting me was, ‘I like Margaret and her parents. I made the decision without asking the pastor, Monsignor Oscar Winninghoff. She will make something special of herself,’” she said. “For 34 years, I was a 911 dispatcher for Wauwatosa. For the last six years, I have been the pastoral minister for Mother of Perpetual Help Parish.”
One of the primary reasons for the closure of the St. Aloysius site is the cost of needed repairs, which are estimated to be in the millions of dollars. A sale is pending, with closing slated for June 25. The statues, icons and other artifacts will be transferred to MPH or listed for sale at T. H. Stemper Co..
“It is sad about the building closing, but the parishioners were incredibly gracious in terms of understanding they couldn’t stay there,” said Fr. Jukus. “Fr. Prasser was always so positive about parishioners of St. Aloysius. They were cooperative, trusting, and realized the facility itself was in dire need of repair, so it had to be sold. Fr. Passer put his heart and soul into making the transition work. It is never easy, but he did a wonderful job.”