The Vatican II Awards were established in 1991 to honor men, women and young adults who exemplify the Catholic Church’s vision set forth in the Second Vatican Council. These individuals have been selected by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki to be recognized for their service to the Body of Christ in southeastern Wisconsin. While an awards ceremony is typically held annually in October, this year’s festivities are postponed until such a time as it is safe to gather such a large group.
Service in Communication — Rector and Staff of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist
As dioceses around the world “went dark” in March, suspending the public celebration of Mass to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the faithful found themselves in need of a focal point — a fixed mark amidst a flurry of change and uncertainty.
For the nearly 600,000 Catholics of southeastern Wisconsin — and even many beyond that region — that focal point became the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Milwaukee. As the initial two-week suspension declared on March 16 turned into more than 10 Sundays without public Mass, the staff at the Cathedral knew that many Catholics near and far were turning their gaze to the Mother Church of the Archdiocese. In search of familiarity and reassurance, virtual congregations flocked to the livestreams of Sunday Mass and the televised Holy Week liturgies hosted by the increasingly tech-savy Cathedral.
“The Cathedral really played a central role, especially in the early days of the crisis, of being the focus of liturgical life,” said Bishop Jeffrey R. Haines, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and rector of the Cathedral. “That was a bit of stability that I think people really cherished. We were just so grateful that we were able to be that place for them.”
As the threat of COVID-19 began taking shape in late winter, the Cathedral staff mobilized to prepare for a possible shutdown. Liturgy, communications, social outreach, facilities — all departments coordinated efforts to help the Cathedral emerge as a symbol of spiritual and practical unity during a time of profound widespread isolation.
The Cathedral was uniquely positioned to accomplish this, having made the decision years earlier as a parish to invest in the expensive equipment needed to film and broadcast its liturgies. A fully functioning TV studio is now located next to the sanctuary, staffed by parishioners Nick and Beth Klosinski, Jay and Kristen Matz, Steve and Cindy Barnicki, and Drake Nikolai.
All Sunday Masses were available for viewing by YouTube, but during Holy Week, the Good Friday liturgy was also carried by WVTV-TV (Channel 18) and Easter Sunday Mass was aired by WISN-12. Preparing for those Holy Week liturgies was a huge task for the staff, particularly in the case of Director of Music Michael Batcho.
“I confess it was one of the most stressful Holy Weeks of my 35 years of ministry,” said Batcho, who had to rethink and adapt his usual plans to work within the time constraints of live television. “Regardless, it was humbling for me to play such an important role at the Cathedral, our Mother Church. Knowing that the liturgies we were preparing and celebrating were going to be so important for those who tuned in made it all worthwhile.”
After acting as a lector for Easter Sunday Mass, the Cathedral’s pastoral associate, Pat Wisialowski, received messages from friends and relatives all over the country.
“They were all saying ‘Aunt Patty, Cousin Patty — we were with you on Easter Sunday,’” recalled Wisialowski. “I loved what they said — ‘we were with you.’ It felt so good to know we were all so connected.”