St. Pius X in Wauwatosa

Top: Prayer intentions posted by parishioners at St. Pius’ “Wailing Wall.” Bottom: The parish’s statue of St. Pius.

When Milwaukee’s Archbishop Moses Kiley invited the Society of the Divine Savior (“Salvatorians”) to form a new parish to serve the growing town of Wauwatosa, few could have imagined the rich and varied history the parish would have or the life-changing outreach its parishioners would offer to other parts of the world.

Officially established on Aug. 15, 1952, St. Pius X was the first of three parishes to be formed from Milwaukee’s Mother of Good Counsel Church, which the Salvatorians had founded in 1925. The land and buildings of the Gridley Dairy were to be the home of the new parish.

Fr. Leander Schneider, S.D.S., was appointed to serve as the first pastor and the first Mass was celebrated in the old dairy barn. A new church was already under construction and the first Mass was offered there on Easter 1953. A 16-room grade school was opened later that year and was staffed by
Salvatorian Sisters.

Today, St. Pius X shares a number of programs, including sacramental preparation, religious education, youth ministry, and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) with two other Wauwatosa parishes: St. Bernard and Christ King. In 2011, St. Pius X School merged with St. Bernard School to form the new Wauwatosa Catholic, located on the campus of St. Bernard parish. The former St. Pius X School is used for parish events and for the benefit of area organizations.

Although the parish now shares many initiatives with its tri-parish partners, Salvatorian Fr. Paul Portland believes that St. Pius remains a special presence in Wauwatosa, largely because of its connection to a religious community. “The stamp of a religious community —  whether it is Salvatorian, Franciscan, or another — doesn’t necessarily make a parish ‘different,’ but it helps determine where a parish places its emphasis. What charism does the parish community pick up from its leadership?”

Reflecting on what his own Salvatorian community has brought to St. Pius over the past 65 years, Fr. Portland said that he believes that the value of “universality” has shaped the community. “I think that’s picked up at St. Pius in trying to be an inclusive community that does not exclude people. Hospitality is another emphasis in our Salvatorian charism and the parish prides itself on being welcoming and hospitable.”

A zucchetto worn by Pope St. Pius X kept in the parish office.

Looking to the parish’s history for an example, Fr. Portland recalled that St. Pius was a sanctuary site for refugee families from El Salvador and Guatemala in 1983, during the pastorate of Fr. Luke McArthur, S.D.S., with some being housed in the parish rectory. More recently, the parish has worked with Catholic Charities to sponsor a refugee family from Myanmar. St. Pius also takes great pride in its relationship with its sister parish, Santa Maria, in Nebaj, Guatemala.

One significant work for the parish is its “Living Waters Campaign,” which takes places during Lent and Easter. Sue Haertel, a long-time member of St. Pius and a Lay Salvatorian, sees the program as an important expression of the parish mission. “The ‘Living Waters Campaign’ began after I made my first visit to Tanzania in 2011. I was very much taken by seeing people take water to drink out of puddles,” Haertel said. “I met and learned about a program called ‘Safe Water for Life and Dignity’ which is a group of former seminarians whom Salvatorian Fr. Dan Pekarski inspired to work together to benefit others.” Moved by what she saw, Haertel invited the Wauwatosa parish to get involved.

Over the past five years, the parish has donated nearly 20 wells (at $5,000 each) and this year the community at St. Pius has raised enough money to donate four more.

“We are supporting a group of people in Africa who are doing this as their ministry,” Haertel said. “This is Africans serving Africans and this is a real chance to change lives. Not only does this help deal with disease like cholera and typhoid, it also helps women not have to walk for hours each day for water so that, maybe, they can go to school. It also helps provide safe water to irrigate crops which benefit the entire community, helping everyone thrive.”

This commitment to helping everyone thrive inspires Kathy Wellenstein, the parish’s director of Liturgy and Music, in her own service to the St. Pius community.

“We are a community that doesn’t just say ‘All are welcome.’ We truly mean it!” Examples of this include weekly opportunities for fellowship after the two Sunday Masses, as well as involvement in the Wauwatosa Food Pantry and weekly collections for Repairers of the Breach, a daytime shelter and resource center for Milwaukee’s homeless. “St. Pius is always striving for ways in which we can be even more inclusive. To that end, we have installed a hearing loop in the church which aids those who are hard-of-hearing.” The parish’s annual “Grass Mass,” held in the parish courtyard each September, is an important opportunity for homecoming and renewal for the community.

“Our Justice and Peace commission selects a different social issue every year to focus on and provides materials and programs to help educate the parish on that topic and how it impacts them personally, and its impact on the community and the world,” Wellenstein said. “This year, the focus was on the environment — the Care for our Common Home.” Other adult faith formation initiatives include Tuesday evening classes on various aspects of Catholic life and teaching and a gathering every Friday morning to reflect on the readings for the coming Sunday.

For Fr. Paul Portland, S.D.S., all of this helps capture the spirit of St. Pius X parish. “Sometimes visitors will say, ‘Why is there so much talking before Mass? Why aren’t people more respectful?’” Noting that most people only see other parish-community members at Mass, Fr. Portland reflected that “We come to Mass to build up the Body of the Christ. The Body of Christ is the Eucharist, but it’s also the community. So, our attitude is that we are building up the Body of Christ before, during, and after Mass. This is the culture of the parish and this is who we are.”