The cornerstone of the new St. Sebastian Church and school building was set in August 1912. The center unit of the building consisted of four classrooms and a chapel on the lower level. On Christmas Day 1912, the first Mass was celebrated in the new chapel.

Current church: As the parish grew to 750 families, larger facilities were needed. Plans for a new rectory and new church were set in motion in 1925. The rectory was removed from its foundation and moved to 54th Street, next to the school where it was reconstructed and remodeled as the convent. Ground was broken for the new rectory on the corner of Washington Boulevard and 54th Street. The basement portion of the new church was built on the corner of 55th Street and Washington Boulevard. This new basement chapel served as worship space until the church could be completed in 1926 with seating for 900.

In October 1929, the cornerstone of the church was laid and after nearly one year of construction, St. Sebastian was completed. The solemn opening of the church took place on Sept. 28, 1930. The seating capacity was more than 1,100. The stained glass windows of the church were installed in 1930. Parish membership reached 1,500 families in 1941; at the same time, 655 men of St. Sebastian were listed as serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

St. Sebastian Parish, 5400 W. Washington Blvd., Milwaukee, will celebrate its 100th anniversary as a parish this Sunday, Jan. 23, with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, followed by a reception that includes a proclamation by Mayor Tom Barrett, a parishioner. For more information: (414) 453-1061.

Between 1980 and 1981, the interior of the church was refurbished and major changes were made to the worship space. The St. Sebastian School Foundation, formed in the 1980s, continues to financially support the school and its mission. In 1987, the parish adopted a modified tithing concept for financial stewardship (doing away with school tuition for parish members). A full-time liturgical musician was hired, the church computer system was installed, and PAL (Parents’ Alternative for Latchkey) before and after school child care program began.

In 1999, a $3.4 million building campaign, “Giving Faith Room to Grow,” was launched to support the growth of the parish, and included (but not limited to) a new gathering space, meeting and administrative rooms, handicap accessibility, church air conditioner, “tot lot” and more.

In 2002, a $3.5 million church renovation and expansion took place to upgrade the gathering space, community meeting rooms and infrastructure. The building was retrofitted with elevators and air conditioning, along with extensive church pews and other interior improvements.

First pastor: Fr. Frances Kleser

Current pastor: Fr. Richard Aiken

School: In January 1913, the school opened with an enrollment of 32 children. The first teachers were of the Order of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Assisi, whose living quarters were in the upper center classroom – partitioned off into living, dining, bedroom and kitchen space.

By 1960, parishioners realized that their school was no longer meeting the needs of students. It was overcrowded with more than 900 children; it was originally intended to accommodate 500. The decision was made to raze the school and build a structure in its place. When completed in 1960, the new school housed 1,000 students with approximately 40 children in each classroom.
In the mid-’60s, St. Sebastian School enrollment swelled to an all-time high of nearly 1,500 students. However, by the late ’60s to early ’70s, parish membership leveled off and the school enrollment dropped. Many families had moved to the suburbs.

St. Coletta Day School opened within St. Sebastian School in October 1956.  It was the first Catholic day school for cognitively disabled children in the archdiocese. St. Sebastian has about 325 children enrolled, and St. Coletta has 15.

Worth noting: Construction on the upper church began after a last-minute pledge drive that raised $85,000 in just one week – right before the great stock market crash of 1929.  Even though it was the beginning of the Great Depression, parishioners fulfilled every pledge.