“Necessity is the Mother of invention.”
So states a venerable proverb which just so happens to hold true for Christ King Parish in Wauwatosa. This beautiful, stately church with its sprawling campus grounds along Swan Boulevard between Center and Clarke Streets came to be out of necessity courtesy of the prosperous decade of the 1920s.
As increasing numbers of people saw fit to move from the city of Milwaukee in search of larger homes and bigger lots, suburbs like Wauwatosa directly west of the city experienced fairly dramatic growth. Indeed, the census records show that Wauwatosa’s 1920 population was 5,818. Just 10 years later in 1930, that figure spiked to 21,194. Coinciding with this growth, Milwaukee Archbishop Sebastian Messmer purchased 18 city lots on what was then known as Swan Road. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee bought the property intending it as a future site for a Catholic congregation. However, for a variety of reasons, most notably the severe economic downturn of the Great Depression, that land was not immediately developed and sat idle for nine years.
In 1936, with the government questioning whether the property should retain its tax-exempt status, Archbishop Samuel Stritch adhered to legal advice that the archdiocese deed the property’s title to the planned congregation to show that the property would indeed be for religious use. Thus, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee deeded the land to The Congregation of The Christ King, but agreed to delay requiring the congregation to pay for the land for five years.
It was the beginning of a remarkable history for a parish that celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2014, and cherishes the opportunities its location offers.
“We have a wonderful opportunity where we are at in that we border on Milwaukee and Wauwatosa,” said Fr. Phillip Bogacki, who took over as pastor at Christ King in 2013. “It offers a great opportunity to bring a great diversity of people from different backgrounds. Within the Milwaukee metro area, we’re very centrally located. We’re close to a constantly expanding freeway, so it’s easy to get here. We have a beautiful footprint, also close to Mount Mary University, where we were founded in 1939.”
The initial drawings for a proposed campus of buildings were prepared in 1936, but Christ King Congregation would experience a number of false starts before the first stage of a substantive building project became reality in December 1937 at a projected cost of $33,316. Christ King Parish finally became reality on Oct. 14, 1939, as Archbishop Stritch appointed Fr. Joseph Huepper as the first pastor.
The following spring, ground was broken for the original school (the center of the current school building) and boiler house along with the rectory. On June 2, 1940, the cornerstone for the new school was blessed and set into place. The rectory was ready for occupancy in October 1940. When the “New Church” was built in 1955, large front and back additions were made to the rectory along with reconfiguration of existing room space.
As the parish continued to grow in 1945, Christ King needed to convert the second floor of its school building (which is the current Chapel) into classrooms because there simply wasn’t enough room to accommodate the student population. In 1947, Christ King opened its third worship space, the “New Chapel” (current North Hall). Its cement roof and temporary wood frame entrance weren’t very attractive, but it was built in preparation for more construction.
Christ King experienced even more growth in the 1950s, bolstering its schedule to five Sunday Masses, installing a boiler to convert the school from coal to oil and building an addition to the south side of the school. Then, on March 28, 1953, the building committee established a foundation fund for the construction of the “New Church” and organized to raise $300,000. In the first week of the campaign, more than $222,000 was pledged. Groundbreaking for the new church took place March 19, 1955, with church construction taking nearly one and a half years. Finally, on Dec. 16, 1956, the new church was dedicated by Archbishop Albert G. Meyer, and the altars were dedicated two days later.
When Fr. Bogacki first laid eyes on Christ King Parish, he was struck by not only the beauty of its worship space, but by the welcoming warmth of this church.
“My impressions of Christ King were, first of all, some really amazing people,” said Fr. Bogacki. “There’s a real diversity of kinds of people who are here. The church space is tremendously beautiful, and it’s built with a very beautiful nobility, but it also has a simplicity about it as well. It’s just a wonderful space to pray and worship in, and the people are just wonderful.”
Natalie Forward has been a parishioner at Christ King for about a decade.
“At first, it was the place that I would go to Mass every week, and part of my routine,” Forward said. “But then, I got involved in small group for some formation activities, and my faith got stronger and became more important to me. As I grew stronger in faith, I just got more excited and energized about Jesus, and ultimately Christ King, because that’s one of the places I talk to Jesus.”
Fr. Bogacki sees Christ King’s location as a real asset, a bridge between disadvantaged parts of the city and churches like Christ King and neighboring St. Bernard’s that are blessed with more resources.
“What I would hope is that we would see ourselves as focusing a little bit more so in the city of Milwaukee,” said Fr. Bogacki. “Just to the northeast of us is an area of the city that statistically has struggles with crime issues, poverty issues, and I would hope that as our parish works together with other parishes close by so together we can focus a bit more on urban ministry.”