How often do we take time to remember our beloved priests who have died? Every diocese or religious community has its necrology, typically found in the ordo, located in the sacristy. Priests often consult the ordo and pray for their deceased brothers who died on that day.


Recently, Marquette University and Sacred Heart School of Theology professor Fr. Steven Avella and Fr. Michael Petrie, Pastor of St. Boniface parish, completed a multi-year project compiling a priest necrology website for all priests who served the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. This collection is available to the public at


In his historical studies, Fr. Avella learned that numerous dioceses had books that chronicled deceased priests. and religious communities have books listing their departed members.


“The Jesuits, Salvatorians, Racine Dominicans and the School Sisters of St. Francis provided good models and inspiration to do something similar for our archdiocese,” he said. “Fr. Mike Petrie, a researcher and former student, provided the pictures. He took the months of July through December. I had the first part of the year. It took about a year and a half to collect the data, write the citations and find acceptable pictures.”


Additionally, Fr. Avella wrote about the deceased archbishops and auxiliary bishops. Fr. Petrie added information on pre-1900 missionaries Patrick O’Kelly and Caspar Rehri.


To be included in the necrology, the priests needed to be cited in the current Paulist Press Ordo, used throughout the archdiocese. They used as their point of departure the year 1950, but they also included remembrances of some early priests and archbishops. This project was a multi-faceted labor of love designed to reach priests and laity.


“Our hope was to find a way to help the newly ordained, those incardinated from other dioceses and priests from other countries serving here to gain a sense of identity and heritage of our local presbyterate,” said Fr. Petrie.


Fr. Petrie and Fr. Avella began discussing the project in 2012 and what it might include; they began working in earnest two years ago during their free time. Some of the information was readily available in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Archives folders and the Seminary folders, but others required a bit more investigation.


“For several others, it meant looking in old parish histories, reviewing censuses, looking at birth and death certificates, reading old newspaper articles and obituaries, as well as checking their reliability, (and) consulting baptismal registers here and in Germany, Italy or Poland,” said Fr. Petrie. “One time-consuming task was finding at least one picture of them; another was ascertaining which cemetery some of the guys were really buried in. Fr. Steve is an expert at situating all the information in its historical context.”


The history of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, especially regarding the priests who have laid the faithful foundation, is an important trove of information for our priests.


“Our parishes are places of deep faith, and despite the scandals affecting the clergy in recent years, most parishioners hold priests in high regard and even affection,” said Fr. Avella. “This is due in some degree to the good work and kindness of priests who have gone before us. I often use that old cliche with the seminarians I teach: ‘You stand on the shoulders of giants.’”


Most surprising to Fr. Petrie and Fr. Avella was learning that most of the priests who served the Archdiocese of Milwaukee were the sons of working-class families and natives of Wisconsin.


“They knew the local culture and local idioms. Many worked very hard — not only celebrating the sacraments but helping the young, bringing people into a deeper understanding of the meaning of the reform of the sacred liturgy, and stepping away from most exclusive interpretations of the status of the priesthood,” said Fr. Avella. “The Archdiocese of Milwaukee was and still is a good place to be a priest. There is a medley of characters in our history. Their stories are often repeated in the common clerical lore that is part of the culture of the presbyterate.”


In addition to coming from working-class families, Fr. Petrie added that perhaps along with their faith and experience of the Great Depression, it fed the priests’ natural interest in being at the forefront of social justice concerns. 


“This trend becomes most obvious from the 1930s onward. Also, from the 1930s until well into the 2000s, the majority of the priests of this diocese have been committed to the liturgical renewal and reforms and very supportive of the Vatican II Council and its reforms,” he said. “I was surprised by the number who graduated from St. Lawrence Seminary High School in Mt. Calvary.”


The decision to begin the necrology in 1950 was efficacious, as Fr. Avella and Fr. Petrie would have needed to study an additional 357 priests to research and write about. 


“They were born in Europe and came here to serve immigrant communities. Also, the archival material is (more scant) as you go back in time,” said Fr. Petrie. 


The necrology report will be a fascinating resource for parishioners who may wonder what happened to a priest who meant so much to them but left after six or 12 years. 


“Some of us priests are in the habit of consulting the Ordo every morning or a couple of times a month, and bringing these guys and all the good they’ve done to mind or praying for them,” said Fr. Petrie. “They were our mentors, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. I hope to nourish that custom.” 


Fr. Avella agreed and said he is grateful for the opportunity, for the priests who came before them, and he hopes the project expresses that motivation. 


“We are grateful to the Archdiocesan Archives, Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, the encouragement of Fr. Jerome Herda, and the sound advice of Dr. Barbara Anne Cusack for their assistance,” he said. 


The report does not list priests who resigned from pastoral ministry nor priests who were accused of sexual abuse and laicized before death. 

Fr. Michael Petrie

Fr. Steven Avella