Following the July 2000 merger of three Cudahy parishes — St. Joseph, Holy Family and St. Frederick — Nativity of the Lord Parish took its name from the beautiful stained-glass window depiction of Christ’s birth that looms above the choir loft and the building’s main entrance.
All three of these churches were about 100 years old at the time of the merger and the oldest, St. Frederick, had been established in 1896 by Archbishop Frederick Katzer. In 1900, Archbishop Sebastian Messmer created Holy Family Parish to serve Cudahy’s growing Polish population. Then, in 1909, he founded St. Joseph Parish to minister to the Slovak community in the Cudahy area.
One good example of the direction Nativity of the Lord is taking can be found in its many good ministries to the people of Cudahy and surrounding communities. Fr. Carmelo Giuffre, pastor, points with pride to one ministry in particular, Project Concern.
“Project Concern is the food pantry that serves Cudahy and St. Francis,” Fr. Giuffre explained. “Although it is not affiliated with the Catholic Church, they use our basement, which was our first worship space, to serve the people who live here in the south shore area. Many of our parishioners are involved with the food pantry, and it’s open three times a week. It allows anyone of any faith to come in to get whatever they need, including clothes and things to help them get back on their feet. Just this past Thanksgiving, we did a big food drive for Project Concern and we’re very proud that we are able to offer this ministry. With Project Concern comes also the St. Vincent de Paul meal program that we are involved with as well. We’re not just a worshipping community. We like to put our words into action being Christ-like in the community.”
It’s an approach Nativity of the Lord seeks to foster during the entire worship experience, too.
“What I hope people find when they walk inside our doors is that they will be greeted warmly,” said Fr. Giuffre. “We’re a community that sticks well together, prays well together and one that is trying to move forward. People who come here will experience music that is a combination of choirs from both Nativity of the Lord and St. Veronica (Milwaukee), the other church I (pastor). We try to be a community that’s going to share our resources with St. Veronica and one that receives the hopeful Word of God each week and to be able to get energy from that to get through the week. We are a community that if you ever need help with anything, we are going to be there for you. We’re a community that is very proud of our Catholic faith and are not afraid to share the love of Jesus with others.”
This parish continues to prayerfully move forward thanks to the strong faith and hard work of its parishioners and its leadership.
“Each of these churches are about a mile apart,” said Fr. Giuffre, who has been pastor at Nativity the past year and a half.merger
Over their lifetimes, each of the three parishes contributed a great deal to the well-being of both the city of Cudahy and the entire Archdiocese of Milwaukee. But, as the church’s own historian noted, “Cudahy and its parishes were not insulated from the dynamics of our times and numerous factors at work in society and within the Church — population shifts, changing economic patterns, industrial development and dislocation, the Second Vatican Council, adjustments in family size and lifestyles and many more” opened the way for the need and opportunity to adapt to new realities.
Fr. Giuffre is still working to massage what has been at times a trying transition since the merger.
“The people from Nativity come from all over Cudahy as well as South Milwaukee and St. Francis,” said Fr. Giuffre. “What I’m trying to do is to move the parish forward … to become a stronger community. I think the people of Cudahy are accepting and they are confident that Nativity of the Lord and Cudahy Catholics will continue to move forward.”
One parishioner from Nativity of the Lord who brings a unique perspective to the church’s situation is Raymond Glowacki. Besides being a parishioner since 2000, Glowacki also happened to be the mayor of Cudahy from 1990 to 2004 and witnessed the merger and its aftermath from his civic perspective.
“All of these mergers shouldn’t have been a surprise to us,” said Glowacki. “We were told the shortage of priests was coming and for the length of time it took for it to happen, we were probably one of the first communities to feel this closure of these churches.”
Yet, as he reflects on what Cudahy parishioners have been through, Glowacki smiles because he sees the hand of God working through all of it.
“The funny thing is, for all of our thoughts that things aren’t going forward, lo and behold in God’s great goodness, they are,” said Glowacki. “We have made a progression of pastors that have had to deal with the changes that went on along with us and they have gotten better at accepting what has to be. We have been blessed to have the merger come across as it did. We were able to sell one building (St. Joseph). Right now, I think people believe we are going in the right direction.”