ST. FRANCIS — Four parishes will open their doors Saturday, Nov. 5, for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s first VIP (Very Important Parishes) event.
The event will offer free, behind-the-scenes tours at All Saints, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Immaculate Conception, Milwaukee and St. Bernard, Wauwatosa, to promote awareness about each parish’s history and involvement within the community.
“There are 196 parishes in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and a lot of them are in communities and neighborhoods where things are changing and people may not be as familiar with the parishes around them,” said Amy Grau, communications director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. “Historically, neighborhoods and communities were built around the church; it was like the epicenter of the neighborhood. That’s not always the case now.”
This year’s participating parishes were selected because of their diverse backgrounds and close proximity to one another. A free shuttle service will be available every half-hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to transport observers to the churches.
“The main inspiration behind this event is to get the people in the surrounding community, not just Catholics, to have a taste of what the archdiocese has to offer,” said Grau. “We’re not trying to evangelize people; we just want to get people in the door and understand more about what the churches provide to the community.”
All Saints, 4051 N. 25th St., will highlight its food pantry and meal programs that serve approximately 300 meals per week. Volunteers will also prepare bedrolls for the All Saints Bedrolls for the Homeless Ministry. A related ministry, called Creative Spirit, makes prayer shawls for the sick and has stitched a quilt which consists of patterns and symbols representing the flight from slavery to freedom. It is on permanent display in the sanctuary.
“We want to provide greater understanding and awareness about what we do as a parish,” said Sandra Melcher, a volunteer tour guide for All Saints. “We are all together and focused on one mission, one vision — to serve God and others.”
All Saints has a significant number of parishioners from African and European countries and will have a multi-cultural arts and crafts fair during the event. From 11:30 a.m. to noon, the internationally known All Saints Gospel Choir will perform. Tours at All Saints will feature its recent renovations, including its baptismal font, and the history behind the statues of African saints.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, 605 S. 4th St., the former Holy Trinity Church, is third oldest Catholic church in Milwaukee. It was dedicated in 1850 and will celebrate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Guadalupe mission in December.
“I want to invite all of our VIP visitors back for Mass to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in December,” said Jesuit Fr. Tim Manatt, administrator. “I encourage visitors who never experienced the traditions surrounding the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe to return and be a part of the community.”
Next door to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the first Spanish-speaking Mass was celebrated in Milwaukee at Holy Trinity School’s gymnasium in 1922. VIP participants can climb three flights of stairs to the gym and see basketball hoops that have been on the walls for 70 years. They’ll also get a view of the Walker’s Point neighborhood.
Upon entering the church, one can pull the ropes to ring the bells in tower. A mariachi band will play throughout the event and two concerts will be performed by the children and youth choir, Messengers of Hope and Missionaries of Peace, at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. There will be homemade Mexican and Salvadoran food, and a parishoner-owned food truck will be serving tacos and other ethnic food outside the church for the last two hours of the event.
St. Bernard, 1500 N. Wauwatosa Ave., the first Catholic parish in Wauwatosa, will open the rooftop of Wauwatosa Catholic School – St. Bernard’s parish school – for visitors to see downtown Wauwatosa. Guests will also have the opportunity to enter a contest to climb the church’s bell tower.
“It’s quite the sight to see, when you’re in the bell tower,” said Grau. “But it’s not for the faint of heart.”
Inside the church, guests can tour the sacristy and choir loft, where organ performances will be given throughout the event by Gail Martin, director of liturgy and music at St. Bernard, and Anna Wozniak, a freshman at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School. There will also be in-depth presentations on the history and symbolism represented in the church’s stained glass windows.
St. Bernard will also have coordinators from the Wauwatosa Food Pantry, located in the parish’s Griffey Hall, to show visitors how the pantry operates. There will also be an art exhibit displaying the works of the residents from Hart Park Square.
“We’re hoping to show people in the community what a great asset we are in the village; not only are we a Catholic church, we also have a lot of outreach programs,” said Christine Meyer, director of administrative services at St. Bernard. “We want people to be aware of what St. Bernard is all about; we’re not just a little church sitting on the hill in the village.”
Every Wednesday evening in the basement of Immaculate Conception, 1023 E. Russell Ave., the old South Side pastime of dartball continues. Dartball uses baseball-like scoring and rules, where players throw wooden darts underhand at a board that resembles a baseball diamond.
“Every church used to have two teams in the area and they would compete against each other,” said Fr. Philip Schumaker, pastor of Immaculate Conception and St. Augustine of Hippo.
Immaculate Conception is one of the only parishes in Wisconsin to have a baptistery, a separate structure surrounding a baptismal font, renovated into a confessional in the 1980s. While touring the church, visitors will also learn why the locations of the entrance and altar were rearranged in the 1960s. VIP attendees can explore the sacristy, choir loft and take a self-guided tour of the history behind the church’s stained glass windows and mural.
“A lot of the people in the area know of Immaculate Conception; many went there for church and school,” said Fr. Schumaker. “The VIP event will be an opportunity for them to reconnect with the church and see what has and hasn’t changed.”
Several local establishments are providing coupons for anyone who attends the VIP event, including Uppa Yard Jamaican Authentic Restaurant, Mr. Perkins Family Restaurant, Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, Brenner Brewing Co. and Yo Mama! Frozen Yogurt and Goodies.
“Many people only know of these churches because they’ve driven by them; now they’ll know the name and have a memory. It won’t be just a place,” said Grau.