MILWAUKEE – While there are still a number of unknown factors, organizers of the proposed interfaith chapel at Gen. Mitchell International Airport are moving forward with renderings, a growing board overseeing the effort and greater participation from Milwaukee’s interfaith community.
Nearly a year ago, a five-person board of directors began looking into the feasibility of constructing an interfaith chapel in a vacant, 600-square-foot space inside the Milwaukee County airport. If plans come to fruition, Mitchell Field will be one of about 30 airports in the country with an interfaith chapel.
Suzanne McKinney, a secular Franciscan and member of Sacred Heart Parish, St. Francis, helped spearhead the effort, which she describes as “purely grassroots.”
McKinney is a former parishioner at St. Stephen Church, which had been located along Howell Avenue near the airport for 162 years prior to being relocated to Oak Creek. The loss of a church in such proximity to the airport created a void that, in part, was an early inspiration for the airport chapel talks.
“We’ve made some progress and we’re going to keep going, even though there are lots of unknowns and lots of different scenarios,” McKinney said. “This really is a great act of faith. We believe this is God’s work.”
Since talks began early in 2010, organizers have been in dialogue with a number of officials including the heads of Mitchell Field and staff within Milwaukee County, the governing entity that has oversight of the airport. A majority of the 19 members sitting on the Milwaukee County Board would have to approve the airport chapel for it to become a reality.
“We’ve been hearing some great support for this throughout the community,” McKinney said. “But it’s still in the proposal phase. It’s not a done deal yet.”
While no firm timeline is in place, McKinney said the chapel would likely be up and running about four months after the board approves the proposal.
“We will be doing a full fundraising drive to cover the costs, if and when the County Board approves this,” McKinney said. “No government or taxpayer funds would be going into this, so it would be fully fundraising driven.”
In addition to the collaboration locally, McKinney said she and fellow organizers have been working with architects, pro bono, to have sketches of the proposed venue drafted. The group has selected Plunkett Raysich Architects to complete the design work for the chapel.
Organizers also have been reviewing similar chapels at airports throughout the country. In October, McKinney attended the 43rd Conference of Civil Aviation Chaplains in Phoenix and met with people overseeing airport chapels throughout the world.
While the Catholic community has been strongly represented in the local airport chapel discussion, McKinney said there has been a deep desire from the get-go to have other faiths represented. One of the five founding board members is Lutheran.
for the proposed chapel at Gen. Mitchell International Airport can be sent to:
Interfaith Airport Chapel of Milwaukee
More recently, the Jewish community has also been represented. Rabbi Ron Shapiro of Congregation Shalom in Fox Point is among the members of a recently assembled advisory board helping plan logistics for the proposed chapel.
“It’s very uplifting to have their support,” McKinney said.
McKinney said this year’s goals include establishing nonprofit status as the Interfaith Airport Chapel of Milwaukee, and to streamline the fundraising process. Further initiatives include determining the interior design elements that would be incorporated into the chapel and continuing to work toward enhancing the interfaith representation on the advisory board.
Since the chapel would be within a facility with government oversight, it is unlikely crosses or statues will be present within the chapel. Other elements, including stained-glass windows and pews, are possible. Experts in liturgical design are being consulted to ensure the chapel encompasses all faiths.
In Chicago, Midway and O’Hare each has a chapel that has been in operation for 50 years. Masses are celebrated at both on Sundays and holy days of obligation.