MILWAUKEE — The cold and snowy weather didn’t stop approximately 70 parishioners of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Patrick parishes from making a procession to five historic sites on Milwaukee’s south side on the eve of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Sunday, Dec. 11. The procession was led by Jesuit Fr. Timothy Manatt and marked the 90th anniversary of the Spanish-speaking mission’s founding in Milwaukee.
“This whole procession is kind of like a history lesson; we are able to see where our church came from,” said Cruz Dominguez, 16, a junior at Oak Creek High School, who played the mandolin during the procession. “It (the procession) also means for us to stay together, like a family, and to be there for each other no matter what happens.”
The procession began after evening Mass at St. Patrick Parish, 723 W. Washington St. The group trudged through the snowy streets to pray beneath the I-94/43 bridge at the corner of 6th and Washington streets.
“We stopped underneath the expressway to pray for the homeless; there are many homeless who survive underneath the bridges on the south side,” said Fr. Manatt.
The procession proceeded to Voces de la Frontera (“Voices of the Border”), a non-profit organization that advocates for immigration reform and workers’ rights, located at 1027 S. 5th St.
The group prayed for the rights of immigrants, which included intentions for homeland security and president-elect Donald Trump. The group also mentioned the names and prayed for students in the procession.
“I have dozens of young people who study and work with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), I am very anxious for them about what the new administration will mean,” said Fr. Manatt. “This is an opportunity to give public expression to our faith. People along Sixth Street and people up here at National Avenue, the people in the restaurants along Fifth Street are going to say, ‘What are those crazy people doing walking in the snow?’ That’s not the reason why we’re doing it but it’s a positive consequence of what we’re doing.”
During the middle of the procession, the group gathered outside of Botanas Restaurant, 816 S. 5th St., to pray for racial understanding in Milwaukee and the dignity of workers. They were also welcomed with hot chocolate and cookies from the restaurant.
“It’s a place where a lot of African-Americans come to eat Mexican food on the south side. It’s where black, white and brown come together; it’s one of the few places in the city, albeit in the context of a restaurant,” said Fr. Manatt. “We’re going to stop and pray for better understanding especially between Mexicans and African-Americans.”
For many of the participants, the climax of the procession took place in front of the bridal shop, First Impressions, 719 S. 5th St. It was the original location of the mission for the Mexican people, dedicated by Archbishop Sebastian G. Messmer, Dec. 12, 1926. Gabriela Perez de Gutierrez, 90, the first child baptized at the mission, prayed with the procession for the mission’s founders and original benefactors.
“I’m very excited and glad to do something for our church, I was surprised when Fr. Manatt asked me to read the benediction to the people,” said Gutierrez. “Our church is strong when we are together.”
The final stop occurred outside of Casa Romero Renewal Center, 423 W. Bruce St., a retreat center for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee located next door to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the former School Sisters of Notre Dame convent. The procession prayed for the Notre Dame sisters and for the cultural programs and service learning projects sponsored by Casa Romero.
“For 110 years it was a convent for the Notre Dame sisters who taught at Holy Trinity School (and) then opened Notre Dame School,” said Fr. Manatt. “Casa Romero is an amazing organization that has urban plunges (cultural immersion experience) and alternative spring and fall break service trips for the youth.”
As the procession entered Our Lady of Guadalupe, decorated with hundreds of flowers, they were greeted by approximately 60 parishioners to celebrate Mass for the start of the feast day at midnight. Traditionally, the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated with song and dance, with members performing various forms of folk and Aztec dances. Different groups from the parish each led a decade of the rosary throughout the evening.
“I think half of all the cut flowers in the city of Milwaukee will be in our church tonight because families bring roses, especially, as an offering to the Virgin Mary in gratitude of her love and in gratitude for their Mexican culture of faith,” said Fr. Manatt.
For many in attendance, the evening brought back memories.
“I was baptized and married in this church; this was my mother’s church; I’ve been celebrating the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe here for 81 years,” said Josephine Sandoval, a parishioner of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “My favorite part is when the Aztec dancers come in during the offering at Mass.”
“This means a lot to our heritage; Our Lady has blessed us with so many miracles that has strengthened our roots and beliefs,” said Maria Cerda, a parishioner of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “As a mother, I look up to her because she was the mother of God; there are so many people in our culture who are in need of her, especially the immigrants.”
For Fr. Manatt, the anniversary of the Spanish-speaking mission invites the parishioners of Our Lady of Guadalupe to embrace its legacy in Milwaukee.
“This is really a celebration of 90 years of faith on the south side and 90 years of welcoming the immigrant, of having a place of refuge, a place of faith and growth,” he said.