There were bass drums bumping. “Mic check, mic check 1-2-3,” one roadie said into a microphone on the Briggs and Stratton stage on the Summerfest grounds during the early morning hours of Sunday, July 9.
Mass isn’t usually celebrated here, but on this day approximately 60 people climbed the stairs of the Major Goolsby’s restaurant location to the VIP section of the Briggs and Stratton “Big Backyard” to attend Mass celebrated by Msgr. Ross Shecterle.
Contending with the noise from the sound checks, Msgr. Shecterle was armed with his own sound system equipped with two speakers, mixing console, mic stand and microphone. Summerfest provided all of the equipment.
Msgr. Shecterle, rector of Sacred Heart School of Theology as of July 1, has been celebrating the Masses for about 15 years for Summerfest employees, families and anyone willing to come to the grounds at that hour.
“We might be competing with sound checks … we might be competing with the street cleaners and stuff in the morning,” Msgr. Shecterle said. “But these are people thirsting for Jesus Christ who wouldn’t have a chance to experience it on these two Sundays if we didn’t provide it.”
During the homily, Msgr. Shecterle worked in a story about his bartending days at Major Goolsby’s downtown location, while completing his theological studies.
“I still wanted to be one of the guys, one of the employees and so I didn’t necessarily act the way I should’ve acted,” Msgr. Shecterle said. “I flirted a lot with people that came into Goolsby’s and actually swore like a truck driver.”
The Sunday morning crowd was a mix of high school workers and older people who’ve been coming for years. They laughed at the image of a young bartender studying to be a priest, cursing behind the bar.
Msgr. Shecterle said he started to change his ways while working at Major Goolsby’s when the Women’s International Bowling Congress came to town.
“One of the women heard the things I was saying, saw the way I was acting and said, ‘I’m not entirely sure it’s going to be possible for you to be a priest because your actions and your words don’t necessarily match what you’re saying,’” Msgr. Shecterle said.
“So, I had another drink.”
As he continued preaching, Msgr. Shecterle told the Summerfest “parishioners” who would interact with thousands of people later that day, “We have the responsibility to be prophetic, we have the responsibility to live our faith.”
Msgr. Shecterle said he forms his homilies around Summerfest when preaching at Milwaukee’s lakefront music festival. One year as he was celebrating Mass, Msgr. Shecterle said a country western band began its sound check and started performing one of his favorite songs.
“My brain did a major stream of consciousness and wove the lines of the country western song into the homily,” he said. “Even in this environment, a secular music festival, (employees) have a chance to focus on Jesus even but for a few minutes.”
The idea to have Mass at Summerfest started 40 years ago when Jerry and Jeanne Cohen bought Major Goolsby’s from then-Marquette University basketball coach Al McGuire in 1972.
“In the early days, my nephews and my niece were working here and their father is very strict Catholic and he said, ‘You can’t start at 5 (o’clock) in the morningand work until midnight, you have to go to Mass,’ at which point Jerry (Cohen) got a priest and we had Mass here,” Jeanne Cohen said, while her husband was in the Major Goolsby’s kitchen helping prepare for the free breakfast after Mass.
Jeanne Cohen, who, along with her husband, attends Old St. Mary’s Parish in Milwaukee, said she hasn’t missed a Summerfest Mass since it started. She has seen it grow.
“We started so small and it’s wonderful to see it now,” she said. “It’s a very spiritual time and a hectic week, two weeks and it drowns everybody. And (Mass) is good for everybody.”
Although her husband is the owner, and nearing age 75, Jeanne said he still gets behind the grill at Summerfest in the newly remodeled building.
“There’s still no air conditioning in there and Jerry’s been flipping burgers,” Jeanne said. “You know, it’s his theory that if (the employees) can stand the heat, ‘So can I.’”
Jeanne said the Mass has created a “family style” atmosphere with employees and former employees who come to Summerfest for the Mass.
“They really have loyalty and respect; it’s just an amazing group of people,” Jeanne said.
The breakfast helps keep the small group, which only meets twice in the summer, together.
“We catch up and the families and friends that have been here forever, we have breakfast together at Major Goolsby’s,” Msgr. Shecterle said. “That’s kind of a cool experience.”
Sara Emanueoe, an eight-year Major Goolsby’s Summerfest veteran, was greatful for the opportunity to attend Mass on the grounds.
“It’s not about where (Mass) is held,” Emanueoe, who attends St. Mary Parish, West Bend, said. “At the end of the day, it’s about opening your mind with God.”
Having Mass at Summerfest, Emanueoe said, helps Catholics keep their Sunday routine while working the festival.
Pat Murphy has been working at Summerfest for Major Goolsby’s for the last 28 years, and said he’s gone to the Mass every year.
“It’s nice; you don’t have to worry about missing your routine on Sunday, so it’s a nice, convenient thing to do,” Murphy said.
Murphy, who attends St. Jude the Apostle Parish, Wauwatosa, said having Mass allows people to save time traveling.
“I’ll be honest; I don’t think I can make it to St. Jude’s during the Summerfest times because I’m just too busy,” he said. “To take a half an hour while you’re down here certainly makes it nice and convenient for any of the venders, no matter what denomination. They’re all welcome.”