The former St. Aloysius School was decommissioned and sold in 2020. Alumni of the school are hoping to have an all-class reunion this summer before the building is razed. (Submitted photo)

Decades ago, Laura Hendricks and her three sisters, Sarah, Tracy and Colleen, attended St. Aloysius Elementary School in West Allis. The parish celebrated its last Mass in May 2021, a year after the school closed its doors.

Hendricks is hoping to have an all-school alumni reunion this summer at LaFollette Park, the park students remember playing at on school holidays.

In Milwaukee’s early history, there were no Catholic churches in West Allis, but as they expanded in the early 1900s, the need for a parish on the city’s west side was imperative. In April 1920, 15 prospective parishioners met to discuss the creation of a new parish. Not long after, the block between South 92nd and South 93rd streets and Greenfield Avenue to Orchard Street was purchased.

The church’s humble beginnings began with the purchase of two wooden military barracks that were placed on the parcel and utilized for St. Aloysius Church and School.

The first School Sisters of Notre Dame arrived Jan. 6, 1921. St. Aloysius School opened four days later with approximately 75 students.

Just six years after the military barracks began housing the parish community and school, they were bursting at the seams, and they erected a two-story brick building that was a combined school/church complex and completed in 1926. The church was on the first floor of what most former students remember as the school. The five classrooms on the second floor housed almost 300 students.

By 1937, the parish had grown to 600 families and 500 students attended its school. The following year, an eight-room addition was made to the school along 92nd Street, and in 1947, additional classrooms were added along 93rd Street. In 1949, the parish constructed a new rectory, and in 1953, they built a convent. In 1957, a more contemporary-style church was built, along with Gonzaga Hall.

In 2018, three parishes in West Allis (Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mary Queen of Heaven, and St. Aloysius) merged into Mother of Perpetual Help Congregation. The new parish began worshipping under one roof at 2322 S. 106th St., West Allis.

In 2020, St. Aloysius Parish was deemed to need too many repairs to justify keeping it open, so it was decommissioned and sold. The school, which closed a year earlier, was also sold to the city of West Allis and later sold to a developer. The buildings will be razed this summer, and apartments will be constructed on the property.

For Hendricks and other former classmates, seeing the buildings demolished is heartbreaking as they hold many treasured memories.

“I am very sad that our school and church will be gone this year,” she said. “The current owner is putting up apartment buildings, and from what I have seen, the convent was rehabbed and (is) being utilized as an apartment building or something similar.”

To preserve and share their memories, Hendricks began two Facebook Groups to reconnect with former classmates: St. Aloysius Alumni and St. Aloysius Alumni Reunion

“I would love to hold the reunion in August and would love it if the city of West Allis would cover the cost of LaFollette Park pavilion and the park in general,” Hendricks said. “I researched and found it is around $300 plus just for the pavilion. It would be nice to gather, even if we just gathered in the park for a couple of hours. I hope that those who are interested will contact me through one of those groups so we can plan the reunion.”

Hendricks considers the education she received at St. Aloysius from 1976-84 top notch.

“We were instructed by the nuns and also (lay) teachers, which was more than welcome because they brought a bit more of a laid-back way of teaching,” she said. “It was safe. We were a family. I don’t recall any mishaps regarding violence and such. It just didn’t happen.”

The students went to church together and frequently went camping as a group and played with each other when school was not in session.

“I loved the library, my friends, teachers and playing sports,” said Hendricks. “I also loved our Speech teacher, Mrs. McAdams — she brought so many wonderful poets to life and took us to competitions, where we performed against other schools. My favorite poet is Shel Silverstein. I believe I have that book from our library as well. She helped me to climb out of my shell as I had an overwhelming fear of public speaking.”

Deb Tyszka, who graduated eighth grade in 1964, remembers St. Aloysius with great fondness.

“I only have good memories,” she said. “The nuns were tough but mostly fair. I remember singing in the choir most Sundays, school Masses, weddings, funerals and even attending daily Masses in the summer. I remember Fr. (later became Monsignor Oscar) Winninghoff’s list of things to do, which is why I am still a list-maker today.”

Similarly, Diane Zollitsch, who graduated in 1963, enjoyed singing for Mass and sometimes for Saturday weddings.

“I liked diagramming sentences — the longer the better,” she said. “I also liked making mosaics with torn construction paper, scrubbing the convent floors on my hands and knees, and being allowed to have my hair in rollers in class on the day of my Confirmation in fifth grade. I was also voted the outstanding eighth-grade girl student in Wisconsin in 1963 and rode in a parade in La Crosse with the Catholic Knights. It was my first time away from home. I still have the little diamond heart and the wall plaque.”

For Mary Dragolovich Martin, who graduated in 1996, her favorite memory was Ms. Bobb and the science lab.

“I cleaned the animal cages every day after school. There were canaries, ferrets, Guinea pigs and many other cutie critters. The science lab was painted like a rainforest, and it was my safe place, second home,” she said. “I now have a tortoise, tarantula, German Shorthaired pointer, hedgehog and leopard gecko; my rosy boa constrictor, Apple, was my 40th birthday gift — all because of my involvement with the science lab from seventh to eighth grade.”

While Sandy Jenkins grew up in Burlington, her uncle was Fr. Don Elverman, the priest who served St. Aloysius for many years.

“It would have been most of the 1970s and very early ’80s,” she said. “He was a wonderful priest and human being. He joined his Savior in early 2000. I think of him daily and still seek his guidance. He and my mom (his sister) were very close, and we visited St. Al’s often.”

Jenkins saved all of Fr. Elverman’s homilies and bulletins, and the following one is especially touching as it addresses the students.

3/14/82 – Jesus

I just came back from school talking to the children about Jesus. Some of them in eighth grade, and others in kindergarten and first grade. I say talking to them because I wasn’t thinking in terms of teaching. By just talking about him, the students seem to relate better and be open to him. 

As I thought about this, I’m hoping that all of you parents are doing the same at home. I’m hoping you’re “talking” to your children about Jesus. 

I pray all of you parishioners are talking more about Jesus. I have this wish because we are using the Gospels for prayer and discussion during Lent. If we keep our conversation centered on Jesus, it will be more charitable, worthwhile, spiritual, supportive, honest, open, understanding, forgiving and hope filled. Jesus is not just for children. 

Fr. Don

Hendricks recently moved to Mukwonago and is married with two daughters and four grandchildren. She served as an Army Medic during the Gulf War and later retired from Milwaukee County after she was granted her 100 percent service-connected rating through the VA.

“I am still connected with a handful of folks who attended school, and I hope to reconnect with more,” she said. “I hope we get a lot of interest for the reunion, as I thought it would be wonderful for alumni to gather one last time to say goodbye to our beloved school and church. We were more than students — we were truly a family.”