A World Youth Day pilgrim from Marquette University wears a T-shirt with a drawing of Pope Benedict XVI during a Mass in the chapel at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago Aug. 9, 2005. The O’Hare chapel is one of 30 in existence around the country. A local group is hoping that Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee will be the site of the 31st airport chapel. (CNS file photo by Sam Lucero, Catholic Herald)

MILWAUKEE — Mitchell International Airport could soon have something in common with 30 other U.S. airports – the presence of a chapel.

A five-person board of directors has been assembled to look into the feasibility of constructing an interfaith chapel in a vacant, 600-square-foot space inside Mitchell.

The idea came to fruition, in part, when the decision was made to relocate the 162-year-old St. Stephen Church – sometimes known as “the little parish at the airport” – from its near-airport location along Howell Avenue in Milwaukee to Oak Creek. People flying in and out of Mitchell would frequently stop at St. Stephen for a moment of prayer, said Suzanne McKinney, a St. Stephen parishioner who is leading the effort.

In 1957, an airport in New Jersey was the first to open an airport chapel in the United States. Within the country, the chapels are prevalent mostly in the northeast corridor. Worldwide, there are 150 airport chapels.

Midway and O’Hare in Chicago have chapels that have been in operation for 50 years. Both are open all hours and offer Sunday and holy day Masses, and Communion services.

The Mitchell proposal will require approval by the Milwaukee County Board as Mitchell is a county facility. To date, airport officials have supported the idea of having the chapel with the caveat it be open to people of all faiths.

That provision by airport officials means no crosses or statues will be present within the chapel. Other elements, including stained-glass windows and pews, are possible. Experts in liturgical design likely will be consulted to ensure the chapel encompasses all faiths.

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on contributing to the airport chapel effort, call (414) 570-9906..

While it is still in the formative stages, work on several logistics is being done. A potential space within the airport has been located, and a set of bylaws is being drafted.

McKinney said she was inspired to look further into the airport chapel proposal after visiting Cardinal Stritch University’s lay ministry department and learning how many graduates participate in mobility ministries at truck stops, traveling circuses and cruise ships – in addition to airports.

“It was a thought that it was God’s work, and that really moved me,” McKinney said. “The idea started about a year-and-a-half ago, and it’s moving along nicely.”

Because the intent is to make the chapel interfaith, McKinney said the goal is to collaborate with people of other religions. Four of the five board members overseeing the initiative are Catholic.

“I like the fact that (the chapel) will be open to anyone,” said board member Susan Dawicke, who attends Hales Corners Lutheran Church. “That really sold me on being a part of this. I believe that seeds of faith are planted in different ways. Who knows how that will lead someone’s heart? This can be a comforting place for worship, and that’s invaluable.”

The other board members are former Cudahy mayor Ray Glowacki, Sr. Therese MacKinnon, a member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, and South Milwaukee resident LaVon Smith.

Eventually, board members would like to collaborate with leaders from other faiths – including those from Buddhist, Muslim and Jewish traditions – to ensure they are a part of the effort.

“It will be a nice place,” Smith said of the chapel. “It’s a nice location and it will be very accessible. It will be just off the main area, and near the parking structure.”

Sr. Therese said she was instantly supportive of the proposal because of the importance of quiet reflection before a flight.

“There definitely seems to be a need for something like this,” she said. “It’s a very worthwhile project because people need some time to pray.”

The five board members each are charged with different duties to help make the proposal a reality. Glowacki, for example, is working with governing bodies because of his mayoral experience.

“It is wonderful to be a part of this venture,” Glowacki said. “Because everyone is taking on small, but realistic, responsibilities; it is giving us the sense that it can be done. In its due time, this will come to fruition.”

Presently, the board of directors is working to establish themselves as a nonprofit organization, the Interfaith Airport Chapel of Milwaukee, and establish a larger advisory board. Once the legal papers are approved, McKinney said formal fundraising efforts will begin.