MILWAUKEE – Fr. Tim Kitzke, vicar general for urban ministry, has, on more than one occasion since Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki appointed him to that position Wednesday, July 1, said he has a job without a job description.
On Friday, Sept. 11, he invited the more than 40 people gathered at St. Martin de Porres Parish to help “him complete his job description” and “offer solutions to the problems that we face in urban parts of the archdiocese,” according to pre-meeting notes.
Coordinated by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s social justice ministry office, the meeting was a follow-up to the Mass for Peace celebrated Thursday, Aug. 13, at St. Francis of Assisi Parish as part of the church’s response to violence in the city.
Two more listening sessions with Fr. Tim Kitzke and Rob Shelledy will take place Friday, Oct. 9, and Friday, Nov. 6, St. Martin de Porres Church, 128 W. Burleigh St., Milwaukee. Further information is available at
Addressing the gathering, Fr. Kitzke said, “Part of my job is going to be the animator empowered by the Holy Spirit, but also empowered from the church’s official structure: the church has to be present wherever the Gospel calls us.”
Rob Shelledy, coordinator of the social justice ministry office, said the meeting was meant to “offer solutions to the problems we face in the urban parts of our archdiocese. What do we, as Catholics, have to offer to the wider discussion of poverty in our community – as individuals, as parishes, organizations and ministries, and then as the archdiocese as a whole?”
Referring to The Christophers’ theme that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, he said, “We want this to be about candles. We want to hold up things that will make our community stronger, more vibrant, more reflective of God’s love for all people.”
Fr. Kitzke added, “As a collaborative body, come up with concrete things we can do so that we can make a splash and say, ‘We’re here, we’ve been working hard.’ But we’d like to focus our energy on the church right now, and maybe two or three parts of the initiative during the next six months; we can say, ‘This is a sign of what’s to come.’”
At each table, participant after participant spoke about what individuals could do to address urban problems.
Phil Kremsreiter, a member of the multi-cultural committee at Blessed Savior Parish, Milwaukee, said individuals, as well as well as organizations and parishes, need to “generate hope.”
“But hope needs a voice and a face and a reason. As individuals, we should be looking for reasons, ways to create that hope and generate that idea that we are here because of our love for Christ,” he said. “This touches our hearts.”
Racine Dominican Sr. Rose Stietz, in urban ministry since 1993, said racism needs to be addressed.
“We have to start understanding our racism, why things are as they are … individually, if we don’t understand our own racism, we’re not going to be able to change the situation,” she said.
Sinsinawa Dominican Sr. Patricia Rogers, director of the Dominican Center for Women, said those leading groups and organizations must see the value in collaboration.
“It’s just our own work if we’re not collaborating, first of all with the residents and then with the other folks in other organizations in the community,” she said.
Connecting community with parishes, organizations
Representatives of parishes and Catholic organizations offered a variety of ideas as to what their respective bases could do.
Rosemary Storts, president of the Milwaukee Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul board of directors, said it was important for organizations to connect.
“We have to do our piece well and then direct people to other organizations,” she said. “Instead of every organization trying to address all of these needs, we all need to be aware of everybody’s organization and what they offer.”
Armitta Kilgore, a member of the archdiocese’s Black Catholic Commission, offered one piece of advice.
“The main thing is to listen. Don’t go in there telling them what to do,” she said. “Listen – that’s the main thing.”
Deacon Jorge Benavente, associate in the archdiocese’s office for Hispanic ministry, said one word bothered him.
“I don’t like (it) but it’s very easy to use; the word ‘help.’ ‘Help this, help that.’ You know what? We need opportunities, we don’t need help,” he said. “We need real and practical opportunities for education … good jobs. Education available for everyone.”
He added, “We have to work on one thing – it is called justice. If we have justice, we have everything.”
Joyce Roesler, a member of the human concerns commission at St. Mary, Hales Corners, noting that the archdiocese used to have “someone in charge of human concerns,” questioned how strong leadership at the archdiocesan office was in that area.
“It’s important we show, from the top down, that we have a commitment to this and we do have leadership in place we can go to for resources,” she said. “But I also would like to see something coming out from the archdiocesan office showing what programs are available in different churches, where there is help, where there is a sharing going on.”
Bob Schuelke, director of new parishioner engagement for the four East Side parishes, said the archbishop is key.
“Archbishop Listecki needs to be more out front, more out there taking initiative to meet with leaders, meet with key people … have him be more pro-active,” he said.
Capuchin Fr. Dave Preuss did not speak directly to an archdiocesan role, but to what he sees as pastor of St. Martin de Porres.
“What’s unique about Milwaukee is it’s probably one of the worst places in the country to be an African-American youth … because the economic and racial segregation and disinvestment is more intense here than almost anywhere else,” he said, noting there was “not much of a black middle class here.”
The priest said the community has “a very concentrated underclass.”
“Because of that, if there’s anything we need to develop it is black leadership both on the church level and civil level that comes out of these communities,” he said. “If leadership continues to look like this (referring to the race and age of participants), we won’t have credibility in the community.
“Unless we have diversity ourselves, it’s going to be hard to find acceptance. Especially because this community has been so segregated, there’s a lot of bitterness about white people telling us what to do.”
City events focus on prayer
Answering the call to pray for an end to violence in the city, three prayer opportunities are scheduled.
– An interfaith prayer service “to unite, pray and speak up for peace in our homes and in our streets,” according to a release, will be held this Sunday, Sept. 20, 5:30 p.m., All Saints Parish, 4051 N. 25th St., Milwaukee. For information, contact Cecilia Smith-Robertson at (414) 444-5610.
– A Mass for first responders, i.e., firefighters, police officers, paramedics and their families, will be celebrated Tuesday, Sept. 29, 7 p.m., St. Hedwig Church, 1702 N. Humboldt Ave., Milwaukee.
– A healing Mass for victims of violence, i.e., families, neighborhoods and faith communities, will be celebrated Tuesday, Oct. 27, 7 p.m., St. Hedwig Church, 1702 N. Humboldt Ave., Milwaukee.
Information about the Masses is available at (414) 758-2286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.