When a team of people passionate about the Basilica of St. Josaphat formed the St. Josaphat Basilica Foundation in the early 1990s, they were faced with a broken church and a daunting task.
It hadn’t received the attention it needed for years, water was leaking from the dome, masonry was crumbling, paint and plaster were peeling and many more problems needed immediate attention. Since then, the foundation has spent millions of dollars on major renovations and improvements. Now, more than 25 years later, another round of maintenance work and a lighting project, which all together will cost more than $1 million, will help the basilica remain a beautiful Milwaukee landmark.
“Our hope is that we can maintain (the basilica) like this forever and not let it fall into the kind of shape it was in the past,” said Claude Krawczyk, the interim director of the St. Josaphat Basilica Foundation.
A complete exterior inspection of the basilica will take place in early April, said Krawczyk, and the foundation will receive a complete update on what work needs to be done. General maintenance like tuck pointing, stone repair, roof patching and repairing the gutters and downspouts will cover a large amount of the work to be done.
“This is not work that anybody frankly is going to notice any difference on, but it is work that needs to be done on a building like this, or any building, to maintain it,” said Krawczyk.
The work is projected to cost around $750,000, an amount, which as of Dec. 31, the foundation has raised. The foundation received a $250,000 bricks-and-mortar grant, a grant that can only be used for general maintenance, from Partners for Sacred Places, a non-profit organization that helps preserve historic places of worship around the country.
But perhaps the more exciting and more noticeable update coming to the basilica this year is the lighting of the dome. This is a separate project, but will be done simultaneously with the general maintenance work.
“You won’t notice the new mortar joints, but you will notice the new lighting,” Krawczyk promised.
The project allows for the installation of 26 light fixtures at 11 different locations surrounding the dome. There will be light 365 degrees around the dome, 365 days a year, so those driving on the freeway or flying into Milwaukee at night will be able to see it.
Several years ago, the foundation was the force behind redesigning the portico lighting, the lighting near the front of the church. But the dome doesn’t look right in the dark, said Krawczyk.
“It’s amazing the contrast,” he said. “The portico is all lit up, but the dome is dim. You can kind of see it, but it doesn’t match, if you will. It doesn’t have the same brilliance.”
The hope is that the lighting of the dome will force people to think about and remember the basilica and show that the church is alive and well.
“We think the basilica is a landmark here in Milwaukee,” Krawczyk said. “We know it is. We think that this will help to give it more recognition, more of a landmark status. A lot of people who may or may not pay attention to the basilica might notice it now, not that it’s hard to see during the daytime, but it’s going to be easy to see now all day long. We consider it symbolically to be a beacon, a beacon of our faith here, and a true beacon of light to our area.”
The dome lighting project, as well as general maintenance projects, will start sometime this summer and will be completed by the end of the year. In 2019, the foundation hopes to complete interior maintenance work, including repairing stained glass windows.
“We have a very passionate group of people here who want to make the basilica a place that’s going to be around for many generations to come,” Krawczyk said. “We think it’s an important place of worship but also an important place for art and culture and history. It’s a worthwhile building for many reasons.”
To learn more about the renovation projects at the Basilica of St. Josaphat, visit www.thebasilicafoundation.org.