While St. Lucy’s Church in Racine is a vibrant faith community celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the parish’s history could be said to date back to an unlikely turn of events and an encyclical of Pope St. Pius X.
The history of the Church in Racine dates back to the earliest days of the “circuit” missionaries who traveled from Detroit to serve Wisconsin’s Catholics. However, as the Catholic presence flourished in cities, many parishes were unable to support parish schools and some ethnic groups, including the Italians, often chose to send their children to public schools. In 1905, Pope Pius X issued Acerbo Nimis, a document that focused on the importance of pastoral care for children who were not in Catholic schools.
This encyclical inspired Father John Lyons of Chicago to collaborate with Lilian Kubic, a laywoman, to create a catechetical program that came to be known as the Catholic Instruction League (CIL). The purpose of the CIL was to provide religious instruction to children in public schools and to adults in need of faith formation. The program was also unique because of its reliance on lay teachers, especially women.
In 1916, Archbishop Sebastian Messmer invited the CIL to Milwaukee and, in 1917, the CIL opened a center in Racine. Focusing on the Italian and Hungarian communities, the CIL’s teachers raised funds for a new building that would serve as both a classroom and a site for Mass. This building came to be known as the Catholic Instruction League Chapel and the first Mass was celebrated there on Palm Sunday 1922. At that time, the only furniture in the building was an old table that was used as an altar.
In 1925, the CIL chapel became a recognized mission and was named in honor of St. Lucy. Although the Catholic community in the Lakeside neighborhood would only be recognized as a parish in 1958, the community built a new church in 1933 and continued to grow steadily in ways that the founding generation could never have imagined.
Honoring its heritage as a center for education and catechesis, St. Lucy Parish broke ground for a new school in 1960 and celebrated its first graduation in 1962. One history of the parish notes that the first bus driver for the new school was the parish’s pastor, Fr. Francis Vadja. The school was staffed by the Dominican Sisters of Racine. The parish’s commitment to education also extends to its weekly programs for men and women and the various family programs spread throughout the year.
Today, the parish is served by Fr. Javier Guativa, who became the administrator at St. Lucy and St. Sebastian, Sturtevant last year.
“St. Lucy’s Parish has a long history here in the Racine area and we have the largest festival in Racine,” Fr. Javier noted. “Besides the sacramental activities and sacramental work that any parish does, we also go to Ridgewood, one of the biggest nursing homes here in Racine.”
However, Fr. Javier observed, the parish’s outreach also extends to support of local charities, and the parish school is also an important source of support and evangelization of the broader community.
Pat McLeod, a long-time parishioner and St. Lucy’s Parish business manager, noted that evangelization is an important part of the life of the parish, including Eucharistic Adoration each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“We’re one of the largest parishes in Racine, and because of our various programs, our men’s group, women’s group, the school, there are a lot of ways the parish touches people.”
Administrative coordinator Laurie Feiler has been a parishioner at St. Lucy’s since 1996. She and her family are actively involved in the parish’s music ministry and she recognizes the importance of investing in the parish community.
“Being involved makes the church another home. It’s not just that place you come on Sunday with the priest ‘up there,’ like there’s a wall between the clergy and the people. Everybody here has seen my kids grow up and it’s another place where they’re comfortable,” Feiler said. “For people who might not have those ties or connections, there are always opportunities for people to be involved, this is how people can become part of this tight-knit community.”
“Although this is a large parish, this is a very warm and welcoming congregation,” Feiler said. “There are a lot of people whose grandchildren went to school here, or they went to school here, or they work on the parish festival together, and I think that helps us be a tight-knit community. This may be large, but it is welcoming.”
This sense of home and family is an important part of the community, at St. Lucy and Fr. Javier, a member of the Community of St. Paul, sees it as the defining quality of the parish.
“We are a very friendly community and I can speak from my own experience. People at St. Lucy’s are very welcoming. That’s one of the biggest gifts that we have as a parish community. When we talk about St. Lucy,” Fr. Javier said, “we talk about a family. It’s great and I can testify to that as the new priest.”
“As a family, the parish also responds to the needs of Racine. That’s what we’ve been trying to do in the last year, but also through its history. And these needs aren’t just in the parish, but also to the large community by being sensitive and aware,” Fr. Javier said. “My hope is to attract younger families, but that is also the hope of all the parishes in Racine, and the whole archdiocese. But, we have our school and programs, and my hope is that we can help couples and families journey and grow.”