“Probably the strength of Holy Cross is that we know one another very well.”
When Dr. Sandi Schmitt reflects on the characteristics of Holy Cross Parish that please her the most, she points to qualities such as family. The church offers two intimate Kenosha County worship settings, one in Bristol and the other in Wilmot. It features well-grounded relationships. It’s a place where people know your name and make you feel welcome.
“We’ve had people grow up in larger parishes and they feel like they’re kind of lost,” said Schmitt, who’s served as parish director since 2014. “Even our worship spaces are smaller so we know one another very well. There’s that sense of belonging, that sense of a more intimate relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are incredibly dedicated people to their parish and if there’s a need they are going to step up and help out.”
Robert Lasch, who has been attending Holy Cross the past 12 years, sees the smaller worship settings as a real plus for the parish.
“I would say come to Holy Cross because we have a very intimate worship setting,” said Lasch, who chairs the pastoral council and also leads the youth group ministry. “It’s not large and it’s not like you’re going to a huge cathedral where you can kind of sit in the background and skate out at the end of the service. We’re two small, country worship sites.”
Holy Cross Parish came about with a merger between Holy Name of Jesus in Wilmot and St. Scholastica in Bristol in 2009. St. Scholastica traced its roots back to St. Mary’s Church in the late 1800s. While the church and rectory are now gone, St. Scholastica cemetery can still be found at its original location, a mile west of Highway 45 on Highway V in Bristol.
In the mid-1920s, St. Mary’s closed and families combined to worship at Holy Name of Jesus in Wilmot until, with the help and care of the Benedictine Monks, the parish was reopened in 1945. Masses were held in the Abbey Press Building nearby and became known as St. Benedict’s. The present church and rectory, completed in 1961, was renamed St. Scholastica.
Meanwhile, the Wilmot location, Holy Name of Jesus, began as a small church built in 1856. Early church members were mostly of Irish descent. Another three church buildings were built between the 1870s and 1914. As Holy Name of Jesus parish grew in size, it became apparent there was a need for a larger church and a permanent school.
The builders intended that once funds became available, they would build a rectory and a new church on Highway B. The new building would then be utilized as only a school and residence for the nuns. A large section on the south side of the new building was designated as the church and a dedication was held in 1959. Eventually, the rectory was sold and some rooms in the church/school building became the rectory and offices. The church was growing. However, as school attendance dwindled, the school closed in 1969.
On Jan. 1, 2009, St. Scholastica and Holy Name of Jesus were again reunited — this time permanently, as one parish with two locations, proclaiming, “To help with the decline in the number of parish priests, we were formally merged with those whom we shared so much early history. We were renamed once again, this time to Holy Cross Parish.”
Schmitt, who especially enjoys teaching others who teach the faith, developed a program called Forming the Catechetical Spirit, which is used for certifying catechists in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. She was appointed by Archbishop Listecki and serves with an assisting priest, Fr. Dennis Witz.
“Fr. Witz is here on the weekends for Mass and our sacramental needs. I pretty much do everything else as far as running the parish. The merger was designed to bring together the staff, the finances and the resources to strengthen the ministries of service to the rural community,” said Schmitt. “Some people don’t like change while for others it’s very exciting with the ability to bring together the resources and make the parish stronger to serve the community better.”
Holy Cross Parish serves approximately 400 families essentially split between two very different demographics.
“We have our older parishioners who have a lot of history,” said Schmitt. “They’ve been here for a long time and this is their parish, their community and they’re very rooted. Then we have a lot of young families. Those are the two demographics we predominantly serve. We get a trickle in of new members on a regular basis now that wasn’t going on for a while. So there’s growth coming but it’s slow.”
To be sure, blending the two demographics has certainly not been free of challenges.
“I think the collaboration and the understanding of being one parish is coming along nicely but there was still more work to do,” Schmitt said. “That’s been an emphasis that we have here of really breaking down that parochialism, understanding of us and them, and that we are one. We are seeing more people going back and forth between the sites based on the time of worship that they prefer. We are seeing some good progress in (recognizing that) we are one as a community.
“One of the challenges of being a small parish is that we have the same needs as larger parishes but we don’t have the same resources that they do either in staffing or in finance. So that’s a challenge we encounter on a regular basis. Developing ministries and getting people involved and the whole idea of stewardship is an important emphasis in our community now as it was before. We weren’t doing well financially when I took over but now we are stabilized and are no longer in the red.”
Fortunately for Holy Cross, last year the church was one of the five recipients for the Catholic Community Foundation’s Make-A-Wish grant, which has made a big difference.
“We were selected because we were in desperate need of hymnals,” Schmitt said. “Having one parish with two sites and being a small parish, we really can’t afford to have enough hymnals stocked at each site. We would split them between the two and put them on a cart. When you got to church, you’d get a hymnal. If you arrived late, you might not get one. It’s a wonderful blessing now to be able to go in and every seat has a hymnal.”
Moving forward, Schmitt exudes plenty of excitement about the Holy Cross worship experience and where they believe the church is headed.
“We have a lot of new growth happening with our ministries,” said Dr. Schmitt.