MILWAUKEE — The bells are ringing again at St. Gregory the Great Church, on South 60th Street and West Oklahoma Avenue.
The pair of bells tolled for the first time since the 1990s during an outdoor Mass Sept. 11 – once for each year since the Twin Towers tragedy. In an era when bona fide church bells are seldom heard, the bells of St. Gregory’s, one of which dates back more than 50 years to the parish’s founding, are calling worshippers to weddings and funerals, in addition to Sunday Masses. They also sound the Angelus at noon and 6 p.m.
A $5,000 donation from a parishioner and a $6,000 gift from the parish’s Christian Women organization covered the majority of the $15,000 bell project, which included installation of a sound system. An additional $5,863 earmarked for the bells and received on top of the $15,000 has been applied “to offset the cost of the electrical updates to install the bell system…” according to a St. Gregory Sunday bulletin.
The bell project represents one aspect of a $600,000 facelift at the southwest side parish, said Patti Penkalski, St. Gregory’s director of administrative services, in a recent conversation with your Catholic Herald. Funding from a bequest from parishioner Eleanor Gronowski’s estate and the Faith in Our Future campaign, in which St. Gregory, like other parishes, partnered with the Faith in Our Future Trust, facilitated the facelift. Inside the church, orange carpeting, bespeaking the 1970s when it was installed, was removed by D&E Custom Floors and replaced with “neutral (brownish) color” carpeting, Penkalski said, adding that D&E is rather rare as a firm willing to remove pews in conjunction with carpet installation.
Moving the benches necessitated the celebration of weekend Masses in the parish hall and funeral liturgies at Our Lady of Lourdes or St. Matthias, the churches clustered with St. Gregory, between June 27 and July 8.
The church’s north facade along Oklahoma Avenue has been renovated. A copper cross is being crafted. Stone can be found where once there was deteriorating metal and glass. “An outdoor gathering space” has been added.
The bell tower has been updated, a planter has been removed, doors and windows have been replaced, a chimney has been repaired and the parish parking lot – thought to be one of the largest church lots in the city and doubling as a playground for the nearly 300 St. Gregory grade-schoolers – has been repaved. As the July 24 St. Gregory bulletin explained, “The parking lot has become a safety hazard, with uneven grading and potholes. We have patched the lot every year for the past few years and it is no longer cost effective to repair portions of the lot.”
The renovations were done by local firms, Penkalski said. Wolf Paving redid the parking lot. Foundation Architects and J.H. Hassinger, General Contractors were responsible for the north facade. D&E is locally based as well.
The worship experience has been enhanced at the 1,700-family parish by the renewed “environment of the church, fresh coats of paint and new carpet,” in Penkalski’s estimation. Parishioners proved “extremely” supportive of renovating, she said.
Penkalski noted that the St. Gregory parish council facilities committee and finance council introduced the idea of the renovations – which she called “really practical” improvements.