Two Memorable Events

A trip back to Milwaukee last week brought two memorable events.

The first was a fund-raising lecture at St. Josaphat Basilica, a spectacularly beautiful legacy of first- and second-generation Polish immigrants. The basilica foundation approached me at the suggestion of Fr. Bob Cook ’86, who spent his pastoral year after ordination at that parish. The evening brought together many old friends, and the Qs and As at the end of the talk were stimulating and enjoyable.

The lecture brought me back to work done over thirty years ago as a graduate student and young historian on the Holy Cross faculty. The basilica was a crisis within a crisis, a serious problem embedded within a longer “church war” that raged among the city’s Poles for over twenty years. At the center was a crusade for ethnic equality within the Church; contentiousness notwithstanding, the crusade was successful: three of the first four Slavic-American bishops were in Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, the parish was unable to pay even the interest on the mounting debt on the church. Eventually, the Franciscans took responsibility for the parish and a chunk of the debt; parishes in the archdiocese were assessed for five years to cover the remainder. What endures is a worship space of breathless beauty designed by architect Erhard Brielmaier, and decorated by Gonoppo Raggi, who also decorated a number of churches in New England.

The following two evenings were taken with a celebration and reunion for the 75th anniversary of my old Boy Scout Troop–Troop 61–located at Mother of Good Counsel Parish. It was a time for remembering, well prepared by the planning committee. I shed a tear during the memorial video of former friends and leaders who are now with God. And we all laughed
when a campfire choir performed excerpts from favorite camping songs.

A memory came back regarding my scoutmaster, Jim Niedhoefer. At some point three of us high school seniors were at his home when we noticed and admired copies of a magazine called Natural History. Jim bought subscriptions for the three of us for a number of years. When I asked how to thank and repay him, he told me : “when your time comes, keep it going.” Use your time and your means, he meant, to encourage the next generation. Words to live by, indeed.

Leave a Reply