Friday, July 19, 2013

Old St. Mary

My family and I recently left the large suburban parish where we had been members for 21 years.  It wasn't an easy decision to make; it took us ten years (seriously) and it involved much prayer and discussion.  But over the course of the last few years, worship there felt more distracted than prayerful.  It was time to find a new church to call home.

After a year of church shopping, we finally found our new home downtown at Old St. Mary, the oldest church in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.  The church is so beautiful that it's impossible for me to become distracted for long; there's always a statue, painting or stained glass window to draw my attention back to the Lord.  The rich history of prayer and beauty within the walls of the church help me to deeply know the Lord's presence and peace whenever I spend time in prayer at Old St. Mary. I've been attending the daily 7 AM Mass there for the past six months and that experience has been so spiritually uplifting for me that I easily get out of bed early in the morning eager for worship.  It's the highlight of my day!

Photo credit:  The Badger Catholic

The rat race on the freeway is just kicking into gear as Milwaukeean's begin their daily commute.  I leave the frantic pace of the road and enter into the reverent hushed silence of the intimate church where 30-40 early morning worshipers are gathered.  The priest and lector/acolyte enter from the sacristy with a ring of the sacristy chimes.  The Mass is quick, lasting only 20 minutes without a homily, allowing those who work downtown to make it to work on time.  The sweet sound of the sacristy chimes and the church bells, named Mary, Mary Anna and Mary Magdalen, mark the early morning hours as they ring out, calling all to worship. The acolyte also rings the sanctus bells at consecration reminding all of those present about the importance of reverencing Christ on the altar and adding a little bit of joyful noise to this holy moment.

Following Mass, it is not unusual for many of those gathered at Old St. Mary to remain on their knees in silent prayer for 15-30 minutes.  Sometimes by the time I leave for work I find that the others have all gone with the exception of Willy, the sweet, old man who sits in the back row, day after day, frequently sleeping. Willy always seems to be there silently keeping the Lord company every day, and whenever I stop to say hello he reminds me that he prays for me.  I think of him as my guardian angel watching over me while I pray each day.

Photo Credit:  Cream City Catholic

Now that my family has formally joined the parish, we were quick to volunteer.  We spent an enjoyable Saturday morning helping at the Riverwest Food Pantry.  Lisa, who heads up the food pantry, joyfully showed us the ropes and we even had time to take a long look around St. Casimir Church where the food pantry is located.  St. Casimir is equally as gorgeous as Old St. Mary.  There are so many hidden treasures in this city!  At the food pantry we met many wonderful and interesting people, and enjoyed long conversations with some of them as we walked them home helping to carry their groceries.  We are all looking forward to taking many more turns giving of our time in this way.

In my dull little life, it doesn't take much to give me a thrill.  When I offered to help clean the church on Thursday mornings before work, I was introduced to Christina, a wonderful woman who heads up this job and who is as kind and friendly as can be.  She quickly set me to work cleaning windows, holy water fonts, and the candle lighters/snuffers.  It's a little thing, but I loved it!  After all, it's those little details that often mean the most in life.  It's a great honor for me to help in some small way to keep this magnificent church clean.

Photo Credit:  Arise Milwaukee

It's always a bit nerve-wracking when you do something for the first time, isn't it?  Although I'd been a lector at my former parish for the past five years, I was nervous on the day when I was to read for the first time at Old St. Mary.  When I stepped into the sacristy, I saw a statue of St. Anne and my nerves were immediately reduced having that physical reminder that my patron saint was nearby keeping an eye on things.  I was more than pleased when Fr. Tim Kitzke, the pastor, joined the lectors and servers in the sacristy and led us in a pre-Mass prayer.  I had never experienced anything like that before, but it makes sense, doesn't it, to pray before you lead others in prayer?  Fr. Tim's jovial and energetic style includes homilies so memorable that my family and I discuss them days after we hear them.  His most recent homily about the Good Samaritan focused on how to get out of the pits of life, and help others out of the pits as well, by focusing on the three "E's":  Empathy, Empowerment and the Eucharist.  I always love a homily that includes our Eucharistic Lord!

Although it took my family years of discussion and debate before leaving our old parish and joining a new one, I am as happy as can be to have finally made the switch.  Everyone at Old St. Mary is so very friendly, welcoming and warm, from Daisy, the darling parish secretary, to Ken, the Director of Religious Education and David, the Director of Liturgy, to Nick, who keeps the physical buildings in tip-top shape, to the priests, volunteers, fellow parishioners and the old man in the back row. I've found nothing but joy and warmth throughout the parish.  And when it's time for worship, they are deeply faithful and serious about giving glory to God with love and respect and reverence.  My faith feels refreshed and alive.  I wish every Catholic could feel this joy about belonging to a parish and attending Mass.  Our parishes would be full and our Lord would be pleased, of that I'm certain!


  1. So wonderful you are at home in your new parish! Change can be refreshing and joyful. The people there sound so warm and friendly...and the church is beautiful! Thanks for sharing your photos and words... Enjoy and God Bless...

  2. Anne: I am so glad you found a parish where you can grown spiritually and be fed. We too, switched parishes a few years ago and it was a gut-wrenching decision. Ironically, we returned to the parish where our sons were baptized. The "new-old" parish now is run by a community of Oratorians and it is prayerful and we have never looked back.

    How great your parish (and mine!) is also so beautiful aesthetically. For me, that does help my prayer life.

  3. Anne, I too am glad that you found a parish where you feel fed and happy. I hope and pray that all feel at home in their parish community. God bless!

  4. One correction: the hosting church for the food patnry is St. Casimir's, which is now part of Our Lady of Divine Providence (merger with St. Mary Czestachowa).

    1. Oh right!!! St. Clement's is in Sheboygan!!!! But that is also a very beautiful church, at least from what I've seen in pictures! Thanks for the correction Dave!

    2. Also, Old St. Mary's is our parish as well. My work schedule is keeping me from getting there regularly, but we get there when we can. Which weekend Mass do you usually attend?