Our Lady of Lourdes Congregation was canonically established as a parish by Archbishop Albert E. Meyer on June 20, 1958. He chose the name of the parish because it was the centennial anniversary of the appearance of the Blessed Mother to St. Bernadette at Lourdes. Fr. Charles Kleefisch was appointed pastor the same day. He arrived in Milwaukee after having served as Assistant Pastor at St. Peter’s Church in Beaver Dam from March 1942 to June 1958.
The property on which Our Lady of Lourdes was to be built was a valley. Parts of the property were swampy. Fr. Kleefisch lived at St. Gregory’s parish until August 28th 1958 when he moved into the priest’s house adjoining the church property on 56th St.The first corporation meeting was held on August 6, 1958. Ray Flagge was appointed to the office of Parish Secretary and Dan Schatzman as Parish Treasurer.
Darby-Bogner and Associates was contracted to lay out a general plot plan and design the first building—a future gymnasium (This explains the off-center main entrance). The gymnasium was to be used temporarily as a church, the future shower and locker rooms as a meeting room (Room 10), and the backstage rooms for a sacristy and business managers’ office.People began to register as members of Our Lady of Lourdes on August 15, 1958 in the surrounding parishes. 413 members were registered, representing about 190 families. The members used our envelopes at Blessed Sacrament, St. Alphonsus, and St. Gregory’s churches and the envelopes were then given to Our Lady of Lourdes.
We worshipped together as a parish family for the first time at the Greenfield City Hall on October 26, 1958. 70 people attended the 8:00 mass, 100 at the 9:30 mass, and 125 people celebrated the 11:00 mass. We worshipped together for a total of 13 months in the City Hall.
In November, the Usher Society and the choir met for the first time. The choir, directed by organist Marge Andritsos, debuted at the 8:45 mass on Christmas day. Because of the increase in membership, the number of Sunday masses grew to four. Mass times were 7:30, 8:45, 10:00, and 11:45. No Midnight mass was held in 1958 and no Nativity scene was erected because the City Hall was only used one day a week. The first Christmas collections were used to purchase a new organ for use in the City Hall on Sundays (cost: $1,400). During the first year, parents sent their children to St. Gregory’s or St. Alphonsus for religion classes.
The building plans of the “temporary” church were approved by the new Archbishop, William. E. Cousins. On April 26, 1959 the land was blessed by Fr. Kleefisch and the ground was broken. Excavation began a week later after being held up because of wet weather. Work continued on the church during the rest of the summer. A lengthy truckers’ strike and a very rainy autumn continued to delay the building of the church.
As the parish continued to grow, the number of masses increased from four to five masses at 6:30, 7:30, 8:45, 10:15, and 11:40 AM. Fr. John E. Twomey, a professor at St. Francis Seminary, regularly helped on Sundays. Student priests from Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corners also assisted on most Sundays.Finally, on November 29th, the last Mass was said in the City Hall and preparations were underway to worship in our new church. On December 6, 1959, the then one year old Our Lady of Lourdes Congregation, now numbering about 300 families, met to worship in our own church. Chairs were used for that first Mass but by the 4th Sunday all the pews were in place and a very happy parish family celebrated the feast of Christmas together. Six Masses were now being said at 6:00, 7:15, 8:30, 10:00, 11:15, and 12:30 PM.
More Notable Firsts: 1960
Many of the liturgical items and decorations were donated by parishioners or by different parish organizations. For example, the stations of the cross were donated by members of the parish and were blessed on February 28th. On May 1, 1960 Archbishop Cousins came to formally dedicate the temporary church to the service of God. Later in May, 68 children received their first Holy Communion.
By fall our parish had grown to 700 families and it was necessary for the Archbishop to appoint an Associate Pastor. Fr. David Wanner was welcomed in September of 1960 and immediately started working with the young people of the parish. Fr. John Twomey also continued as Sunday Associate.
Our parish continued to grow. CCD classes were crowded and more classrooms were needed. On May 14, 1961, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for an addition to our building. The addition included nine classrooms, a hall, and kitchen facilities. Construction was started on May 28th and five months later on October 29, the cornerstone of the new classroom addition was laid by Fr. Kleefisch. On May 10th 1962, the school and hall addition was blessed by Archbishop Cousins.
With the renewal in the Church mandated by the Second Vatican Council,1968 brought changes to our parish. Notably, the Altar was moved so the priest could face the congregation during the mass. In the spring of 1970, elections were held for the first parish council. John Weidner was elected President. The first meeting was held on April 27, 1970.
In September of 1971 at the urging of Fr. Kleefisch (who typed the weekly bulletins himself), Our Lady of Lourdes started its first newspaper, the Lourdes News. John Stok was named the first editor.
The early ‘70s also brought about changes in the music ministry. Fr. Kleefisch allowed guitar to be played at the 11:00 mass, but it was not allowed in the church. The “guitar mass” had to be held in the hall. A mass with traditional organ music was held in the church at the same time. Eventually the “guitar mass” in the hall drew more worshipers than the “organ mass” in the church and the guitar was allowed in church.Lourdeswas one of the first parishes in the archdiocese to integrate guitar and more contemporary music in the liturgy.
By 1973, Our Lady of Lourdes membership had stabilized at about 1600 families. Judi Bartholomew, a sculptor from our parish, carved a beautiful statue of the “Risen Christ” It was hung in time for the 1973 Easter services and remains today as a focal point in our church. The Christian Women donated the accompanying cross.
Along with the changes brought by the forming of the Parish Council, there has been a broader view of the church mission and the response of a greater number of parishioners to become involved in parish life.
In March of 1974, Archbishop Cousins named seven people of our parish as the first Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist (now known as Eucharistic Ministers). They were John Champagne, Sam Lupo, Ann Lutschak, Anthony Meleski, John Monday, Sister Regina Pacies, and John Wolfe. By this time, the mass schedule was as follows: Saturday 4:00 and 6:30 PM. Sunday 7:30, 9:30, 11:00, 12:30, and 6:00 PM.
In 1976 Fr. Bill Stanfield asked Marge Berendt to serve coffee and donuts after the new Wednesday morning mass he was planning for the parish seniors. This started the Faith Group Social, which started from about 15 members and now numbers approximately 250.
1983 marked Our Lady of Lourdes’ 25th jubilee. During the early years, the foundation was laid for not only our parish but of many of the ministries and groups that continue today. In the 25th Anniversary directory, it was written, “During the years since the Parish Council has been formed, our goal has been to lead the parish from a traditional institutional church to a sharing, caring Christian community.” That mission continues today.
During all the changes and growth the first 25 years of Our Lady of Lourdes, Fr. Kleefisch was a constant presence for the community. In 1983, a pastoral team was formed, with Fr. Chuck Schramm joiningLourdesas administrator of the Pastoral Team. Fr. Kleefisch remained as a Pastoral Team Member for three additional years in a transition of leadership. During this period, some parishioners describe the arrangement as having “co-pastors.”
The Over 50 Group grew out of the Faith Group Social, which met after every Wednesday mass, in 1983. Since its inception, the vibrant Over 50 Group has met once a month after the Faith Group Social to provide entertainment, speeches, and special outings and trips for its members and guests.
Our Lady of Lourdes has a history of being a welcoming community. Adding to the sense of community was the annual festival, now called the Lourdes Fun Fest, which started in 1985. This festival draws hundreds of parish family and guests every August. Without the hard work of many, many volunteers, this important fund raiser could not happen. The first festival even featured a run.
When Fr. Kleefisch retired in 1986, after 28 years of service to Our Lady of Lourdes, Fr. Mike Strachota joined the pastoral team. Also joining as a pastoral associate was Judy Bialk.
During the mid ‘80s, there were a number of changes to the Lourdes facilities. A new organ was installed in 1986. The two houses that served as living quarters for the priests were sold.
Before they were sold, the dining room that joined the two houses was removed to make them more marketable. The brick house that is now the priest’s house, which had been donated to the parish and rented out for income, was remodeled into living quarters.
The change that may have had the most dramatic liturgical impact was the introduction of the immersion baptismal font in 1988. Both Frs. Schramm and Strachota were in favor of baptism by immersion—an ancient custom that had begun to make a liturgical resurgence. The new font even made news when Fr. Schramm was interviewed about it in the Milwaukee Sentinel.
Through the years, Our Lady of Lourdes has gained a reputation for its rich liturgies. By the mid 1980s, Our Lady of Lourdes had a reputation for using newer and more contemporary liturgical music. Many fine liturgy coordinators, pastoral associates, music directors, and volunteers have helped shape our liturgies. Among these was Dan Schutte S.J., a nationally known composer of religious music, who served as music director from 1987-1991.
To create a more flexible worship space, in 1991, the church was remodeled. The pews were removed and replaced with upholstered chairs that can be joined together. The chairs have enabled changes to the environment, such as during Lent when chairs are arranged around a central altar.
More pastoral change took place in 1992. Fr. Schramm had decided to seek another assignment after nine years atLourdes. When it was announced that Fr. Strachota would be leaving, too, the community was shocked. News of Lourdes’ reaction to the changes even reached the local newspapers. Fr. Strachota had hoped to stay longer, but the Archdiocese had other plans. Fr. Tom Suriano became pastor. A self described “recovering scripture professor,” Fr. Suriano broke open the scriptures in a thought provoking way during his homilies.
Another ministry started in 1992—the Youth Drama Ministry which performed its first play, Godspell. The Adult Drama Ministry started in 1995. Both groups have held numerous performances over the years including Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cotton Patch Gospel, Jesus Christ Superstar, and other great plays.
In 1993 the floor that was installed in 1991 was replaced due to a manufacturing defect. Masses were held in the hall until the work was completed. 1995, Fr. Mick Savio became associate pastor. In 1994 Deacon John Monday, who served Our Lady of Lourdes from 1975-79, returned as permanent deacon.
Race concerns were examined in the 1996 multicultural program, Beyond Racism. This program was created to generate dialogue, awareness, and acceptance regarding cultural, racial, and ethnic differences within the greater community.
Through the years Our Lady of Lourdes has been involved in various human concerns issues. Hosea, an ecumenical group dealing with social issues was formed in 2003. Since 2000, teens from the parish have participated in Summer Mission Work, helping inMilwaukeeand beyond. Our Lady of Lourdes has partnered with Norwich Mission House in Port Au Prince,Haiti. Fr. Gerry Kirby from Norwich Mission House has visited us often, and groups from our parish have traveled toHaitito help. Once a month, parishioners provide and serve food at the St. Ben’s Meal Program.
Among the significant events that took place in the new millennium, the first Senior Prom was held for senior members of the parish by the high school students. This event, facilitated by high school students in the parish, is an annual hit. The Young Adult Ministry formed in 2002 and produced a number of ongoing programs, including: Mom’s Bible Study, the Family New Year’s Eve Party, the Evening for Couples, and Financial Peace University. A spiritual support group, “Sharing the Healing, Sharing the Hope” was also founded for those affected by mental illness.
In December 2002, Fr. Tom Suriano announced to the parish that he was seeking a new assignment when his term as pastor expired the following summer.
While saddened by the move, the community was pleased to welcome back a familiar face as former associate pastor Fr. Mick Savio became pastor in July 2003.
The decline in the priesthood has forced all parishes in the archdiocese to deal with the priest shortage. In 2004 Our Lady of Lourdes began a process of exploring its future with the guidance of Sr. Peg Bishop and Fr. Tom Sweetser, S.J.
In 2006, religious education took on a whole new focus. Seizing an opportunity to have an intergenerational religious education program, GIFT was formed. Generations In Faith Together was a new way to cover the childhood catechism curriculum while enriching the spiritual lives of adult members of the parish.
Outreach to homebound parishioners also continued with programs such as Creative Connections and the Prayer Shawl Ministry.
A few brief pages of history cannot hope to acknowledge the contributions of so many or capture the vibrance of our parish community. However, it does help us to take, as Fr. Tom would say, a backward glance to see where we have been. Today Our Lady of Lourdes is home to some 1,500 families. We continue our next 50 years much as we spent the first: by striving to be a welcoming community of faithful followers of Jesus