HISTORY | Saint Jude the Apostle Parish
Compiled and written by Mary Jo Flanagan
Saint Jude, the favorite saint of “Hopeless Causes” seemed a fitting patron for a fledgling parish 90 years ago. Looking back today, we know how very much was asked of Saint Jude the Apostle because the early years of our parish history are largely the story of the Great Depression. Ninety years ago, most parishes were organized on an ethnic basis, according to the traditions of closely knit neighborhoods. Back then, the majority of Catholic congregations in the area were populated by people of German ancestry. Irish Catholics, however, were growing in number and eager to pursue a faith community of their own.
The area surrounding our present parish site was sparsely populated during this period, but as more Catholic families began to settle in Wauwatosa, the need for another parish was quickly recognized. Determined Irish Catholics repeatedly approached Archbishop Sebastian Messmer for approval, but it was delayed time and again. Records show that these pioneers also wanted a school facility for their children “without the danger of walking across railroad tracks” to neighboring Saint Bernard’s. (The present Saint Vincent Pallotti Parish was still a mission church without a school in those days.)
The First Days
Permission for a new parish was finally granted on March 1, 1928 after an available site was chosen, financial pledges were acquired, and future payment installments scheduled. Articles of Incorporation were filed on March 21, 1928 for Saint Jude the Apostle Congregation, which did seem like a “hopeless cause” to everyone but the founding families who established it.
Fundraising for the struggling new parish was always innovative and often desperate. (Thanksgiving Turkey Raffles, Saint Patrick’s Day socials, competitive wrestling, and church bazaars were among some of the favorite events.) During those Depression years, newly formed parish organizations gathered in private homes, where women emptied their own cupboards because the cost of catering food was prohibitive. “There was talk of bankruptcy so we could start over,” one member recalled, “but we were a proud people and rallied to the cause. We all just dug a little deeper and worked a little harder.”
The house presently occupied by our parish maintenance engineer was the rectory for Saint Jude’s first 25 years and was situated farther south of its present location. The home that is now just north of this house served originally as convent, church, and school. Visitation Sisters lived upstairs and were asked to be Saint Jude’s first teachers. Sunday Masses were offered in the living room on the main floor by Fr. Joseph Hurst, the congregation’s initial pastor. After early daily Masses, the dining room functioned as the primary school, while the fourth through eighth grade classes met in the living room. A foot bridge of railroad ties and planks provided access across Honey Creek for the 21 pupils enrolled. (The first graduating class consisted of only one student.)
A Family Affair
“The family of Saint Jude” literally began as an extended family, with members rotating jobs because the need was there and the money was not. When there were no funds to pay the two teaching sisters (forty dollars per month), they survived on the charity of grateful parishioners. The school was forced to shut down periodically when there was no money to heat it, but the church doors were always kept open “by soliciting a few dollars here and there.” It is a tribute to the strong faith of these first Saint Jude pilgrims that today’s congregation actually survived.
Most of the present parish organizations have their roots in those very early years—the Women of Saint Jude (known as the Altar Society), the Home and School Association, and the Saint Jude League, to mention a few. The school was the first building erected in 1929 and it was staffed by the Sisters of Saint Agnes. The auditorium of the new school served as our temporary church during this evolving period.
While spirituality remained the major focus of parish life, it continued to be supported by congenial social gatherings and numerous fundraising events. Bingo games and other “get-togethers” were seen as opportunities for people to meet expenses as well as each other. (In 1937, a Fall Festival raised enough money to help retire a bond debt and maintain the solvency of the parish.) Outreach at Saint Jude became a major focus during World War II years, when parish Red Cross units were active throughout the duration.
The Sullivan Years
Fr. John Sullivan became our second pastor in 1942, and much was accomplished under his leadership. More parish property was acquired as the congregation’s growth accelerated, and by 1945, there were 316 parish families with more than 200 children enrolled in the school.
During the late 1940’s, another ambitious pledge drive was launched and annual financial reports were initiated. “Contributions went up and ‘prayers’ became payers,” according to historical records. Reports were printed and periodically posted including expenses, receipts, and the contributions of individual donors.
In the early 1950’s, a Building Fund Drive began in earnest, and in 1953 the parish was named beneficiary of a will for the first time. The rectory and convent were constructed in 1954, but the steady growth of our parish made the size of the school inadequate. No definite step could be taken, however, to remedy the situation until money was in the bank to finalize payment on the rectory and convent (the current Community Center). It was later in this crucial period of parish history that sufficient funds at long last became available to pay off the debt. Perhaps Fr. Sullivan’s greatest contribution to the parish was fiscal accountability. He died unexpectedly while vesting for Mass on the day after Christmas, 1954.
The way was paved, however, for construction of a permanent church building for Saint Jude the Apostle Parish, and the scene was changing rapidly in a prolific season of development. Saint Jude was on the threshold of a new expansion program for its 750 families when Fr. Joseph Holleran was appointed as the third pastor in 1955.
More classrooms were added to the school in the same year to accommodate some 500 students. The old church was moved from the first floor of the school building to the downstairs gym in 1956, and by fall of that year there were 12 classrooms. The introduction of intramural sports followed and exemplified our many promising extracurricular school activities.
The dream of a permanent church building became a reality when it was formally dedicated on April 28, 1957. In those two years after Fr. Holleran’s arrival, the parish roster had swelled to 850 families.
If the 1950’s can be considered Saint Jude “building years,” then the 1960’s can be called the years of renewal. The liturgical changes of Vatican II were introduced into our parish worship soon after their initiation. Ecumenism blossomed in the late ’60’s and Saint Jude hosted the first of an interfaith Dialogue Series among area churches of various denominations.
The flourishing climate of renewal in the church also spread to parish organizations. It was in this era that an active CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) developed at Saint Jude, along with another group designed for young adults. The Saint Vincent de Paul Society began its ministry to assist the area’s poor and deprived, while the effects of Vatican II produced increased missionary activity in the parish.
Parish organizations at Saint Jude continued their innovative fundraising, and their spirited campaigns played a large part in meeting financial needs. An anonymous gift of $20,000 eliminated the final debt on the church building in the late 1960’s.
The 1970’s saw the need for still another major fundraiser and a parish-wide pledge program was introduced to cover rising costs. The dramatic decline in religious vocations created a shortage of teaching nuns and the Sisters of Saint Agnes transferred out of the school in 1975. Lay teachers were hired to replace them, and Holy Cross Brothers took up residence at the vacated convent building. The Saint Jude Players (later known as the Glenview Players) put the church hall to good use by staging a wide variety of popular productions.
The focus of religious education took a different approach at Saint Jude in the 1970’s. The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) Board became the Religious Education Board, expanding its role to include sacramental preparation and adult education. The social mission of the Church was further reflected during this process of change, with greater emphasis given to parish service projects. Men and women parishioners were also encouraged to play a more active role in liturgical ministries.
In 1977, one of Saint Jude Parish’s most successful supportive ventures to this day opened its doors (in a basement room of the rectory) as the Thrift Shop. The shop was started by enterprising Women of Saint Jude volunteers who continue to maintain it in the Community Center. The Thrift Shop remains a significant source of parish revenue and provides outreach to needy individuals from the metropolitan area.
1978 marked the observance of the Saint Jude Golden Jubilee with year-long liturgical celebrations. These Jubilee events all demonstrated the parish mission statement as it was written 25 years ago: “Saint Jude is a community of believers gathered around the Eucharistic Table for strength to be Christ’s witnesses in the world.”
In 1980, Fr. Holleran observed his silver anniversary of service as the pastor of Saint Jude with another memorable celebration. Following Fr. Holleran’s resignation later that year, Fr. George Huber arrived as the next pastor, but he was forced to resign a short while later because of poor health. Saint Jude’s first Parish Council became a reality in the course of this rapid succession of events.
Fr. Weber Ushers in the ‘80s
Fr. Donald Weber was assigned as pastor in 1981 and remained at his post for 14 years. Joining Fr. Weber shortly after his arrival was Sr. Mary LaVon Lauer, OSF, who launched a special program for our active senior citizens. The 55+ Club developed into a thriving organization and currently attracts members from many different locations. The Men of Saint Jude also formed their own parish club during those years, sponsoring such events as “Casino Night” and the annual Golf Outing, which continue in popularity today.
Marquette University student priests were brought on board at this time as priests in residence who could provide limited assistance at liturgies. Our ordained deacons, including the late Elroy Bonerz and Don Borkowski, our current permanent deacon, came to Saint Jude during Fr. Weber’s pastorate. Sr. LaVon eventually became our pastoral minister and served in that role until her death in September 2005.
The concept of volunteer receptionists at the rectory was introduced as another opportunity for service during the 1980’s. Since more attention was being paid to evolving liturgical revisions, a part-time director of liturgy joined the staff. The annual Saint Jude Novena began in this chapter of our history, and in 1988, Saint Jude the Apostle Parish celebrated its 60th anniversary.
Because our school’s growth had spiraled upward during the 1980’s, classes were bulging and another expansion project became necessary. In 1990, an addition to the school provided seven new classrooms, several more meeting rooms, and a larger library area. The first floor of the Community Center became a Day Care Center, a welcome source of revenue for the parish. The legendary spirit of Saint Jude parishioners could again take credit for overcoming obstacles with their “time, talent, and treasure.”
Fr. Peter Carek Leads Into a
Fr. Peter Carek, arrived in November, 1995 as the next pastor of Saint Jude the Apostle parish. Fr. Peter’s first order of business was to establish a more “inclusive” parish and a more vibrant faith community. Religious education for our parish youth was high on his list of priorities and greater opportunities for adult education were also made available.
Under Fr. Peter’s leadership, Human Concerns outreach initiatives were expanded to find a way for meeting the growing needs of the area’s elderly. As a result, Saint Jude’s Parish became a member of Interfaith, a congregation based ministry connecting older adults with a caring community. A new Bereavement Ministry was also formed to assist grieving parish families plan their funeral liturgies.
Not long after Fr. Peter’s arrival, our pastor saw the urgency of executing some major repair work on Saint Jude’s physical plant. The means to accomplish this effort was a “Faith Forward” capital fund appeal (1997-2000) to raise money for delayed maintenance on all parish buildings. Once more, the historic generosity of Saint Jude parishioners came to the rescue, exceeding the goal set at the outset of the campaign.
In 2003, Saint Jude the Apostle parish celebrated its 75 th Anniversary and embarked on an ambitious building campaign, “United We Grow.” The result was construction of a new multi-purpose Activity Center/Gym which was dedicated on June 6, 2003.
A formal Parish Survey was initiated in 2004, polling parishioners to determine a long-range plan for Saint Jude. After publication of the survey findings, four focus groups were developed to magnify the unique spirit of our parish. They stressed the need for an active Welcome Program, a renewed emphasis on prayer and worship, greater empowerment progress and a more effective presence in the community.
After many years of faithful service, Fr. Peter Carek retired in June of 2006.
Welcome Fr. Charlie!
Fr. Charles (Charlie) Conley arrived in July 2006 and was formally installed as our present pastor on November 19, 2006 by Archbishop Timothy Dolan. In addition to his training at S. Francis Seminary, Fr. Charlie studied music at Alverno College where he received a degree in music, majoring in organ. After his ordination in 1974, our pastor’s first assignment was at Holy Assumption parish in neighboring West Allis. From there he entered a doctoral program in liturgical studies at the University of Notre Dame, while also assisting at a parish in Indiana. Upon returning to Milwaukee, he worked in the Archdiocesan Office of Worship for five years where his time was devoted to the advancement of ritual music and the care of parish musicians.
While working in the Office of Worship, Fr. Charlie assisted as priest and musician at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Milwaukee. He then served for two years as associate pastor at St. Agnes in Butler, followed by the next twelve years ministering as pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Union Grove. He eventually came to Saint Jude the Apostle parish after spending five years as Associate Pastor at Saint Mary’s of Elm Grove.
Fr. Charlie received a warm welcome upon his arrival at Saint Jude the Apostle Parish. He was able to participate in the Saint Jude second Autumn Gala, our most recent and successful fund raising effort. He also wasted no time in becoming acquainted with the people of Saint Jude and their various parish ministries. Fr. Charlie makes time, as well, for frequent visits to our school classrooms where he has become the respected friend of over 400 students.
“It is a beautiful and wondrous vocation to serve as priest,” said our dedicated pastor. “I look forward to entering with you the most sacred moments of your lives,” he told Saint Jude parishioners. “We are one People of God redeemed by our Savior Jesus Christ. May we walk by His Light and grow together in love,” he said.
Once more, the people of Saint Jude the Apostle Parish have good reason for looking to the future with renewed enthusiasm and commitment to stewardship. May all of us continue our journey in faith as pilgrim people of God.