History of St. Edward Parish
The Founding / The 1920s
St. Edward parish was established in the Fall of 1919 when Milwaukee Archbishop Sebastian Messmer appointed Fr. John Bott to establish a parish in a new neighborhood on the west side of Racine. Fr. Bott, a Racine native, had recently returned from France where he served as an army chaplain during the First World War.
The founding of St. Edward Parish marked a new era in the history of the Church in Racine, and in the United States. Since the 1840s, the story of the Catholic Church in America was the story of an immigrant church: as waves of Germans, Irish, Italians Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes and Lithuanians sought a mixture of economic opportunity and religious and political freedom in a new land. World War I, however, interrupted the flow of immigration. And in 1919 Congress, responding to a mood of isolationism and “nativism” across the country, imposed steep quotas on European immigration.
The new parish reflected this new reality. It was established as the first “territorial,” that is, the first non-ethnic parish, in Racine. The name St. Edward, a medieval English king and saint, was chosen to avoid association with any of the ethnic groups from continental Europe.
The first St. Edward Church was a wooden frame chapel, purchased from Gethsemane Lutheran Church. That congregation had been established in 1913. By 1919 Gethsemane was ready to begin their present church building at the corner of Washington and Blaine Avenues. They first moved, then sold the wooden structure to the new Catholic parish for $900. The building was moved to the middle of Grove Avenue, approximately where the altar of the present St. Edward Church now stands.
The wooden church would be the site of worship until 1927 when St. Edward School was built. Until the building of our present church in 1953, all Masses, weddings and funerals included, would be celebrated in the school basement.
St. Edward School was dedicated on May 30, 1927. In its first full academic year there were 239 students enrolled. It was no accident that the school was built before a new church. The thinking of the time emphasized the importance of a Catholic school education for every child. The era of the immigrant church may have ended, but there still existed a deep unease with the wider American culture, a belief that faith needed to be nurtured not only in the home but within the protective walls of a parochial school.
From the beginning, the story of St. Edward School, and of religious instruction in the parish, is linked to the Racine Dominican Sisters. Even before the school was built, Racine Dominicans came to the parish every Saturday and Sunday, travelling by streetcar from their motherhouse on Park Street (across from the present site of St. Catherine High School) to teach catechism classes, train the altar servers (altar boys in those days), prepare the First Communion classes, and conduct a children’s choir.
Fr. Bott would serve as pastor of St. Edward until 1934, when he was assigned to St. Lawrence Parish on Milwaukee’s south side. There he died, at age 55, while celebrating Mass on June 13, 1944. A Requiem Mass was celebrated here at the parish he had helped to establish.
The 1930s and 1940s
St. Edward Parish did not escape the impact of the wider events of the 1930s and 1940s. The rectory had been built in 1926, seven years after the founding of the parish. Prior to that, Fr. Bott and his assistant pastor Fr. Florian Zuchowski lived in a house purchased by the parish at 1330 Grove Ave. The school opened in Fall of 1927. Two years later the stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression halted plans for the building of a permanent church. Restrictions on building materials during the Second World War (1941-1945) prolonged the time in which Mass had to be celebrated in the school basement.
Nevertheless, the parish continued to grow. Numbers tell part of the story. In 1931 parish records report six Sunday Masses (the opportunity to fulfill Sunday obligation on Saturday lay in the distant future). Attendance at Mass was estimated at 1,000 parishioners every Sunday. There were 51 baptisms, 70 children made their First Holy Communion, and 80 received the sacrament of Confirmation. The school enrolled 341 children. The number of Sunday Masses and reception of sacraments remained fairly constant through the 1930s. The area that showed steady growth was in Mass attendance, indicative of parish membership. From the 1,000 reported for 1931, the numbers rose: 1,175 in 1934, 1,427 in 1936, and 1,547 in 1939. All this is indicative of a number of factors: a growing neighborhood surrounding the parish, the size of families, but also a strong sense of Catholic identity linked to attendance at Sunday Mass.
Another indication of Catholic identity was the rich network of organizations that existed in the parish. Organizations such as the Holy Name Society for men, Sodality (a forerunner of the Women of St. Edward), the Ushers Club date back to the parish’s earliest years. The first to organize was the Sodality. On October 16, 1919, 23 women met at the home of Mrs. Ted Abrahamson at 2824 Wright Ave. Within months the organization numbered 83, and in December the women held a bazaar which netted an incredible $6,000, followed by a second bazaar in April which earned $2,210. These funds put the new parish on its feet; it was from money raised by the women that the wooden frame church, our first church, was purchased from Gethsemane Lutheran for $900. The new parish still carried a debt, however: the block of land from Wright to Fifteenth, and West Blvd. to Grove Ave., carried a purchase price of $9,000.
Likewise the men’s organizations flourished. The Ushers were organized in 1928, with 50 members. The Holy Name Society first met at St. Edward in 1927. In coming decades the men would sponsor monthly Communion Breakfasts, fostering father/son attendance together at Mass followed by a shared meal; fundraising activities for the parish; and retreats. Members visited West Racine businesses encouraging them to close during the Three Hour Devotions on Good Friday and to remove “improper literature” from their sales racks.
The pastor of St. Edward Parish during the decade of the 1930s was Fr. George J. Hegeman (1934-1942). Like his predecessor Fr. Bott, Fr. Hegeman was a Racine native, who studied for and was ordained to the priesthood in 1916 in Rome. In 1941 Fr. Hegeman celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination here at St. Edward Parish.
The 1940s and 1950s
In 1942, St. Edward Parish welcomed as its new pastor Fr. (later Monsignor) Richard Schaefer. Msgr. Schaefer would serve the parish for an unprecedented and unequalled 26 years. And as the years of the Second World War drew to a close, the parish -- now 3000 members strong -- stood on the brink of its greatest period of growth.
The post-war years were boom years for the nation, for the Catholic Church in the United States, and for St. Edward Parish. It was a time of confidence, the so-called “era of bricks and mortar.” The 1950s would witness the construction, so long delayed, of the new church, the convent (now the Child Care Center Center), and an addition to the school building.
A history of the building of the church, written by Fr. Ron Crewe, a priest-son of St. Edward Parish, states:
As early as the 1920s St. Edward’s [planned] to situate a church seating 600 on an east- west axis with the sanctuary at the east end, the traditional spot. Because of the parish’s rapid growth after World War II, the proposed capacity for the new church was increased to 900. To meet that change, it was decided to place the church along Grove Avenue with the sanctuary to the north and the main entrance on the south. . . .
St. Edward’s Church is a large, cruciform (cross-shaped) structure evoking the English Gothic style on the exterior . . . . As such, in style and plan, the building looks to the past and [ignores] the modern church-building currents which were coming out of war-devastated Europe at the time. The interior of the church was intended to be functional so as to meet the needs of the day, and to be “maintenance free,” the watchword of the fifties. Both were concerns of Father Schaefer, the patron of the project. . . .
The church is connected to the school on the south by a “sequestry,” a term coined by the architect to describe the enclosed structure serving as the main entrance to the church. Parishioners call it the breezeway . . . .
St. Edward Church was dedicated on October 18, 1953 – a Sunday close to the October 13 Feastday of St. Edward the Confessor. A solemn Latin “High Mass” was concelebrated by Archbishop Albert Meyer of Milwaukee, Msgr. Schaefer, and a number of bishops and priests from the Archdiocese and beyond. The choir from Holy Assumption Church in West Allis sang the Mass. The new parish choir, organized by Mrs. Helen Norman (still, at age 101, a member of
St. Edward) and drawing in large part on the women of the Altar Sodality Chorus, sang at a special evening Benediction service.
In 1956, just three years after the completion of the church, St. Edward’s launched another ambitious project: the addition to the east side of the school and the building of a convent. The need for both was great. The post-war baby boom had doubled the enrollment of the school over the course of the decade, from 390 students in 1951 to 840 by 1961 – the same year that the parish recorded 7,400 members. The need for decent housing for the sisters was critical. Since the beginning of the school in 1927 the sisters lived and slept in curtained cubicles in a second-floor classroom and cooked their meals on a stove in the basement.
The fundraising effort for these two projects was ambitious: mobilizing hundreds of parishioners in the work of soliciting pledges, organizing the men of the parish as division leaders and team captains. The goal was set at $250,000. Parishioners in their generosity far exceeded that goal, raising $406,000. The school addition and convent were completed and dedicated in 1959.
The 1950s was not just a story of bricks and mortar. Parish organizations continued to flourish as well. The women’s Sodality recorded 334 members by 1959. The men’s Holy Name Society spun off an auxiliary: the Junior Holy Name. The St. Vincent de Paul Society served needy parishioners and neighbors. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, and C.Y.O. (Catholic Youth Organization) provided the potential for life-long experience in parish organizations.
In addition to its pastor Msgr. Schaefer, the parish was served by three associate pastors during this time. Many older parishioners today still fondly remember Fr. Donald Surges, Fr. Robert Glisch, and Fr. James Mantsch.
In retrospect, the 1950s appear as a Golden Age of Church and parish life. We should recognize, however, that the era rested on certain assumptions which many would find alien today: the absolute and unquestioned authority of the pastor; limited roles for the laity, women in particular; and the reliance upon the largely unpaid and often unacknowledged labor of the sisters.
With all that, the decade of the 1950s was, for St. Edward and for the Church in the United States, a period of unparalleled growth: in membership, in participation, in buildings and institutions. It contributed to the belief that the church was destined to continue to grow and expand. At the same time, and paradoxically, this growth contributed to an illusion of stability, of a fixed and unchanging Church. The decade of the 1960s would sorely test those assumptions and in some cases undermine and destroy them.
The 1960s and 1970s
St. Edward Parish entered the 1960s riding the crest of the boom years of the 1950s. The parish had built its new church in 1956, and an addition to the school and a new convent in 1958-59. In 1961, school enrollment was 840 students; the parish census recorded 7,400 members.
Several developments during the decade of the 1960s would serve to curtail further growth of the parish. The first was the establishment of a new parish to the west. Just as the expansion of the city in the 1920s had gone hand in hand with the growth of St. Edward’s, the post World War II boom pushed the city even further westward, well beyond the boundaries of West Racine. Urban growth and change led to the establishment of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in 1965. The new parish cut into the membership of St. Edward’s, and created a geographic boundary and barrier to further growth. (St. Paul’s original site, some will recall, was at the corner of Highways 20 and 31, where a shopping center stands today. St. Paul’s sold that site to developers and moved to its current Spring Street location in 2002.)
Even more significant were the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The old Tridentine Mass gave way to a new liturgy, in English instead of Latin, with the priest facing the congregation and emphasizing participation of the laity. In 1967 the ministries of Lector and Eucharistic Minister were introduced. In the first years a “Commentator” explained aspects of the liturgy as the Mass took place. Girls took their place as altar servers. New organizations flourished alongside the older ones: the Christian Family Movement, Cursillo, and social action groups involved with local justice and civil rights issues.
St. Edward’s welcomed a new pastor during this time. In 1968 Fr. Matthew Urban replaced Msgr. Schaefer, who had been at the parish since 1942. Fr. Urban, who would remain pastor until 1983, had the task of implementing the directives resulting from the Vatican Council.
Many welcomed these changes, seeing in them an opening of the church to the modern world. For others, these changes were bewildering, and a source of pain and confusion. An unchanging Church, a source of stability, had changed. Some felt that change had not gone far enough. One indication of this difference was the two 11:00 Sunday liturgies: the “upstairs” Mass, as it was called, in the church, with a more experimental liturgy “downstairs” in the church basement.
Another development signaling the growing role of the laity was the parish council, first organized in 1970 by Associate Pastor Fr. Richard Molter, in his first assignment following ordination in 1964. Council members in the 1970s included Shirley Chmielewski, Bill and Ginny Frayer, Bob Hinkston, Jim Jude, Chuck Logic, Larry and Ellen Huck, Bob Miller, LaVerne Poplawski, Dennis Rybarik, Herb Spalla and John Shelby. These names -- by no means exhaustive -- show a striking degree of continuity with the present and testify to the decades-long commitment to our parish on the part of these individuals. Other names will be recalled by long-time parishioners and deserve to be mentioned here: Polly Baker, Dick Bayer, Catherine Hansen, George Hnlicka, Marge Schemmel, Paul Sullivan, Norb Westrich.
The 1960s and 1970s brought change to the school as well. The Racine Dominicans were gradually replaced by lay teachers. While in the 1940s and 1950s there were one or two lay teachers in the classroom, in 1961 there were seven lay teachers to 10 sisters. By 1975 four sisters taught alongside 15 lay teachers. Sister Evelyn Lins was school principal for most of the decade of the ‘70s. She would be succeeded, from 1977-79, by Sister Marlene Wancour, the last Racine Dominican to serve in that role.
At the same time school enrollment began a slow and steady decline – in part reflecting the end of the baby boom years (1946-1964). Whereas enrollment had been 840 students in 1961, in 1970 it was 538. In 1979 enrollment stood at 469 pupils, the same year that the parish registered 5146 members. A revealing statistic is the number of infant baptisms in the parish: 290 in 1961; 94 in 1979.
It is important to recognize that the changes at St. Edward were part of larger trends in the Catholic Church and in American society. We have already mentioned the westward expansion of the city and the decline in birthrates after 1964. In addition, historians and sociologists speak of a “revolution of rising expectations:” when changes introduced into a long-stable institution (the Catholic Church in this instance) create an expectation of even greater change. When such change is not forthcoming -- greater roles for women, or changes in traditional teachings about marriage, birth control, or divorced and remarried Catholics --disappointment and disillusionment are often a result. Some people left the Church. Likewise, American society experienced turbulent change during this era. The civil rights movement, protest on college campuses, Watergate and a presidential resignation, the emergence of a strong women’s movement all marked the 1960s and 1970s. What all of these had in common was the questioning of traditional sources of authority. This societal attitude carried over to the way in which some came to regard their Church as well.
Finally, the 1970s marked the beginnings of a profound shift in the American economy. Trends such as deindustrialization (of special impact in a city such as Racine), loss of blue-collar jobs, stagnating wages, the rise of the two-income household, and growing economic inequality appeared, the consequences of which are increasingly evident today. Given all of this, it is no wonder that parish council minutes from the 1970s indicate an emerging and growing concern over both parish finances and dwindling membership.
Nevertheless, there were joyous times in the life of the parish during these years, and occasions for celebration. In 1969 St. Edward marked its 50th Anniversary on Sunday, October 19, with a concelebrated Mass followed by an anniversary dinner in the Parish Hall. And many still recall with great fondness some of the men who served as associate pastors during this era: Frs. Paul Lippert, Tony Hirt, Edward Hussli, Michael Michalski, and of course Fr. Richard Molter.
The 1980s and 1990s
The decades of the 1980s and 1990s were a time of turbulent change for St. Edward Parish. Those years coincided with the tenure of four pastors – a contrast to the 26 year reign of Msgr. Schaeffer (1942-1968). At the same time, the social, economic and political issues occurring in Racine, in the nation, and in the wider Catholic Church also influenced developments here in the parish.
Fr. Matthew Urban served as pastor from 1968 until his retirement in 1983. The financial challenges facing the parish, already evident by the late 1970s, deepened in the 1980s. Those years coincided with the dramatic erosion of Racine’s manufacturing base and resultant high unemployment. Parish Council minutes from 1982 and 1983 reveal frequent discussion of the impact of the changing local economy on the parish. Noting that the increased number of delinquent tuition payments at the school indicated the hard times facing some parishioners, council members wondered about how many other parishioners might be suffering but were prevented by pride from asking for assistance. How, council members wondered, can we identify them? How can we help?
In 1983 Fr. Robert Schneider was appointed pastor. He arrived with a reputation as a skilled administrator, and moved swiftly and effectively to rationalize the parish’s financial practices and to address the operating deficit and accrued debt.
There were other important changes occurring in the parish. In 1980 the Parish Council decided that it was no longer feasible to continue to operate the convent as a residence for four sisters, only two of whom taught in the school. The sisters moved out, and the building was now available for parish activities and meetings, although offices remained, until 1988, in the rectory. The Parish Center, as it was now known, would be the site of activities revolving around a new emphasis on youth ministry, and was also sought out by a number of parishioners as a venue for baby showers, small receptions, and other family celebrations. The convent chapel, refurbished during the 1980s, served the parish at the site of weekday Mass.
Although the St. Vincent de Paul Society had long addressed the needs of the poor in Racine, the newly available space in the Parish Center encouraged other parishioners to press for parish involvement in new social issues that were emerging in the city. One example was that of the elderly and infirm and the need of family caregivers for assistance. This gave rise to a series of ministries known variously as the Grovette Center for Senior Citizens, Respite Ministry, and Harmony Club. The 1980s also saw the emergence of homelessness as a social ill. In 1993 St. Edward’s Parish Center would join the list of churches hosting the REST program, a forerunner of today’s HALO shelter in Racine. The Parish Center would provide overnight housing for the homeless one night a week until 1998 when the decision was made to convert the building to its present use as the Child Development Center. A city-wide meal program at St. Rose was revived in 1983, and St. Edward’s participation was coordinated by Roland Dretzka.
Other social and political issues of the time engaged the attention of some parishioners. During the 1980s the Parish Council endorsed resolutions supporting the Nuclear Freeze Movement and opposition to US involvement in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Parishioner Bob Miller, a teacher (and later principal) at St. Catherine’s High School, presented a program directed at young people on the “Primacy of Conscience and the Draft.”
The shrinking number of Dominican sisters teaching in the school, already noted in connection with the convent being converted to the Parish Center, meant an ever-growing presence of lay teachers. Among those who taught at the school in the 1980s and 90s, and whose names will still resonate with St. Edward parishioners, are Mary Cairo, Lorraine Pierson, Rose Rondon, Mary Jane Clementi, Dennis Kornwulf, Penny Mandli, Peter Henkes, Carol Twist, Carol Smith, Til Pleva, Ginny Frayer and Dolores Clazmer. The year 1980 saw the first lay principal: Mr. James Scanlon. He would be succeeded in turn by Patricia Walter, Mona Bodeau, and Joseph Majowski.
Two archdiocesan initiatives engaged St. Edward parishioners during these years. The Archdiocese held a Synod in 1987 – the last such until 2014. Marge Schemmel served as coordinator, and parishioners met on two Saturdays to discuss the topics of prayer, education, ministry, family, racial and cultural concerns, and justice and human dignity. The early 1990s saw an initial push for collaboration with other parishes in Racine, with St. Edward directed to work with St. Paul, St. Sebastian and St. Louis. Parish Council member Ed Raymond III led those efforts on behalf of St. Edward, resulting in some sharing of religious formation and confirmation programs. Other programs during the 1980s were the parish-wide RENEW discussion groups, involving 250-300 parishioners, and a very successful RCIA program, led by Diane Herb, which also served as the basis for adult education in the parish.
In 1987 Fr. Schneider was named administrator of the Milwaukee inner city Catholic schools, and Fr. Charlie Wester came to St. Edward as pastor. He placed a priority on liturgy, and was known for his lively and passionate style of preaching. The Prayer and Worship Committee, under the leadership of Marilyn Houdek, contributed to the importance placed on liturgy. The parish choir, under the direction of Gary and Pam Dennison, and then Mary Gangl, flourished. Fr. Charlie served as pastor until 1993, when Fr. Richard Molter returned to the parish. Fr. Molter, first assigned to St. Edward as a newly ordained priest from 1964-1970, brought a renewed emphasis on administration and fiscal discipline.
Several associate pastors served the parish during these years. They included Fr. Gene Neuman (1979-1983) and Fr. Howard Haase (1983-1988). St. Edward’s was Fr. Howard’s first assignment, and he too quickly earned a reputation as a skilled homilist. In 1988 Deacon David Verhasselt came to St. Edward for his internship year; upon ordination in 1989 he was assigned to the parish as associate pastor. Fr. Dave had worked for 15 years as a nursing home administrator before entering the seminary. He became known for his effective work with the elderly in the parish. Fr. Dave was succeeded in 1992-95 by Racine native Fr. Bill Burkert, also noted as an effective liturgist and preacher. In the late 1990s Fr. Marty Simon, a retired priest of the archdiocese, came to live at the rectory and to assist at weekday and weekend liturgies. He soon became ill with terminal cancer. Many parishioners will recall the unobtrusive but inspiring example that Fr. Molter gave to the parish as he provided care to Fr. Marty in the last months of his life.
St. Edward’s continued to benefit from the dedicated leadership of a number of its parishioners. In addition to the names mentioned above, others with long-term service on Parish Council include Steve Zimmerman, Mary Gray, Cheryl Buckley, Don Olsen, Wes Swamer, Rosa Mathe, Bill Sklba, Bill Fervoy, Dick Brill, and Curt and Barb Pippinger.
In 1994 St. Edward’s celebrated its 75th anniversary with events on October 9 and 16 with a Family Mass, a tour of the school, a Mass concelebrated by Fr. Molter, Fr. Schneider and Fr. Wester, a “formal sit-down dinner”, a booklet edited by Verne Hoffman, and a video documenting the parish’s history produced and narrated by Laura Gellott.
Finally, three anecdotes serve to illustrate two sides of the coin of foretelling the future. The parish council minutes of January 3, 1984 note the purchase of a computer for the parish, an Apple II. Concern is expressed over the fact that while the computer is used extensively during school hours, it sees only limited use otherwise. Ideas will be explored for wider parish usage during slack periods in order to justify the investment. On the other hand, council minutes of April 12, 1982 note that “the Worship Committee have been discussing Mass changes if there [are] no longer 3 priests” available in the future. At the September 7, 1993 council meeting, Fr. Molter predicts the likelihood that the parish will soon have only one priest, and also recommends moving to three weekend liturgies, saying that it is better to have three more crowded Masses than four sparsely attended ones.
2000 to the Present
In 1994, on the occasion of our 75th anniversary, then-pastor Fr. Richard Molter identified the challenges facing the parish as follows:
* Stewardship of our resources: financial, physical, and personnel
* Collaboration with other parishes in Racine
* Hospitality – the need to be a “church of the open door”
Twenty years on, and under the pastorate of Fr. Allen Bratkowski, these remain the important issues. At the same time progress has been and continues to be made.
In 2000 a new Property Committee under the direction of Wes Swamer addressed the repair and maintenance needs of the church, school, rectory and the former convent – by then the site of the Child Development Center. Parish Council minutes in the early years of the 2000s are full or reports of painting, stained glass window repair, boilers overhauled, masonry tuckpointed. Doug Overstreet was hired as the parish’s director of maintenance in 2001. In 2013 Fr. Allen asked parishioner Tim Bartlett to head a “Save the Buildings” campaign to address additional maintenance needs of the present. Parishioners responded generously, contributing nearly $60,000 thus far.
The transition to an entirely lay faculty at the school continued. By 2000 the parish had only one priest. Increased reliance on lay staff meant growing concern over salary scales and benefits. The Finance Committee, led during the first decade of the 2000s by Matt Sadowski, took important steps to address these areas. However, finances continue to be a serious challenge for the parish.
Some progress has been made in the area of collaboration. St. Edward and St. Richard Parishes have for the last two years jointly celebrated Holy Thursday at St. Richard’s. In turn St. Edward hosts the sacrament of Confirmation for St. Richard, St. Patrick, Cristo Rey and St. Edward parishes. In all likelihood, the coming year will see St. Edward and St. Richard sharing a single pastor.
Collaboration has expanded to include churches in the neighborhood as well. Since 2003 a group of individuals from St. Edward, Gethsemane Lutheran, Zion Lutheran, and Lutheran Church of the Resurrection have planned collaborative events: a pet blessing on the Feast of St. Francis, a service honoring military veterans, and the annual “National Night Out” picnic in August held in the St. Edward parking lot.
The Women of St. Edward, most recently under the leadership of Jean Hagemann, continue to offer hospitality to the parish and to raise funds through their annual rummage sale for the purchase of altar supplies. Hospitality is also the responsibility of the greeters and the ushers at weekend liturgies. The lay ministries of reader and Eucharistic minister (coordinated by Bill Frayer), as well as the choir and cantors, strive to make the weekend liturgies a welcoming experience.
Festivals are another opportunity to build community among parishioners and to reach out to our neighbors as well. The Summer Fun-D-Fest of 1980s and ‘90s suffered from the combination of too-hot August weather and the black asphalt of the parking lot, and was replaced by the Christmas Fair (most recently chaired by Christine Frayer) and, in the last few years, the Fall Fun Fest. The latter event, chaired by Ben Baran, Dave Fleury, and Barb Hantschel has grown in popularity and participation.
Other long-time parish ministries continue in new ways. St. Edward School, established in 1927, became Our Lady of Grace Academy in 2011 following a directive from the archdiocese to merge with St. Sebastian’s School. Under current principal Bruce Varick enrollment stands at 207 students, of whom 154 attend through the Racine Parental Choice Program. Reflecting economic realities, over 60% of students qualify for free or reduced cost lunch.
Another 51 students are currently enrolled in K-11 Christian Formation programs meeting on Sundays. Additionally the parish participates in the Racine Collaborative Catholic Youth Ministry, whose activities include game nights, nursing home visits, teen summer work camp, mission trip, and serving at local meal programs. A Lifelong Learning and Life Questions program aims at continuing formation of adults.
The Child Development Center, an initiative of the late 1990s, continues to thrive. Lorie Czerwinski has served as director since November 2002. The Center enrolls 135 children, is fully licensed through the State of Wisconsin and is certified as a Five Star Provider, the highest possible ranking. The grass-roots poll reported in the Journal Times’ “Best of Racine County ‘14” tabloid section ranks St.Edward’s Child Development Center as #2 in the county.
The trends discussed in earlier portions of this history continued to influence membership at the parish. A changing local economy, a changing neighborhood, changing notions of Catholic identity, dissatisfaction with the institutional Church all resulted in a continuing slide in attendance at weekend liturgies. This past summer the parish went to a new Mass schedule of one Sunday liturgy, in addition to the Saturday 4:30 Mass.
In the midst of challenges, there is still cause for celebration. Fr. Molter retired in 2006, concluding 13 years as pastor of St. Edward Parish. Combined with his six year assignment (1964-70) at the beginning of his priestly ministry, Fr. Molter’s 19 year tenure at St. Edward ranks second only to Msgr. Schaefer’s 26 years and just ahead of founding pastor Fr. Bott’s 15 years at the parish. On the occasion of his retirement Fr. Molter thanked the parishioners of St. Edward “for breaking me in and breaking me out.”
That same year, 2006, the parish welcomed Fr. Allen Bratkowski as pastor. Fr. Allen, who had a career as a social worker before entering the priesthood, brought a kind and gentle touch to his pastoral work. Both Fr. Allen and Fr. Molter observed milestone anniversaries in May of 2014: Fr. Allen celebrating 25 years of priesthood and Fr. Molter 50. Both events were marked with joy-filled parties at St. Edward attended by parishioners, friends and family members.
As St. Edward Parish celebrates the 95th anniversary of its founding, there are indeed reasons for hope. The small group discussions held last November in connection with the Archdiocesan Synod show that people continue to see the Mass, the Sacraments, and the Communion of Saints as central to their identity as Catholics. And the papacy of Pope Francis promises to challenge and excite Catholics around the world in ways yet to be fully seen.
At the same time, the challenges before us are great. The Synod Declaration, issued September 14, 2014 by Archbishop Listecki, identifies – among others – the following as pastoral priorities for the archdiocese during the coming decade:
* Making teaching about the Mass a top priority in all parish and school formation programs, children through adults;
* Primary attention directed toward weekend liturgy, music, message, and ministries
* Implementing a process in parishes and schools for building Catholic identity and forming people and families in the essentials of the Catholic faith
* Ensuring quality faith formation for children, youth, adults
* Offering meaningful opportunities for young adults that relate faith to their life situations
* Offering new, creative and effective strategies that provide support for engaged and married couples
* Reducing administrative tasks for priests; utilizing lay leaders and administrators more effectively
As we face the future, we also remind ourselves that as Catholics we embrace a transformational sensibility – one which accepts change, challenge, and growth, and seeks in these a cause for hope. As Catholics, we are confident that God, through the Holy Spirit, works in human history. We are not alone. The Church, the parish, and its people do not face the challenges of the present or the future unaided.
Confident in the provenance of God our Creator, secure in the knowledge of Christ’s promise to his Church, trusting in the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit: may we, the people of St. Edward Parish, continue the work which God has so richly begun in us.
Written by Dr. Laura Gellott
Parishioner of St. Edward Parish
Professor of History, Emeritus
University of Wisconsin-Parkside