The year was 1889. Benjamin Harrison was president, the Eiffel Tower opened in Paris, Thomas Edison showed his first motion picture, and a company in Atlanta started making a new soft drink called Coca Cola.
In Milwaukee, milling, tanning, meat packing, brewing and iron making were the main industries, and immigrants from Germany, Poland, Italy, Serbia and other countries swelled the population to 204,468.
On the north side of the city, a new Catholic Church was founded. Under the leadership of the pastor, Monsignor Leonard Batz, a temporary chapel was dedicated on April 1, 1889. Plans were immediately drawn up for a new church designed by the noted architect Henry Messmer. The cornerstone of the larger church was laid on June 1, 1890. Two years later, the church was solemnly consecrated (consecration of a church requires freedom from debt!). This was accomplished due to the generosity of Monsignor Batz who underwrote most of the expenses with his own money!
Monsignor Batz also made plans to establish a Catholic elementary school. He sent word to Germany to the School Sisters of Notre Dame and invited them to staff the school. The good sisters opened the doors in September 1889 and remained in service to the parish for many decades to come. A community of SSND’s live in the convent of Ss. Peter & Paul to the present day.
Msgr. Batz died on May 26, 1901 and was succeeded by Father Julius Hellweger. Then Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Koudelka took over. During his term a new school building was erected on Cramer Street (1912). The “Cramer Building” as we now affectionately call it is well used by our parish to this day. Father William Pinchery was pastor during World War I, saying Mass for the many young men as they went off to war.
Msgr. Arthur Dentinger served for almost two decades, from 1929 to 1947, helping families cope with the horrors of the Depression and then with the tragedies of World War II. He received special recognition from the Church by his investiture as Domestic Prelate to Pope Pius XI. Msgr. Dentinger was succeeded by Fr. Grasser in 1947. Fr. Grasser, later to become Monsignor Grasser, embarked on a building and renovation program that was completed in 1957. During the renovation the interior of the church was completely renewed, the rectory basement was renovated and a new school was built on the corner of Greenwich and Murray Avenues. On December 8, 1962, the outdoor shrine to the Blessed Mother was dedicated and blessed.
In the years that followed eight more pastors guided the life of our parish: Fr. Leonard Scherrer (1974-1976); Fr. Karl Schneider (1976-1980); Fr. Thomas Knoebel (1980-1981); Fr. Thomas LeMieux (1981- 1986); Fr. Eugene Pocernich (1986-1989); Fr. Jack Kern (1989-1998); Fr. Thomas DeVries (1998-2000); Fr. Joe Juknialis (temporary administrator, 2000); Fr. Thomas Brundage (2001- 2006); Fr. Michael Michalski (2006-2010).
On July 1, 2010, an exciting transition took place. The Archdiocese established what is called an “In Solidum Team,” in which the pastoral care of four East Side parishes has been entrusted to three priests. This pastoral team of priests shares responsibilities for administering the sacraments, teaching the faith, reaching out to those in need, and overseeing our spiritual and material needs. Presently, they rotate from parish to parish for weekend Masses. The parishes are Old Saint Mary, Our Lady of Divine Providence, SS. Peter and Paul, and Three Holy Women. Our pastors are Father Tim Kitzke, Father Brian Mason, and, Father Mike Michalski. T
oday our school also serves all four parishes of the cluster, including St. John’s Cathedral and children from all over the city of Milwaukee. SS. Peter and Paul is also home to Eastside Child and Youth Ministry – serving the Christian formation needs of our parishes’ children.
Over the years, the parish has truly become “The Heart of Christ in the Heart of the East Side.” Parishioners not only worship together in beautiful liturgies, but also reach out to those less fortunate through a number or organizations. The present community of SS. Peter & Paul gives great thanks to all the dedicated priests, sisters, leaders and parishioners who have gone before us. Now well into its second century, SS. Peter and Paul is still alive with the Gospel message and remains a place many call home.