Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
I am sure that my predecessor, Archbishop William E. Cousins, was smiling down upon us as we celebrated Retro Night on Friday, May 4 at the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Cousins Center. Archbishop Cousins was extremely proud of the fact that he was a “Father of the Second Vatican Council.” Upon his death, he requested that only that fact be inscribed on his gravesite.
One of the great changes that was ushered in by Vatican II was the change in the liturgy. It also introduced a more contemporary musical style. For a short period of time, tunes composed by Ray Repp, Willard Jabusch, Peter Scholtes and others were the common staple of what would affectionately be called the “guitar Masses.” Someone described the music as “earworms,” since they bore into your brain and emerged periodically whenever the tune was played or the lyrics recalled.
We decided to bring those songs back, appealing to an era who celebrated a newfound freedom in the Church. I tuned up my guitar, and called a former fellow seminarian, Mr. Manny Sosa, and together we broke the ice as the first act of the evening with “Sons of God.” We performed it as a medley, encouraging people to sing along. Sheila Buechel from St. John Vianney Parish, Brookfield, joined us, helping us keep our chord progression correct. Fr. Richard Simon, “Father Simon Says” from Relevant Radio, joined us on stage for “Song of Good News,” a traditional Israeli folk song. After the performance, I asked my sister, Penny, if she enjoyed it. Without hesitancy, she told me that I should keep my day job. There is always a critic.
Our performance was followed by the Russo Brothers, Nick and Dominic, who entertained with an Italian cabaret style that enchanted the audience. Dominic played the crowd, bestowing roses on the ladies in the audience. It’s incredible what you can accomplish with an accordion and a couple of good voices.
The third set introduced the JPII Singers, members of the archdiocesan staff (Margaret Rhody, Ali Butler and Rich Harter). Two huge screens displayed the lyrics for the sing-along. Margaret was dressed in 60s garb, creating the retro ambience, and Ali wowed the crowd with a spectacular performance of the song “Amen (Lilies of the Field).” For a moment, we were all part of a gospel choir.
After, a video clip of a priest performing his dance skills on the game show, Family Feud, was played. Not to be outdone, and claiming that “anything the Diocese of Peoria can do, we can do better,” we played a second clip of a dance-off at the Pontifical North American College in Rome that featured the dance skills of our own Fr. John Gibson. Needless to say, the audience was amazed.
Every good variety show has a magician, and we had the Amazing Bob (Robert Wade). Calling upon members of the audience for assistance, he wowed the group with magical daring. He was very proud of the fact that he was voted funniest fifth-grader three years in a row.
Just before the last set of the evening, representatives of Men of Christ (3,000 attendees at their last conference) and Women of Christ (almost 2,000 at their last conference) were called to the stage and awarded $1,000 each for their efforts in evangelization.
Before the last set, a video of Stephen Colbert was shown as he sang one of the Retro Night songs, “The King of Glory.” As his comedic performance of the song ended, the real song was performed by Midnight Wine, St. John Vianney’s contemporary group (Sheila Buechel on rhythm guitar, Joe Czukas on bass, Glenn Gequillana as lead singer, and Rob Mangan on lead guitar). The upbeat songs of “Shout from the Highest Mountain,” “Allelu,” “What a Great Thing It Is,” and “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love,” ended a spectacular evening of fun, friendship, good food and drink. For dessert, we had world-famous Leon’s custard. So, if you didn’t already enjoy the entertainment, the beef sandwiches and the drinks, who doesn’t love Leon’s?
Archdiocese of Milwaukee staff provided hospitality, making everyone feel welcomed. Jenni Oliva, manager of Diocesan Events and Special Programs, organized the event, thinking about every necessary detail to make it a great evening. And, Amy Grau, director of our Communications Department, promoted the event in a manner that rivaled P.T. Barnum.
We ended the night with a traditional hymn, “Holy God We Praise Thy Name.” The music of Retro Night is still playing in my head. It will take a good year to rid myself of the “earworms,” but it was worth it. It doesn’t get any better than being with friends for an evening of fun, and pledging to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Note: This blog originally appeared as the May 8, 2018 "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.