Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
I have often said that the rich history of the Catholic Church in Wisconsin is grounded in the deep spirituality of its members. I have witnessed great acts of charity, heard statements of inspirational insights and experienced the willingness of individuals to defend the Church even at extreme personal cost. These actions give rise to a culture that produces saints. It should be no surprise that there are several individuals whose causes for sainthood are being promoted right here in our state.
When I was bishop of La Crosse, I would visit St. Gabriel Catholic Church in the Prairie du Chien area. It was established and built by Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, O.P. This Dominican priest was born in 1806 and helped to evangelize Catholic communities in Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois. He was committed to the faith and built churches and schools throughout the midwest. It was not an easy task since he faced hostility from anti-Catholic groups, but this did not discourage his efforts. He was kind and gentle, a true priest who died contracting pneumonia after visiting a sick parishioner. In 2008, a miracle was reported for the cause of his beatification. This architect, educator, scientist and priest gave his life so that others might know God. Fr. Mazzuchelli stated, “Apostolic zeal is not content to do good only to those nearby, but extends its solicitude as far as its strength can reach.”
Well known to us all is Solanus Casey, a Capuchin priest. The Capuchins have been instrumental in serving the neediest among us. Solanus was born in 1870 in Oak Grove, Wisconsin, and he died in 1957. He entered Saint Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee with the hopes of becoming a diocesan priest, but later decided to pursue religious life. He had difficulty with studies and, after ordination, was not permitted to preach or hear confessions. However, he achieved renown as a wonderworker, concentrating on the poor and the sick. Lines of people would form just to receive counseling from him and hear his statements of wisdom concerning their lives. He was beatified by Pope Francis in 2017. God used Solanus as an instrument, demonstrating that we must be ready to serve His mission by turning over our strengths and weaknesses for His glory. Fr. Solanus states, “We must be faithful to the present moment or we will frustrate the plan of God for our lives.”
In the Diocese of La Crosse, the clergy and people pray for the beatification of Fr. Joseph Walijewski, who was born in 1924 and died in 2006. Fr. Joe had a rocky road to the priesthood. He wrote to several bishops to accept him in studies for the priesthood, but the only one who responded was Bishop Tracey of La Crosse. Fr. Joe vowed that if a bishop would accept him, then he would spend six years of his life serving the poorest of the poor. Ordained for the Diocese of La Crosse, he spent a few early years in service. Then, he pleaded with the bishop to permit him to fulfill his vow. He established a parish in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, which today has 75,000 parishioners. Later, he moved to Peru and established a parish in the poorest section of Lima. He built St. John Paul II Orphanage, which is now the model for similar institutions in Latin America.
Fr. Joe’s outreach to the poor made the Communist group, Shining Path, place a bounty on his head and this group even killed some villagers who awaited his visit to their communities. When people were anxious that things would not work out the way they should, he would smile and say, “Don’t worry, nothing will be alright.”As he lay dying on his bed in Peru, surrounded by crying members of the community, he smiled and said, “Don’t worry, everything will be alright.” Fr. Joe’s motto was, “I’m just a pencil in God’s hand.”
We all have the potential to be saints by using every opportunity we have to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Note: This blog originally appeared as the July 28, 2020, "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.