Cream City Catholic: Milwaukee’s Latin Connection
It’s hard to miss Saint Stanislaus Catholic Church. Built in 1872, it’s one of Milwaukee’s oldest, iconic buildings. (The parish itself dates back to 1866, the present building dates to 1872.) Driving south on I-94, the twin steeples of the historic Cream City brick church stand tall, overlooking the South Side of Milwaukee. The elegant towers, each topped with a ten-foot stone cross, are visible for miles (and in the heading of our website). The church is an enduring testament to Milwaukee’s industrious Polish immigrant community. Megan Daniels, author of Images of America: Milwaukee’s Early Architecture, describes the building as “one of the city’s most recognizable churches, exhibiting influences from Eastern European Romanesque churches.” Combining Cream City brick and heavy hints of its timeless European heritage, Saint Stanislaus offers the best of both worlds, new and old.
The 1960s however, under the direction of Monsignor Raymond Punda, proved traumatic for the interior of the church, as strikingly incongruous and, I would add, theologically suspect alterations were okayed under the auspices of the “Spirit of Vatican II.” Gaudy, dated carpeting was brought in to cover the original flooring; the multi-leveled sanctuary was leveled out with the help of concrete which was poured by the tons into the sanctuary (the concrete addition was so heavy that support beams had to be installed underneath the sanctuary); the original, brilliant stained-glass windows were extracted and replaced with distracting modern windows that resemble thousands of broken bottle shards. In addition, two elegant marble shrines, situated along the walls of the nave, were removed to who knows where. The exquisite white marble altar rail was destroyed, with only two sad pieces of it remaining to serve as reminders. And finally, the sanctuary was obtrusively extended far out into the nave. It was bad, friends. Catholic or not, no one with any sense of historical and theological perspective, let alone good taste should have signed off on such a scheme. Why it was allowed to proceed unchecked is a maddening mystery. But it was the 60s, folks. Need I say more? (Many historic parishes faced similar fates during this era of neo-iconoclasm.)
The parish’s centenary in 1966 gave Monsignor Punda a golden opportunity to go big with the radical renovation project. A commemorative book from that year offers the reader strained, sometimes laughable rationales, dripping with 1960s-era Catholic clichés, to justify the changes.
Excellent, excellent article. I don't know who's running it but a great looking blog, already added to the blogroll on the side.