Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
I have blogged in the past about my beloved lifelong parish, St. Anthony’s at 9th and Mitchell on Milwaukee’s near south side (That would be the big saint pictured above). With all due respect to my friends down the street at St. Josaphat’s Basilica, my church is the best. As I wrote in June of 2010:
Not a basilica, not a cathedral. Doesn’t matter. To me, St. Anthony’s is the most beautiful church around.
Everything, I mean everything is wonderful about this sacred place. The Gothic architecture. The wood. The gold. The statues. The traditional Mass. The incense. The Liturgy. The music. The pipe organ.
No acoustic guitar or Peter, Paul and Mary jazz here.
The gifted Lee Erickson, the best church organist, period, will be at the keyboard, and even without the tremendous choir that now has the summer off, he’ll find a way to make the Sunday experience heavenly.
Lee Erickson, St. Anthony's Music Director and director of the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus.
I marvel at newcomers to St. Anthony’s. They gaze in wonderment, necks craning. They sheepishly ask this usher if they can snap a photo before asking in amazement, “You do this every Sunday?”
Newcomers and veteran parishioners alike have been known to stare up at the choir loft during the recessional, refusing to leave until the music and singing have ended. Then they stand, and in a practice not often seen in a Catholic Church unless the newlyweds have just kissed, they applaud.
Back to now.
Unfortunately, St. Anthony was in the news recently.
During all of my childhood and most of my adult life, St. Anthony was a safe haven from everything but gossip. That would change like the neighborhood. While some continue to foolishly glamorize Mitchell Street, it is nowhere near the golden thoroughfare that used to rival Wisconsin Avenue.
Vagrants are common and quite simply can’t be trusted. They are known to disrupt Sunday Mass and hassle attendees. I have blogged about the theft of the Baby Jesus from a Nativity scene.
Following an evening Sunday Mass many years ago, a young man was gunned down in a drive-by shooting on the church steps. He bled to death in the arms of our pastor who was still wearing his Mass garments.
We parishioners have been stunned before. And while a TV news story about candlesticks being stolen certainly doesn’t come close to matching the horror of a murder on church property, the revelation still hurts deeply.
This past Sunday, our young and new priest, Father Erich Weiss celebrated the Mass I attend and usher at weekly. Weiss had met earlier with the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office.
During his sermon, Father Weiss noted the reputation Catholics have for being such forgiving souls. Then came the “but.”
Father Weiss wondered out loud why there wasn’t some avenue for those arrested, accused and found guilty to come before the flock at St. Anthony and actually petition for forgiveness.
In my usher role, I stood in the back of church in the vestibule with eyebrows raised, contemplating such an idea.
I’ve seen enough at the corner of 9th and Mitchell in that blessed church all my life from my altar boy days to today to write a pretty decent book, but that’s a different blog.
What Father Weiss was suggesting seemed, until this past Sunday, incredibly out of the question. But this is 2013 on the near south side of Milwaukee where, unfortunately, safety isn’t guaranteed, not even in a hallowed Catholic Church.
How low can one go? Stealing from the sacred territory of a church ranks right up there with assaults against defenseless elderly and children. The sheer amount of ignorance couldn’t possibly be quantified.
Father Weiss mentioned the culprits could get 10 years. In my view, not good enough.
In the back of church with a sobbing baby and her mother, I pondered Weiss’ notion of the low lives being given the chance (or forced) to say they were sorry. Father Weiss never got into any specifics, mind you. He just proposed an opportunity to ask for forgiveness. So allow me to add some details.
Following conviction and sentencing, I would pay for a front row pew to see two, three, four, whatever the case may be of these scoundrels led out in orange jumpsuits and hand cuffs and leg chains and in lieu of the weekly homily (no offense, Padre) have each one go to the podium and admit what they’ve done, admit it was wrong, and express sorrow.
Look, I’m a cynic. I understand they probably wouldn’t mean any syllable they utter. Some would argue it would just be sham. Doesn’t matter to me.
I want the spectacle. I want the shaming mechanism. I want them to have to face me and the others they stole from. Some purists at my parish would express outrage in such an irreverent display during the weekly Liturgy. My response? You’re free to walk out. I’ll come get you when it’s over and safe to return inside.
Could it happen? I hope so. It all depends on the prosecutor and the pressing judge as to whether this would be part of the sentencing.
There’s a larger issue here than just super dumb crooks. The latest monthly issue of Townhall Magazine that I subscribe to (not available online) delves into the Persecution of Christians.
Finally, we return to our Mass last Sunday. Being an usher, I know just about every face that sits down to worship each and every Sunday. At the end of Mass, after the recessional, I stood, as always, primed to hand out our Sunday bulletin. Many familiar faces approached me, including a well-dressed family man who always hits me with a smile. He, too, had paid attention to the sermon. Remember, and I mean this sincerely, we Catholics are a forgiving crowd (What follows is another lesson that Catholics aren’t blind sheep, they have independent thought).
I’m paraphrasing now as my fellow parishioner reached for his weekly handshake from me and a bulletin:
“So isn’t that wonderful. They’re awfully sorry for what they’ve done, and we’re supposed to forgive them?”
“That’s right,” I replied, in a whisper leaning closer.
Following my lead, he also whispered. “I hope they hang ‘em.”
I extended a bulletin and whispered back.
“I hope so, too.”