The Basilica Of Saint Josaphat
Photograph - Photograph
The Basilica epitomizes the striving of early Polish immigrants to express their ethnic heritage, spiritual devotion, and patriotic pride by building impressive houses of worship.
The first Poles came to Milwaukee in the 1840s, but their numbers did not become significant until after the Civil War. By the late 1800s, Polish immigrants were streaming into Milwaukee by the thousands, quickly becoming the second largest ethnic group in the nation’s most German city. In 1866, thirty Polish families established Saint Stanislaus Parish on Milwaukee’s South Side as the first urban Polish parish in the United States.
Saint Josaphat Parish was formed in 1888 as an offshoot of Saint Stanislaus Parish and subsequently became the largest Polish parish in Wisconsin. Its first home was a modest building that burned to the ground in 1889. The parish built a second church but it was too small for its needs.
Poles were the largest of the European immigrant groups who settled in Milwaukee after 1870. Attracted by the promise of jobs and fleeing religious oppression and compulsory military service, their population swelled to nearly 60,000 by 1900—second only to the Germans.
Poles were uniformly Catholic, and the church became the social as well as the spiritual center for their communities. There were seven Polish Catholic churches in Milwaukee by 1900, each with its own parochial school.
This burgeoning immigrant community desired to construct a church to meet the needs of its more than 12,000 parishioners in the late 19th century. Ground was broken in 1896 and the new building would be finished in 1901.
Father Wilhelm Grutza, the pastor, had hired a German-born architect named Erhard Brielmaier to design what is, in essence, a smaller version of St. Peter’s in Rome. The church would have the same cross-shaped floor plan and huge central dome that distinguish St. Peter’s.
When the plans were nearly complete, Fr. Grutza learned that the Chicago Post Office and Cus
April 24th, 2020
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