Church of the Gesu, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Church of the Gesu
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 November 2020, 11:00am

The building

Photo: © Wikiwand and used under license The church was dedicated in 1894. It is in the French Gothic style, designed by Henry Koch, a prominent Milwaukee architect. There are twin spires of unequal height. The windows in the nave have striking stained glass featuring the saints. The two transept windows have larger stained glass depicting the Nativity and the Ascension. The sanctuary area is simply appointed, with a marble altar, ambo, lectern, and presider's chair. There is both an upper and lower church, each seating 1450. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The church

The parish is ministered by priests of the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits. It was founded as St Gall's in 1849. It later merged with Holy Name parish, and changed its name in 1893 to that of the Church of the Gesù in Rome, the mother church of the Jesuit order – it is where St Ignatius of Loyola is buried. In addition to the standard Christian formation and social justice ministries, they sponsor retreats focusing on Ignatian spirituality. It hosts the campus ministry serving Marquette University. And, they have a twinning relationship with St Simon and St Jude parish in Haiti. They celebrate two masses on Sunday, and weekday masses on Tuesday and Thursday. The later mass on Sunday and the two weekday masses are live-streamed on YouTube.

The neighborhood

Milwaukee's major league baseball team is called the Brewers, which ought to tell you something. The city's life has been intertwined with beer ever since the mid-19th century. The Milwaukee Brewery is the oldest functioning brewery in the United States. The city claimed to be the largest beer-producing city in the world until the late 20th century. It is on Lake Michigan's western shore, and has a metro area population of over two million. And, it is home to motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson's international headquarters. Milwaukee is also home to Marquette University, a private Jesuit school founded in 1881, offering programs in the liberal arts, business, communication, education, engineering, law and various health sciences disciplines. Church of the Gesu is a large parish on the campus of Marquette University.

The cast

A priest celebrated and preached. An organist and cantor led the music. And there was a lector and eucharistic minister

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

Less than a third full. Attendance is restricted in this time of coronavirus; parishioners wishing to attend must register by 11.00am Thursday morning, to allow for social distancing.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I accessed the mass on YouTube.

Was your pew comfortable?

My recliner was more comfortable than most church pews.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet and reverent. There was a generous offering of music before the service - an organ prelude and two hymns.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning. Welcome to Gesu as we celebrate the solemnity of All Saints.’ We were then instructed as to how we could download from the parish Website an order of service (including all of the music in the service). After a chanted introit antiphon and opening hymn (‘For All the Saints,’ but only four verses), the usual ‘In the name of the Father...’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Those leading worship seemed to have a binder with all of the texts and music in the service included.

What musical instruments were played?

A four-manual, 112 rank pipe organ, Opus 2300 of the Schantz Organ Company of Orrville, Ohio. The instrument began its life as a theater organ in Chicago, designed by the WW Kimball Co. It was moved to the church in 1908, and expanded and rebuilt by the Kilgen Organ Co. in 1955. Schantz expanded and rebuilt the instrument in 2011, retaining some of the Kimball/Kilgen pipework.

Did anything distract you?

All of the organist's jewelry.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Reverent, a bit up the candle, but not at all fussy. The proper introit antiphon was chanted (a modern setting in English) by the cantor. In lieu of the prayers of the people, the Litany of the Saints was chanted. Incense was used, but only at the preparation of the gifts. There was a full musical agenda – all of the mass parts, three hymns, and prelude and postlude music, all of it beautifully done.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

10 — The priest spoke from in front of the altar, without notes. He's an accomplished public speaker.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He referred to all of the saints represented in Gesu's beautiful stained glass. Then he suggested that congregants might want to do some research on the saint for whom they are named. He noted that all of the saints are patrons – St James, for example, is patron saint of Spain, and also of fishermen. The saints don't need our prayers, but we need theirs (he noted that we would be using the Litany of the Saints later in the service). We need their prayers, but we also need their examples. The Second Vatican Council emphasized that all the baptized are called to holiness. The Beatitudes (from the gospel of the day) were called by Pope Francis a Christian's identity card. In addition to reflecting on the saint we were named for, we should also today choose one of the Beatitudes to focus on, as a call to the spirit of holiness.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The beauty of this church, and the celebrant's presiding style.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

So many reminders of how coronavirus has upended our lives: no chalice was administered, the reduced numbers in the congregation. There was no passing of a collection plate – congregants could leave an offering as they exited. There was no physical passing of the peace. And ushers guided the congregation in and out of the church, so as to maintain social distancing.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I began to look on my computer for the link to submit my report.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I doubt that there was an after-service coffee at Gesu. For my part, I'll fix a club sandwich after finishing my report.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

10 — If we ever seem to get some degree of control over this virus, it would be worth a visit to Milwaukee, to be able to worship at Gesu in person. It's quite a beautiful space, the priest's homily was excellent, and the music program is reputed to be of high quality.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The stained glass at Gesu.

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