The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is keeping pace with the rest of the Church in America as it embraces the usual causes and crusades under the banners of “community” and “equality” while all but shedding Catholic inconveniences like Mortal Sin and Sanctifying Grace. Apparently salvation now depends more on the sincerity of your handshake of peace than on works of charity. What sharpens this tragedy in Milwaukee, however, is the incongruity of so much hand-holding amid so many beautiful churches. A city architecturally endowed to preserve the past is abandoning tradition as quickly as our “sisters and brothers” in younger parts of the nation.

Venue is not essential for pious worship, but for those of us whose faith has not yet achieved mustard-seed size, Milwaukee provides many turn-of-the-century churches whose vaulted ceilings and gilded statues make them ideal for fervent prayer and ritual. Out of place are the diluted pro-life homilies that suggest our respect for life should also embrace the anti-tobacco and antipollution efforts. In spite of this spiritual banality, anyone with a modest amount of devotion can spend a rewarding weekend exploring many of Milwaukee’s churches. The three that should not be missed are the St. Josephat Basilica on the south side, the St. Joan of Arc Chapel on the Marquette University campus, and Old Saint Mary’s Church downtown.

The story of St. Josephat’s is as impressive as the building itself. Built by the faith, pennies, and second mortgages of Milwaukee’s Polish immigrants, the building originally stood as the Chicago Central Post Ofhce. When the foundation cracked in 1888, Chicago planned demolition. Milwaukee Poles, seeking to build a church but too poor to afford quarrying and stonecutting expenses, bought the post office, dismantled it, marked the pieces, and carted them to Milwaukee in over 500 rail cars. The pastor. Father Wilhelm Grutzka (a skilled blacksmith), along with a professional architect, redesigned the building using St. Peter’s as a model. Construction took only six years. Plagued by inept financial management, the parishioners relinquished control in 1910 to the Franciscans, who prevented foreclosure and have kept the parish out of debt ever since. (At one point creditors had planned to convert it to an opera house.) Though one of only 22 basilicas in the United States dedicated exclusively “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” St. Josephat’s must now be razed when it can no longer serve that purpose. The faithful of the parish have delayed destruction with a two million-dollar restoration plan, which will include a new copper dome.

The St. Joan of Arc Chapel, also a transplant, was built in the 14th century in southeastern France, where, originally named for St. Martin of Sayssuel, it served the nobility and villagers of Chasse. Time and the French Revolution took their respective tolls on the small oratory, leaving it in ruins by the 20th century. In 1927, aided by an architect named Jacques Couelle, Gertrude Hill Gavin had the chapel dismantled, moved to her Long Island estate, and rebuilt adjacent to a Renaissance chateau, also imported from France. The estate changed hands in 1962 to the Rojtman family who three years later donated the chapel to Marquette, where it now rests rededicated to its current patroness. The austere yet stirring interior contains a diverse collection of artifacts, including the tomb of a French knight buried in 1524; crucifixes, small statues, and an altar cloth (all from the 16th century); a medieval baptismal font; and a faded tapestry.

Two of the chapel’s treasures have intriguing stories. An engraver’s plate from 18th-century Poland depicting the Crucifixion was once the cherished possession of a young immigrant. About to board ship for America, he realized he had forgotten the plate and rescheduled his voyage. The ship on which he was originally booked was lost at sea. A flat stone built into the wall behind the altar once supported a statue of the Blessed Virgin, before which Joan of Arc is said to have prayed, ending her prayer by kissing the stone. The popular belief, confirmed by the Geology Department at Marquette, is that the stone is several degrees cooler than those which surround it. My wrist test was inconclusive, but I am not against believing.

In 1846, German immigrants built Old Saint Mary’s of the same Cream City brick found in Milwaukee’s early breweries. Exactly as old as the city itself, the building is Milwaukee’s oldest Catholic Church. Among its beautiful decorations is an oil painting of the Annunciation given by the King of Bavaria in 1848. The painting is framed by a massive, intricately carved main altar of gilded wood. The recently restored hand-painted stained glass windows, several life-size statues of major saints, and the three bronze church bells are all from Munich.

These glorious buildings witness daily the misguided antics of the modern Church. At St. Josephat’s I overheard an aging feminist chirp insistently, “and became ‘one of us,'” during that portion of the Creed which acknowledges the Incarnation. At Marquette during the petitions a gentleman complete with pounding fist pleaded that we “labor till our dying day to eradicate the awful racism that permeates our world.” And at Old St. Mary’s the elaborate “Old World atmosphere” touted in the bulletin serves as an unwilling backdrop for the Sunday folk guitar Mass. All the while a renegade Franciscan offers the Tridentine Rite without permission in an inner-city shack reminiscent of a Quonset hut.

Two years ago, seeking a sanctioned Latin Mass in Milwaukee, I called the chancery. The pained voice on the other end informed me that Archbishop Weakland had approved the Tridentine Rite once a month on Saturday evenings “for those members of the Archdiocese who cannot accept change.” That number of us not blessed with the eighth cardinal virtue, “open-mindedness,” is growing. Consequently, the Latin Mass is now offered weekly on Sundays in a more central location.

Nevertheless, the Archbishop continues quietly to pacify us while marching ahead with his agenda. He is currently considering a plan to unionize Milwaukee’s Catholic schoolteachers. The letter that accompanied his appeal for annual donations provided a checklist by which I could indicate those issues I considered important to the Archdiocese. “Social injustice,” “racism,” and “the role of women” are all evidently more important to the Archbishop than abortion, which did not make the list. I kept my money—the role of women has been defined and requires no further funding.