The history of the St. Augustines parish and the Bay View neighborhood are interwoven. The parish was founded right as Bay View became part of Milwaukee (1887).
Until 1887, there was only one Catholic parish in Bay View: Immaculate Conception. This parish consisted mostly English-speaking members. The German-speaking Catholics had to go to St. Anthony’s (9th and Mitchell), Holy Trinity (now Guadalupe Church on 4th and Bruce), Sacred Heart Parish in St. Francis or St. Stephen’s in New Coeln (near present day Mitchel International Airport), in order to hear a German sermon.
The need of a new German speaking parish prompted an informal meeting early in 1887. This was held in August Hermes’ hardware store. They sat on nail kegs or leaned against the walls while the groundwork was laid for St. Augustine Parish.
August Hermes, Adam Krill, Elias Stollenwerk and John Risch were prominent in setting up the organization. Initially 47 families agreed to form a new parish, and that year, 23 lots on Howell Avenue and Graham Street were purchased. On February 7, 1888, Father Peter Schumacher was appointed by the Archbishop to oversee the formation of a new parish and serve as its first pastor.
Original Church and School
It was decided to build a single building for the church and school, with classrooms on the first floor and church services held on the second floor. The building was completed in September. Archbishop Heiss, assisted by 12 priests, consecrated the new church in September 23, 1888. Two days later, the school opened with an enrollment of 80 pupils.
A Separate Church
Continued growth of the parish necessitated a separate church, and on December 30, 1906, it was decided to build a new church at a cost of no more than $36,000. On Palm Sunday, April 12, 1908, the cornerstone of the current church was laid.
On Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1908, the new church was dedicated. Archbishop Messmer, Bishop Chalbahl of LaCrosse, Bishop Fox of Green Bay, Megr. Keogh and 40 other priests were present. The Archbishop dedicated the church, while Bishop CalBahl celebrated the Pontifical Mass. The Archbishop preached in German, exhorting the people to make frequent use of this new house of God. On Sunday, November 29, 1908, the Blessed Sacrament was carried in procession from the old church to the new edifice.
In 1910, the first pipe organ was purchased. On Saturday, June 6, 1914, the blessing of three new bells took place. The large bell was named “Mary and Augustine” and the two smaller bells were named “Joseph” and “Peter.” These same bells continue to ring out over Bay View today.
During this same time, the present stain glass windows were donated to the church and installed. The Christ Noll family donated the two side altars in July of 1922 and the main altar in October of 1935. The stations of the cross were installed in December of 1922. In 1924, the church was redecorated and a new tabernacle installed.
A loud speaker system was added to the church in 1936. On September 9, 1939, a small fire occurred on the communion rail. During the 1940’s, the church was completely redecorated, and the basement was excavated to accommodate the parish hall.
In 1965, following the Second Vatican Council, Mass underwent major changes. The Liturgy was changed from Latin to English. Air conditioning was added to the church and hall in 1967. In 1970, a new forward facing altar was installed. During the 1960’s and 70’s, the parish continued to grow. In 1973, St. Augustine had 5,000 parishioners from 1,300 families.
A major renovation occurred in 1986 which moved the the main altar closer to the congregation. Side pews were added, and the church was redecorated. In 1988, the bells were automated. A large pipe organ replaced the smaller one in 1999. Up until 2006, the steeple tower had spaces for a clock on each side. Clock mechanisms were finally put in place in 2006. In 2007, lights were installed to illuminate the steeple at night. Stations of the Cross were purchased from the Holy Family Church in Cudahy and installed in 2017.
2017 and Beyond
Over the past 130 years, St. Augustine as seen over 8,600 Baptisms, 5,700 confirmations, 2,800 marriages and 3,000 funerals. St. Augustine continues as a strong and vibrant church in the Bay View community.