December 4, 2019 — On November 22, the Jesuits’ St. Patrick’s Parish in Milwaukee commemorated half a century of Hispanic ministry in the city. Father Tim Manatt, SJ, pastor, celebrated a 50th anniversary Mass, along with five Jesuit concelebrants and several deacons, including Deacon Virgilio Rodriguez, who had been present at the parish’s first Spanish-speaking Mass 50 years ago.
It all started on November 27, 1969—Thanksgiving Day—when the parish celebrated its first Spanish-speaking Mass after persistent requests by parishioners. Today, St. Patrick’s, along with Our Lady of Guadalupe in Milwaukee, where Fr. Manatt is also pastor, are the only majority Hispanic parishes of the Midwest Jesuits.
After the 1969 Thanksgiving Day Mass, a weekly Spanish Mass was added on Wednesdays. Then, in 1972, a Spanish Mass was added on Sundays.
In 1982, the parish was entrusted to the Society of Jesus while Fr. Joseph Labaj, SJ, was provincial of the former Wisconsin Province. He assigned Fr. Bill Pauly, SJ, as its first Jesuit pastor. “Jesuits are known for language and cultural proficiency,” points out Fr. Manatt, which may be one of the reasons the Jesuits were entrusted with the parish.
Succeeding Fr. Pauly as pastor were Frs. Rick Abert, SJ (1986-1998); Joseph Spieler, SJ (1998-2001); and Jose Moreno, SJ (2001-2015). In 2015, Fr. Manatt became the fifth Jesuit pastor of the parish, serving as pastor of both St. Patrick’s and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Father Abert returned to the parish in 2017 to assist Fr. Manatt.
Fifty years ago, the core of parishioners requesting Mass in Spanish at St. Patrick’s were from Puerto Rico. Today the majority of Spanish speakers in the parish are from Mexico, but there is still a sizable minority from Puerto Rico. Almost a dozen total Latin American countries are represented at St. Patrick’s, including Colombia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Peru, and Honduras.
On a typical Sunday about 650 people come to the three Masses offered, two of which are in Spanish and the other in English, though Fr. Manatt notes that even at the English Mass, Spanish is the first language for the majority of attendees.
The parish sees many young parishioners go to area Jesuit schools, including Nativity Jesuit Academy, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School Milwaukee, Marquette University High School, and Marquette University. “We encourage our families to check out Catholic education in general and Jesuit education in particular,” says Fr. Manatt, who notes there are currently 15 students at Marquette University who grew up going to St. Patrick’s.
For Fr. Manatt, becoming pastor has brought him full circle. “The year before I entered the Society, I taught at the then Nativity Jesuit Middle School, now, Nativity Jesuit Academy, which at the time was adjacent to St. Patrick’s Church.” He was homeroom teacher for the school’s first graduating class.
Father Manatt is well-prepared for serving a parish where Spanish speakers are the majority. Before joining the Jesuits in 1996, he lived and worked in Spain and Argentina. As a Jesuit in formation, he spent two summers in the Dominican Republic with Creighton University’s Institute for Latin American Concern program, and while he was president of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School-Twin Cities, he was involved with Spanish-speaking ministries in local parishes.
He calls Fr. Abert and the late Fr. Pauly mentors and now follows in their footsteps as pastor of St. Patrick’s. “I feel pride in carrying on what they started in terms of their love for the people of St. Patrick’s, and I want to support immigrant families in the midst of the current climate of fear of anxiety and uncertainly,” says Fr. Manatt.