Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
I was baptized there. Have been attending Mass there ever since.
Had my first confession there and my first Holy Communion.
Was confirmed there.
Was an altar boy, a lector.
And since 1970, I’ve been an usher there, each and every Sunday, faithfully.
St. Anthony’s on 9th and Mitchell on Milwaukee’s near south side is a relic, a treasure. In my view, taken as a whole with its breathtaking Gothic architecture, the reverence it always shows to the Mass, and the stunning brilliance of organist Lee Erickson and his unmatched choir, it is the most beautiful church experience in Milwaukee. I know because I’ve been there for 50-plus years. My visits to other Catholic churches have left me disappointed asking to please take me back home to St. Anthony’s.
While still in grade school, I’d often do the readings at Sunday Mass. My dad who was a longtime usher and I had a system. If the Mass was short an usher a particular week, he’d wait for me to walk to the lectern to begin my reading and wave, not frantically but close knowing my dad, a signal that my help was needed. After my readings I’d walk down the aisle to the back of church and assist my dad. Eventually I became a regular usher with dad, a weekly ritual I was proud to be a part of and one I think of often.
Do the math, I’ve been ushering at St. Anthony’s for 43 years, and no, I am not collecting Social Security.
I love when people question me as to why a supposedly sharp guy would still, after all these years, usher at a church in such a dubious neighborhood, or even perform this habit each and every Sunday. I won’t elaborate with a response here except to say those folks have never enjoyed the phenomenon that is St. Anthony’s every Sunday. Their loss.
Note to enterprising local journalists looking for a great feature: interview church ushers. Especially ones that have been around awhile. And I don’t mean in quiet hamlets. I’m talking places like St. Anthony’s where, at the risk of hyperbole, I’ve seen it all.
Calls to police.
Beggars who reeked of booze. Sure your donation was going to a hot meal.
Transients, some who couldn’t make it to the men’s room.
A woman who weekly went into epileptic fits right in the middle of the homily (Sorry, Father, but it’s true).
The pastor’s dog running loose during Mass.
A sting set up to nab crooks breaking into cars in the parking lot.
Folks barging in to ask questions about the sexual habits of previous priests at the parish.
You want me to sign a petition about what? When I refuse to sign, you badger me about why?
Can I talk to Father right now, this minute?
And my favorite pet peeve as an usher…the weather. At our Taj Mahal of a church we lack air conditioning. Thank goodness, the good Lord has given us saints every Sunday in the form of windows and doors.
Open them up for much-needed air? The whiners emerge. It’s too windy. It’s too cold.
Leave them closed? The other whiners emerge. Are you crazy? It’s way too stuffy and warm in here.
Catholics. Become an usher and see the whiners pour out of the woodwork.
There are no cups for water in the restroom.
No toweling either.
And my ultimate favorite for umpteen years.
There’s no toilet paper.
100% of the time this complaint comes from a female. What the hell are they doing? Stealing, eating the stuff?
And what do I look like? The janitor? He just happens to be off on Sunday morning. Why? Who the hell knows. Catholics aren’t always the smartest people in the room.
All of this is a long introduction into what a church usher witnesses the most that is out of the ordinary or disruptive. You got it.
In my nearly 50 years of ushering, I have winced at my fair share of children fidgeting, squirming, antsy, moaning, groaning, sniffling, crying, yelling, screaming.
I recall a time in the 70’s I believe when a beloved pastor at St. Anthony’s. Father Gerard Clark was in the middle of a beautiful sermon when suddenly out of nowhere came a shriek that sounded like it came from Lizzie Borden’s parents. Father Clark stopped dead in his tracks. The faithful in the pews went into funeral mode. There was dead silence except for Baby Thunder.
Everything stopped. The Mass. The homily. The priest. What would happen next? Would the embarrassed red-faced mom get up and sheepishly make her way to the back of church where they all end up at St. Anthony’s due to our lack of crying room, meaning I have to close doors and have people congregated in the rear get mad at me because they can‘t pay attention to Mass any longer?
Did I mention ushering wasn’t easy?
Back to Father Clark, the late Father Clark who was a gem of a priest and human being. He saw the troubled looks on the countenances of his parishioners. I’ll never forget that without hesitation he continued his sermon:
“Not to worry, folks. That’s the voice of the angels.”
“Not to worry, folks. That’s the voice of the angels.”
In my gazillion years as an usher, all at St. Anthony’s, I think back to those words on many a Sunday, even at the slightest peep. It’s been less than a handful of times I approached a mom or dad and told him or her they had no choice but to remove themselves and come to the back of church with thier unruly child.
Why so few interruptions by an usher? It’s a pain, it is disruptive, the parents object, the parents think their child’s behavior is cute, and prior to your nudge you were hoping please dear God let them have the common sense you gave them so they’ll willingly get up off their butt and walk to the back so I don’t have to go get them.
Rewind. In nearly 50 years, I’ve rarely had to tell a parent that the light bulb should have gone on a long time ago and your kid needs to exit. Avoiding a scene is reason #1. But how about it’s simply just cool that the baby is there. At church, with parents. Despite whatever behavior is going on…that’s a good thing.
Here’s a great column: Parents, keep bringing your kids to church.