St. Thomas Aquinas church history – I wasn’t even looking

I have always loved the word serendipity. For one thing, it’s fun to pronounce, being a kind of combination of serene and zip-a-dee (as in do dah!); it combines a happy sense of well being with a frisson of excitement. But more than the word, I love the phenomenon of finding something valuable or agreeable that I wasn’t even looking for.

So it was with the Golden Jubilee Book of Monsignor Edward J. Blackwell With a Sketch of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish Milwaukee, by the Rev. Peter Leo Johnson, D.D., 1937. I do keep an eye on eBay for books in my specialty area of Milwaukee history, but I don’t generally purchase parish histories. I have no reason for avoiding them except that they usually seem to be priced at about what I think I could sell them for, and I have to at least pretend that I’m trying to make a profit at this bookselling stuff.

However, this book was listed several times, at a diminishing price every time, and I finally “bit.” I bid, I won, I paid, and in due course, the the package arrived. I was, as is often the case, disapointed to see that the seller’s “very good” was my “good”, but the book is scarce, the content desirable, and I think it will sell, so oh well.

As I examined the book more closely, I found that the name of the “jubilant” Rev. Blackwell looked familiar but it took me some time to place it. I finally found it on a copy of my grandmother’s marriage certificate. On the 17th of April in 1917, the Rev. Blackwell joined my ancestors in holy matrimony. My grandparents’ nuptials were among the 1,416 marriages performed at St. Thomas Aquinas parish by 1937.

This was not only interesting, but a genealogical tidbit that was new to me, since my grandparents’ place of marriage had been recorded by a genealogist as St. Thomas, rather than St. Thomas Aquinas. It also was interesting because I knew that my grandmother had worked in Milwaukee as a maid before her marriage, and the location of the parish would give me some idea of where in the city she might have worked.

St. Thomas Aquinas parish was established by the Rev. Blackwell in 1900 to serve the English speaking Catholics in northwest Milwaukee, and it made it almost to the century mark. But in 1994, it was merged with five other parishes to form All Saints congregation. Wherever the church building had been, it was no longer easily Googled. However, I was able to find a reference to the parish in an old obituary from 1950, which gave an address: 35th St. and Brown Ave.

A quick tour with Google street view confirms that the building still present on the corner of 35th and Brown, though minus its cross on top, is unmistakably the same as that pictured in the 1937 Golden Jubilee book.

St. Thomas Aquinas was an almost new church when my grandparents were married there. A look at the picture in the book provides  a view of the main aisle as they must have seen it on their wedding day.

The aisle is long and majestic, and I imagine my grandmother as a young bride, walking down toward her husband to be, on her father’s arm, past the pews filled with family and friends. Perhaps she was thrilled, perhaps scared, probably a little of both.  And now I can join her, in my imagination, through the serendipitous discovery of this little book that I almost didn’t buy.


I don’t sell all of the books I write about, but if I have any books for sale of the kind that inspired this article, they would be found here, in my History – Milwaukee and surrounds category.
This entry was posted in Book selling, Genealogy, Milwaukee history and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to St. Thomas Aquinas church history – I wasn’t even looking

  1. Margaret Kempton Kennon says:

    I would love to peruse this book of yours, especially of the interior of the church. I was baptized here in 1957, and for The Year of Faith, I heard we are encouraged to visit, at least in spirit, a spot by our baptismal font and renew our commitment to Christ in this holy year. Would you have a picture of the font to send to me? Thank you and God bless you too!

  2. Originally Submitted on 2012/04/15 at 5:58 am. Transferred to correct post by Admin.

    Thank you for writing your piece on St. Thomas Aquinas and your grandparent’s wedding day. You are certainly correct about how beautiful and majestic the church was. Check out the St. Thomas Aquinas Facebook page for some more photos.

  3. Dan Finn says:

    Originally Submitted on 2012/04/14 at 9:57 pm. Transfered to correct post by Admin.

    I saw an older post of yours re: a book about St. Thomas Aquinas parish in Milwaukee, near 35th and Brown streets (May 22, 2011).

    In the off chance you are interested, it is probably more accurate to say that it was on 36th in Brown streets, and just south of that intersection, on the east side of 36th (in fact, the photo of the exterior that you posted was taken from the intersection of 36th and Brown, looking southeast; the church faced 36th). Also, I am pretty sure that some of the ornate works inside the church (altar, etc.) along with those from a neighboring parish to the north, St. Anne, were shipped to somewhere in Arizona and now reside in a newer parish out there.

    St. Thomas Aquinas church and school has a semi-active alumni group, and the obligatory Facebook page:

    Is the book still for sale?

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