Historic Church Getting New Parish Center, Renovated Monastery
St. Francis of Assisi has long been community anchor on Milwaukee's north side.
A 150-year-old Catholic church at the intersection of N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. and W. Brown St. is receiving an overhaul that will add a parish center and unify friars living across Milwaukee under a single roof.
St. Francis of Assisi Parish, 327 W. Brown St., will gain a parish center as part of the 18-month project that kicked off in June. The 16,800-square-foot building will be located on the north side of the historic church on what was most recently a surface parking lot. It will have seating for up to 200, a warming kitchen, office space and an outdoor community terrace.
The parish center, for which foundation work is currently underway, will have its walls made of Cream City bricks reclaimed from the recently demolished St. Francis Convent Chapel of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. The chapel, demolished in 2019, was located just outside of Milwaukee proper in suburban St. Francis.
The interior of the church will also be renovated, with a new accessible entrance added on the north side. The church website says the congregation is predominantly made up of members identifying as Puerto Rican or African American but is welcoming to all. The community-focused congregation led the formation of the House of Peace through Capuchin Community Services following civil unrest in 1967. House of Peace provides a range of supportive services to those experiencing homelessness or dealing with challenges of poverty.
The friars that help provide those support services will receive a new home as part of the project. A monastery on the south side of the historic church is being renovated to house up to 24 Capuchin friars who currently live in friaries across Milwaukee. The historic building, clad in Cream City brick with an interior courtyard, will have eleven fully-accessible bedrooms, eight additional and nine restored guest rooms. A new accessible entrance will be constructed on the western side and rooms throughout the complex, including a dining room and library, will be restored.
Easily identified by their simple brown robes, the friars are members of the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph based out of Detroit. Established in Mount Calvary Wisconsin in 1857, the Capuchins model themselves after St. Francis of Assisi. The friars, all of whom are male, vow to live and work with those in need. “We preach, teach, cook, and counsel. We minister in hospitals, schools, soup kitchens, parishes, and in the mission fields. We are pastors, artists, missionaries, farmers, mechanics, and writers,” says the province’s website.
The new parish center and monastery renovation are just the latest changes for the campus. The church is a partner in the Milwaukee TechForce Training Center that operates in a redeveloped building across N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. from the historic church complex. The building is also home to the Adult Learning Center. The center is home to Employ Milwaukee’s TechHire IT training program, which started in 2017.
A number of other projects are planned for the area or have been recently completed. Just to the north, the $85 million ThriveOn Collaboration development is scheduled to get underway in a former department store before the church work is completed. Another block north of that is the redeveloped 4th Street School (now Garfield Apartments) and The Griot apartments, which houses America’s Black Holocaust Museum. To the east is N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.
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