For 30 years, the annual Outdoor Mass at Pennoyer Park was held under dry skies and Jim Riese, coordinator of the event, is praying for the record to continue Sunday despite a damp forecast.
“We are hoping it won’t rain, but if it does, our alternate location is Holy Rosary Parish,” he said. “The priests at the parish volunteered to cancel their 10 a.m. Mass and encouraged parishioners to go over there. This way, if it does rain, we have a location to accommodate everyone.”
Celebrating the 31st annual Mass for Vocations will be Auxiliary Bishop James Schuerman of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The Mass will take place at the Sesquicentennial Band Shell at Pennoyer Park and includes music by the citywide choir. A Rosary led by the Knights of Columbus Council 973 begins at 9 a.m. The CYO band, conducted by JR Buzzell, will begin at 9:30 and conclude in time for the 10 a.m. Mass.
“This Outdoor Mass started in 1989 when the CYO was celebrating their 50th anniversary. Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Lasky and Bill Loewen were instrumental in coordinating the first Outdoor Mass,” Riese explained. “It was so successful that Bernie asked her husband Bill, who was in the Kenosha Serra Club, if the organization would take it over and make it an annual event. The Mass was and still is held at the Pennoyer Park band shell. For many years, the Mass was celebrated by the local priests of Kenosha and over the past few years, we were able to have several archbishops and bishops as celebrants. Once again, we are happy to have Bishop Schuerman celebrating the Mass. It is always held on the same day as Kenosha’s Civic Veterans Day Parade.”
The Kenosha Serra Club sponsored the Mass for over 25 years as the club’s focus was to promote and foster vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life. After the Serra Club closed, the Knights of Columbus assumed the role of sponsoring and coordinating the event for the past six years.
“I remember so well when we closed down the Serra club due to lack of membership, Bernie looked at me and said, ‘Jim, I know you joined the Knights, we can’t let this die, please take it over.’ I was shaking and said, ‘OK’ and have managed to pull it off for the past six years. She was so instrumental in getting this going and keeping it going and passed the baton on to me. It is a lot of work and takes a lot of time, but it is quite an event, so I keep going.”
Planning for the Mass begins a year in advance to secure the main celebrant, explained Riese. By January, they reserve the band shell from the city Parks Department as well as other details, such as developing programs, securing the sound system and inviting area priests and deacons to attend.
In addition to Schuerman, several area priests will concelebrate the Mass and Deacon Terry Maack, from St. Peter Parish will read the Gospel. The two Knights of Columbus readers are Joel Kmiec and Len Hartnell. The fourth-degree Knights will act as honor guards. The Catholic Women’s Club will be represented and will help to distribute programs. Aiello Midtown Florist has always donated a large flower arrangement for the altar.
The popular Mass usually draws around 1,000 to pray for vocations to religious life, explained Riese. He added that prayer is needed to foster vocations during the priest shortage.
“The numbers are small again at St. Francis Seminary,” he said. “Hopefully things will improve if we keep plugging away. The community seems to enjoy gathering for that Mass. Normally, all of the comments are good and positive, aside from a few negative ones if it gets too hot or there isn’t enough shade.”
Each parish in the city is represented by a flag with their name on it. The flags are displayed long each side of the bandshell and during the Mass, it takes about a dozen volunteers, in addition to the celebrants, choir and CYO band to make the event happen.
In addition to praying for vocations, the Knights of Columbus organization financially supports young men and women entering religious vocations. Riese explained that to see an increase in vocations, they need to be fostered by families, mentors of young adults and church communities.
“It is really a beautiful setting to attend the Mass outside on the shores of Lake Michigan with the sun glistening on the water while hearing the gospel proclaimed,” he said.
“I feel that it is important to bring Catholics throughout the city together to share in the Eucharist and pray for vocations.”