Madison, WI: Society of Jesus Christ the Priest

I have in the past written about a group of priests in Wisconsin, in the Diocese of Madison, called the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest.   His Excellency Most. Rev. Robert Morlino has entrusted several parishes to these priests around the area of Sauk City.  Some background:

I am staying with them over the weekend at their rectory in Sauk City.  This seems to be a healthy group of hard working men.  The people here are lucky to have them.

My reason for the trip to Madison was to support a Gregorian chant workshop sponsored by the Diocese.  How many times have you seen Gregorian chant workshops sponsored by a diocese?

Another reason I went is because an old friend, and colleague of a mentor the late Msgr. Schuler directed the workshop.

Here is Fr. Skeris in action.


The man who made this happen is Bp. Robert Morlino, who has been a stand up guy in defense of life and of good liturgy.


Note the Benedictine arrangement of the altar at the Diocese Center/Chancery.


To my mind, an iconic image in the lobby of the chancery says something about what Bishop Morlino is facing.

Perhaps you had heard that a few years ago the Cathedral of Madison burned down.  Bp. Morlino told me that no one would let him into the wreckage to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament.  The Bishop found some Catholic firefighters who rescued the Lord from the ruins.  It was enshrined in painting.


Here is a detail.   One carries the ciborium, another the lunette.


Here is one of the photos of the moment which the bishop sent.  It is a slightly different angle, but the firefighter in the center has the lunette.


It seems to me that the image of lay people, indeed a type of warrior/guardian helping the main priest in an effort to rescue the Blessed Sacrament, the source and summit of our Catholic identity, from a burning ruin is a way of understanding what Bp. Morlino is facing in his mandate as Bishop of Madison, arguably one of the most liberal regions in the USA.

I got a sense of the spirit of the community of priests who have the HQ in Sauk City, about 30 minutes away from Madison.  These are happy and hard working guys with a whole cluster of churches to mind.  Also, they are taking care of each other as well.  One of their group has been suffering terribly from leukemia and everyone is on deck.  They are prayerful, charitable, with great humor, theologically and liturgically sound.

Also, they have great taste in coffee mugs!


This happy pyramid was stacked up for the sake of the evening’s supper.  Fr. Skeris from the workshop was to come along with the Bishop and the Vicar General Msgr. Bartylla.

The main feature of the supper was paella.  One of the priests did most of the cooking in their communities mother house in Spain.  I was glad to roll up my sleeves and help with some of the prep.

Here is Fr. Del Priore adding some wine to the paella.  Note that they don’t have a stove in their main kitchen!


Ingredients from Spain, even from their own olive trees!




On Sunday morning it was off to nearby Roxbury for me, and Mass (Extraordinary Form) at St. Norbert’s.   This is a beautiful church, although there were some unfortunate wreckovations of the sanctuary.  I understand that everything removed was saved!


Can you believe the previous pastor would have set up an iron-board altar in front of this?

Here is a perfect example of why, even if you advocate Mass “facing the people” setting something up in front of an altar like this is a bad idea.



St. Norbert’s is a pretty as a postcard setting and church.  This was founded in a very German Catholic area.

The people I met there was happy and delighted to have the priests of the Society.


Across the street from the parish is a German restaurant!  With a Bavarian flag flying!


And so it was time to leave… which I did with regret.

I hope to be able to visit them all again and I congratulate Bp. Morlino for the successful workshop and the choice to have these priests in the diocese in support of his heavy mandate in a difficult diocese.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. wanda says:

    What a great group of priests. God bless them. I hope someone will set up a ‘Let’s get these good and faithful servants a stove to cook on’ fund! That rig looks dangerous, especially indoors!

  2. laurazim says:

    Oh, Fr. Z! What a lovely entry–so near and dear, as I was born and raised in Sauk City. I mentioned to you on FB that my father built the organ at St. Norbert, and when he did so, the sanctuary looked nothing like what it does now. Honestly, it’s been so long ago that I would have to resort to pictures to remember any detail though.

    I am so pleased that you were blessed to stay with the good priests at St. Aloysius. They are indeed fine men, wonderful priests, and I have no doubt at all that many souls have already been brought to Christ because of their willingness to continuously teach the Truth–and many more, I’m sure, will follow. Yes, please DO come see us again. We’ll be very happy to see you anytime!

  3. Eoin Suibhne says:

    Dear Father:

    The three links at the beginning of this entry are not working (at least for me).

  4. The-Monk says:

    I am truly envious. A natural gas stove? Tremendous!

  5. tianzhujiao says:

    The paella looks good!!!!

  6. FranzJosf says:

    I especially love the last photo. Having grown up in northwestern Ohio with so many German immigrants, it reminds me of my childhood: looking across the fields to a church tower. In that part of the world every little burg has a big, glorious church. (For instance, visit Delphos, Ohio (pop. maybe 5,000), and go pray in huge St. John’s, with its K-12 parish school still going strong–they probably still have a basketball team that can give schools twice their size a run for their money.)

  7. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    That story/painting with the firefighters is incredible.

    And that paella looks delicious.

  8. amykunz says:

    Yes, we truly are blessed to have these wonderful priests in our area. I’m so happy you were able to come here this past weekend and join us. Thank you Father! Come back again anytime!

  9. Fr Matthew says:

    A real Spanish paella is a marvel. I lived in Spain for a year and have been in religious communities with Spaniards for many years, and paella is one of their specialties and a justified source of pride.
    It looks like it’s been a great trip – paella, good liturgy, good Gregorian chant, good mugs, and good company. What more could you ask for?
    Did they serve Mystic Monk coffee?

  10. TJerome says:

    God bless those firefighters for saving the Blessed Sacrament. That was an extremely moving photo. God bless Bishop Morlino and the priests of the Society of Jesus Christ the Priest for their herculean efforts on behalf of the Catholic faith in the midst of liberalville.

  11. Del says:

    Many times, I have stood in front of that awesome painting, admiring and reflecting. But I never knew that the fire-fighter scene was from an actual photo. Thanks, Fr. Z!

    I wasn’t able to attend the chant seminar, but several of my friends did. In case you didn’t know, “Fr. Z is hilarious!”

  12. Charivari Rob says:

    The paella looks good.

    The paella pan looks like an interesting gadget, but, umm….

    Is that rated for indoor use? How well-ventilated is that kitchen? One wouldn’t roll a gas grill from a deck and into a kitchen and cook indoors with it – why is this different?

  13. Fr_Sotelo says:

    I’m not sure how safe that stove is inside the kitchen, but that is very typical for preparing an authentic paella–low flame, very close the the pan and giving heat throughout.

    Fr. Z, I am so jealous of you. Forget the Bavarian restaurant–a well-cooked paella is what is served as you are ushered into the Beatific Vision LOL. Yum, yum. The saffron, herbs and seasonings, mixed seafood, Spanish chorizo, hmmm. And if they had served you an authenticate Sangria, I would almost pass out. Actually, you would pass out because the brandy in a good Sangria doesn’t let get up and move about easily. Arriba Espana!

  14. msproule says:


    Just a short drive north to the town of Briggsville will bring you to a beautiful little shrine dedicated to Saint Philomena.
    Her first-class relic can be found in the adjacent church.

  15. Probably most Spanish kitchens have tile floors made of real tile — very similar to cooking on an outdoor patio!

  16. Can someone please explain to me why anyone would choose to employ “the Benedictine arrangement” in a place that can easily accommodate true ad orientem worship? Presumably those priests who employ this arrangement (like Bishop Morlino) have a solid understanding of the significance of celebrating Holy Mass ad orientem and what is lost when we jettison the practice…

    It troubles me to no end to see half-steps like this taken in places where the architecture doesn’t require it. Why is it done? What upside does it promise that outweighs the fact that it plays right into the hands of liturgical progressives who attach undue significance to having the priest face the people throughout the entirety of the Mass; i.e. it only serves to lend credence to the false notion that the priest must be seen and heard at all times lest the faithful lose their ability to “participate.”

    Seriously… if there are good reasons, I’d like to hear them so I can consider them. (BTW – I don’t consider avoiding the possibility of upsetting the masses during our Masses to be one of them. Bishop Slattery has demonstrated that this is not an insurmountable challenge and one worth engaging.)

  17. irishgirl says:

    Wow, Father Z-that painting is something! As well as the story behind it! God bless the firemen who rescued the Blessed Sacrament!

    Glad to know that you had a nice stay with the Spanish priests. I’m not much into Spanish food, but the paella looks pretty good! I hope that the good Fathers will get a stove-seeing that cooking device in lieu of a stove looks a little dicey!

    And that’s pretty cool to find a Bavarian restaurant out in the middle of Michigan!

  18. MaryMaria says:

    God Bless these good and faithful servants of our Lord!!! Fr. Alex is in my prayers daily!!!

  19. ah, the good life in the Upper Midwest: traditional Liturgy, good food, and the farmland (with the Church in background!). Thank you, Father Z…

  20. William says:

    Father Z, thank you so much for those images of the firefighters rescuing the Most Blessed Sacrament. Beautiful and deeply touching! The lovely little stone church that I attend replaced an older, wooden one that burned down some 100 years ago; the priest at the time died from the effects of having entered the burning church to rescue the Blessed Sacrament. He’s buried in the grave yard next to the church and his ghost is said the haunt the place. I sometimes hear him singing along when I play the organ–he’s partial to the older, Latin hymns!!

  21. MJ says:

    Mmm, paella!! My aunt and I visited Barcelona, Spain last year, and around the corner from our hotel was a small family-owned restaurant that served paella — mmm it was delicious!

    Great photos Father Z! I’m glad the workshop was a success!!

  22. laurazim says:

    Uh, Irishgirl, perhaps a small detail, but it’s *Wisconsin*. :)

    For all those concerned–I’m guessing that with the hood fan directly above the gas burner, there’s pretty good ventilation. The priests have been there for several years now, and though I don’t know how long ago they chose to discard the traditional American range, be assured that there are at least two others available within the same building, should they choose (or need) to use them.

  23. Drefcinski says:

    Fr. Z,
    You are right to emphasize the virtues of these priests. I am very blessed to have them in my parish. However, they need our prayers, as do the parishioners in Platteville who are angry over the changes they have made (e.g., no more girl altar servers, no more extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, etc.). Contributions to my parish have dropped by 60% since they arrived, and many parishioners have left to attend masses at nearby parishes (despite the fact that the previous pastor, before he left for his new assignment, begged us to remain faithful to our parish). Pray for the upset parishioners so that they come to understand what these good priests are trying to do, and pray for the priests so that God gives them the wisdom they need to shepherd their people effectively.

  24. irishgirl says:

    laurazim (and anyone else from ‘Wisconsin’ who may have noticed): sorry about my geographical error.

    I thought Madison was in Michigan, not Wisconsin.

    A slap alongside the head with a brick of good Wisconsin cheese for me! Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa! : )

  25. Gail F says:

    The photo of the firefighters is wonderful. Fr. Z., I spent some fun moments trying to imagine what an “iron board altar” might be, but I think you must be referring to what we in these parts call and “ironing board.”

    About girl servers — my daughter was an altar server for a year (so sue me). At that time, the servers were about half boys and half girls, lately there seem to be more girls. Anyway, that was just the way we did it in this parish and at the time I didn’t know why it should be otherwise. One of the other mothers told me she was so glad her daughter could be a server — because she had not been allowed to be one, and it had made her so angry that even when she was told as an adult she could serve at some mass, she refused. If she wasn’t good enough then, she wasn’t good enough now. I thought this was crazy, to say the least, but I could tell she was still mad about it. I am sharing the story because many people underestimate what those really “in the trenches” have to deal with all the time. Sure it is easy to say “Who cares what that woman said” (those thinking of saying so, please refrain as I’ve already said it for you), but pastors have to care for all souls in their parishes, not just the ones who think and feel one way.

    BTW, I now think altar boys should be boys. And no, I do not lose any sleep over my supposed oppression.

  26. Henry Edwards says:

    irishgirl: I thought Madison was in Michigan, not Wisconsin.

    I must admit that, before I moved from Tennessee to Madison, I saw little difference between Michigan and Wisconsin. From Wisconsin I went to Princeton, where I recall a junior visitor was asked by a senior faculty wife from Harvard where he was from. “Iowa,” he said.

    “Where?”, she said. “From IOWA,” he replied.

    “Oh, my dear, in Boston we pronounced it OHIO.”

  27. JulieHoward says:

    We are extremely blessed to have these priests in our diocese. They are a joy to be around, humble, holy, humorous….. the list goes on for several pages that expresses the goodness of these beautiful priests. We were also blessed to have you, Fr. Z , at the chant workshop and at our TLM at St. Norbert’s. I must say you have the absolute best diction for reading Sacred Scripture. It was read as if each word actually meant something! (imagine that!) Your homily was splendid as well. For those who would like to listen to it, here is the You Tube link:

  28. catholicxjw says:

    I live in Sheboygan, WI and teach at a small liberal arts college there. A few years ago I was teaching a Bioethics course and asked if my small class of honors students could visit Bishop Morlino and have him give us the Catholic perspective on stem cell research and end of life issues, etc. He was most gracious and spent an hour with us. He created quite the stir among the students as he pulled no punches and was VERY clear on what the Church teaches. We had some interesting conversations on our ride back to Sheboygan.

  29. villeford says:

    That photo of the firefighters in the cathedral won first place in photos from the Catholic Press Association; it was taken for us by a wonderful woman from the MFD. All of the photos from that day are incredibly moving.

    Even more amazing, though, was walking through the cathedral’s burnt-out ruin several months before it was taken down, and then watching as it was slowly dismantled. I was fortunate enough to have been one of the few to have seen the whole process. And now it’s just a spot of flat grass in the middle of a sea of tall buildings and parking structures.

    The thing is, though, it takes very little for something to be destroyed. There’s usually something that spurs it, and then it gets whittled away by its surrounds until at some point it’s almost completely gone. But then you begin again. You lay the groundwork and you build the foundation and, eventually, you raise up a church even more beautiful than before. The bishop’s still got a lot of work ahead of him, but I think we’re on our way to recovery.

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