I don’t want to upset any of you with this, but I am going to inflict a word on you poor ignorant readers which many consider to be tooo haaard for Mary and Joe Catholic.

Yes, I mean the dread


Some of you will recall that, during the debates on the new, corrected translation of the Roman Missal, some feet-draggers and naysayers claimed that you numbskulls out there in the pews would, when hearing words such as “ineffable”, curl up into shivering balls and suck your thumbs in confusion.

From the Journal Sentinel of Milwaukee.

Sisters’ chapel remains an exquisite tribute to the divine

What is holy is perhaps, by its very nature, ineffable.

Still, we try.

We compose music. Create paintings. Carve statues. Write poems.

We build sacred places and fill them with sacred things, trying to make firm what many believe is impossible to touch. The effort is very human, sure to fall short, and the best attempts are therefore all the more exquisite.

Milwaukee is dotted with such places. Some are right there, out in the open – Calatrava’s brise soleil, for instance.

Others are all but hidden. Among the all but hidden, none is more extraordinary than the School Sisters of St. Francis’ 95-year-old St. Joseph Chapel.

Given its dimensions – a cruciform 200 feet long, 90 feet wide, with a dome that reaches 70 feet above the sanctuary floor – its very location is unlikely.

Come through the St. Joseph Center’s nondescript entry in the 1500 block of S. Layton Blvd., sign in at the front desk and follow directions to the second floor. Look for the room with a cathedral in it.

On a recent afternoon, Sister Barbaralie Stiefermann, a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis community and one of the chapel’s docents, sat in a pew not far from where her father sat on June 13, 1950, and wept as he watched her become a sister.

To be a docent for the chapel appears to be an irregular job. The chapel is open to anyone, but few visit other than prayerful sisters and the occasional awed architect, historian or art student.

“People have been going by here for decades and don’t even know we exist,” Sister Barbaralie says.

“It’s a shame.”


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I have been to Milwaukee many times in my life and I never knew this wonderful place existed. Thank you.

  2. Johnno says:

    The funny thing about that word is that the very idea that people have difficulty knowing what the word precisely means is the very definition of the word itself!

  3. Lepidus says:

    On the other hand, Milwaukee also has a remodeled cathedral…which is about about the 180 degrees from what is discussed here – complete with a picture of our former, disgraced archbishop.

  4. APX says:

    Before I even read any of the article, and simply saw the picture of that church I thought to myself, “How ineffably beautiful.” Maybe some of the baby-boomers have difficulty with such words, but this 26 year old doesn’t.

    I wish we still had churches like that here. The only one I know of is a small stone church built on a Hungarian Settlement in southern Saskatchewan. The SSPX made a pilgrimage out to it 10 years ago. I think the only thing protecting it from the wreckovators is that it’s been declared a National Historic Site along with it’s 100+ year old rectory and the Canadian National Historic Society isn’t into the Spirit of Vatican II.

  5. nykash says:

    Very cool; I’m lucky to be a parishioner at a cluster of old churches in Detroit. Replicating such beauty these days would be quite an undertaking.

    @APX, I was poking around the St. Joseph Chapel site when I noticed this: “After the Second Vatican Council, the chapel’s altar rail was removed and used to form the base of the new altar” Noooooooooo!

  6. Hahaha, I thought the same thing when I read that Father! Ineffable in a secular publication? What’s this world coming to!

  7. TZ says:

    Ineffably gorgeous! But when I took the photo gallery tour, one glaring fact stood out: the dwindling community of the School Sisters of St. Francis have lost their habits and, I’m sorry to say, likely their order as well.

  8. thefeds says:

    Lepidus, I am almost ashamed to point this out, but the Cathedral in Milwaukee not only has a medallion painting of Rembert, along with all of the other Archbishops of the Diocese, he also thought it wise to include his visage on a bas relief carving on a side altar tabernacle (what a sacralidge)!

  9. acardnal says:

    It’s amazing what ineffably beautiful churches tradesmen and skilled craftsmen could build almost 100 years ago! Would have been nice to have left the altar rail when they installed the NO/OF altar.

    AB Emeritus Weakland ruined the cathedral with his “reckovation.”

  10. benedictgal says:

    I feel completely dumb. When I read about this entry on my Twitter feed, I thought that it was about the antics of the newly formed Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, a group that is, for all intents and purposes, challenging the beauty of the revised translation of the Roman Missal. Reading about the group on Pray Tell saddened me.

    The nuns in this post, on the other hand, could teach the new 600-member association a thing or two about ineffable beauty and majesty.

  11. wmeyer says:

    …isn’t it odd, how many millions of people saw Cats in many countries, over many years, and I cannot recall that the use of ineffable by T. S. Eliot in was raised as a complaint, at any time.

    And yet, it is a stumbling block in the Mass, as is a photo ID requirement for voting.

    I’m sure it all makes sense, somewhere.

  12. Clinton R. says:

    “Some of you will recall that, during the debates on the new, corrected translation of the Roman Missal, some feet-draggers and naysayers claimed that you numbskulls out there in the pews would, when hearing words such as “ineffable”, curl up into shivering balls and suck your thumbs in confusion.”

    Hilarious! I bet some are still stupefied over the word consubstantial. Great article and the beauty of St. Joseph’s brings a tear to my eye. And many tears come from my eyes over the wreakovation of so many cathedrals and churches.

  13. Sandy says:

    Pictures such as this one cause me to sigh and to wish that I could worship in a church with this type of ancient beauty. As a child on the east coast, I remember this kind of architecture, but it is not generally found out here in So Cal. I hope and pray that these beautiful places of worship have not been ruined by the wreckovations! Treasure what you have if you are one of the fortunate ones.

    (Whatever became of the architect and students at Notre Dame (?) producing examples of this kind of exquisite architecture?) Duncan Stroik maybe?

  14. Suburbanbanshee says:

    A lot of older Catholic institutions have gorgeous chapels tucked into the second or top story. There’s a wonderful (mostly unused) chapel in the nursing home at the Sisters of the Precious Blood motherhouse in Dayton, Ohio. The Catholic University of America and Loyola in Chicago have all kinds of gorgeous little chapels.

  15. David Zampino says:

    I used to work in this building, and I loved the opportunity to visit the chapel and pray. It is truly a special place.

  16. thefeds says:

    I’m sure Fr Z could tell some stories about beautiful side chapels in Seminaries around the world. Back in the day, when all of the Ordained faculty had to offer their own daily Mass, usually upstairs and set around the main Altar were a dozen or do side altars, now sittling idle and dusty, without their relics…

  17. List of words many of the most liberal Catholics might wish banned from Mass and from all Catholic conversations:

    Ineffable, Infallible, Sacred, Holy, Roman, Successor, Apostle, Authority, Patrimony, Tradition, and can anyone forget the dreaded…


    Warning! All of these words may either be toooo harrrd or else evoke disturbing images of bygone eras in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Use with caution.

  18. Lepidus says:

    I got another one for you JonathanCatholic: “Sacrifice”. I never hear that one during Mass from our American pastor. (We have an assistant from India who has no problem with that word).

  19. The Cobbler says:

    Were there any words the naysayers decried besides “ineffable” and “consubstantial”? ‘Cause if we harp only on one of their complaints it’s not fair, but if they complained against the entire translation on the grounds of hard words and could only produce a couple examples that’s just silly and deserves far more mockery than we can manage to give it in our lifetimes.

    “I’m sure it all makes sense, somewhere.”
    If I’m not mistaken, you can make an alternate universe portal device by putting an old portable videogame system in a blender. Some would see the obliteration of a videogame system as an added plus, although personally I think the old ones were more worthwhile (to the extent that such entertainment is worthwhile, anyway — admittedly it is typically childish, but I maintain there ought to be room in the world for a few childish things, providing only that they don’t crowd out the ineffable or the dutiful; anyway, this is beside the point, since the point is you can open a portal to the place where this all makes sense if you destroy one in the right manner).

  20. The Egyptian says:

    Suburbanbanshee says:
    16 July 2012 at 4:50 pm

    chapel in the nursing home at the Sisters of the Precious Blood motherhouse in Dayton, Ohio.
    Banshee, try their relic shrine and chapel out here at Maria Stein, second largest collection or relics in the USA

    The sisters almost act like it is a burden anymore, used to be their Mother House, they have gone downhill every since they left, a true gem out in the country

  21. xgenerationcatholic says:

    Do not think this is any kind of traditionally minded order, however. My knowledge – and I live here – says they are your average order, nuns on the bus types. Can’t think why they haven’t wreckovated yet?

  22. As words go, “ineffable” is one of my favorites. I always have associated it with the Blessed Mother, since the Bible tells us that she loved the Baby Jesus with “ineffable tenderness”–meaning that her love for Jesus was so unique as to be outside of the limits of our grasp–it just blows you away. It’s just too bad that some people don’t like open-ended words like “ineffable.” Maybe it’s because such a word suggests that the borders of thought are not tidy, like neat fences of rationality, where we can place everything according to human ordering–but unbounded, lost in the clouds, beyond our ability to even comprehend their limits . . .

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