Milwaukee’s Basilica of Saint Josaphat

The Basilica of St. Josaphat's copper dome is one of the largest in the world (Lori Erickson photo)

Milwaukee is home to a beautiful basilica that honors a saint you’ve probably never heard of—St. Josaphat.  (Josaphat is not to be confused with the much more popular Jehosaphat, an ancient king mentioned in the Bible who has lent his name to the phrase Jumping Jehosaphat, for no discernable reason.)

St. Josaphat, in contrast, was a 16th-century martyr who was born in 1580 in what was then part of Poland.  He was a priest in the Eastern Rite Church, which at the time was separated from Rome.  His efforts to reunite the two branches resulted in his martyrdom in 1623. While Josaphat  isn’t as well-known as many other saints, he is particularly well-loved by Polish Catholics. That’s why the Polish-American community in Milwaukee dedicated their church to him in 1901.

Modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the church has one of the largest copper domes in the world and was built using salvaged materials from the demolished Chicago Federal Building.  In 1929 Pope Pius XI designated it as a basilica, an honor given to select churches because of their extraordinary artistic beauty and historical significance.

photo by the Basilica of Saint Josaphat
When I visited St. Josaphat’s, I was struck once again by the power of architecture to lift the spirit.  The church’s interior is luminous with gilded beauty.

You’ll find the Basilica of Saint Josaphat in the Historic South Side neighborhood of Milwaukee at 2333 South Sixth Street. The Franciscan parish welcomes visitors for tours of the Basilica after the 10:00 a.m. Sunday Mass.

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