Early in the summer of 1956, a man planted a “mustard seed” in untilled land near the corner of Calhoun and Gebhardt Rd. The “mustard seed” was symbolic and the man was Father Paul F. Lipscomb who had just been appointed by Archbishop Albert G. Meyer to be the first pastor of St. John Vianney Parish.
Father Lipscomb’s “mustard seed” was actually a Sacred Heart Badge. He chose it as a symbol of his faith in the love of Jesus for God’s people and as a sign that those people were choosing to become living witnesses to the Gospel message:
The very next Sunday, people gathered across the road at what was then known as Brookfield High School to celebrate the first weekend Mass at the new parish. Weekday Masses were celebrated at a plywood altar in the basement chapel of a recently constructed house on the southwest corner of the Gebhardt / Calhoun intersection. The home served as the parish rectory. The chapel was built by several parishioners and would serve for the first one and one half years for daily mass, devotions, and confessions.
Within a month, an all parish meeting convened at the High School to discern plans for the future of St. John Vianney Parish. Charter parishioners encouraged the immediate establishment of a parish school. Father Lipscomb stood fast on the need for an above-ground church. As a result, the parish launched its first fundraiser in the fall of 1956 and raised over $100,000 in pledges to purchase additional land and initiate substantial building projects.
Meanwhile, parish women and men organized into the Altar and Christian Mothers’ Sodality, the Holy Name Society, the Ushers Society, Saint Vincent De Paul Society, and the Newman Club for students attending public high schools. While the older elementary age children still attended Saint Mary’s Parish School in Elm Grove, first and second graders held classes in Judge’s Log Cabin, a hall and bar on the corner of Calhoun and North Avenue. Every Friday desks were moved to the far end of the hall and hidden from the view of Log Cabin patrons. Sunday evening, the move was reversed.
By September, 1957, 192 students enrolled in the new Saint John Vianney school taught by the Notre Dame School Sisters and a handful of lay teachers. On Christmas Eve of that same year, a midnight Mass was celebrated in the new church. Less than four years later, a full complex of church, school, rectory, and convent were operating as Saint John Vianney Parish, under the motto of “All for the Honor and Glory of God and the Salvation of Souls.”
It is tempting, when compiling a brief history, to chronicle the parish story through its buildings, programs, and pastoral leadership. Records of financial achievements abound. But the real story of Saint John Vianney Parish comes alive when you read between the lines of those records. It is the story of God’s people, living, working, and worshipping together.
Father Lipscomb shepherded those people through the sixties while astronauts walked on the moon, civil rights leaders led marches and demonstrations, parish sons were drafted to serve, and die, in Vietnam, and Church leaders gathered in Rome for the Second Vatican Council. Parish membership soared and an “overflow Mass” was established on Sunday mornings.
By the mid-1960s, the Second Vatican Council had inaugurated changes in how God’s people would celebrate liturgy and, in the words of Archbishop Cousins, “placed squarely in focus the importance and the scope of the lay apostolate.” On May 17, 1965, the altar was turned to face the congregation and parishioners began accepting calls to serve our parish in new ways: as lectors, Eucharistic ministers, and members of a new parish council which held its first formal meeting on September 25, 1967.
* History compiled by charter member. Carolyn Ohme (parish member 1956-2007). Additional historical materials, photos, and documents are located in the parish library.