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A brief history of St Patricks




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Frank Weber's roots still run deep

Nov. 5, 2005

Mike Nichols

These are still mostly small towns out here, places like Erin and Belgium where the things that matter the most are chronicled the least, age-old churches where whole families were baptized, tightly knit neighborhoods where people take care of one another's lawns and gardens and trees, tiny cemeteries that seem more apt to be well-tended and flower-bedecked than in larger places where people forget, and are forgotten.
Frank Weber lived and, just the other day, died after spending an all-too-brief and largely unheralded life in just those two communities.
Frank was born in Erin and baptized at St. Patrick's Church in 1946, the same place his parents were married, the same place his own kids received all their sacraments.
If you have lived in the Erin area for more than a couple of years, you knew Frank or know one of his eight younger siblings. Either that, or you know his wife, Judi, who was once a Grinwald before becoming a Weber 32 years ago last Thursday. She has 10 siblings of her own. Met Frank when she was just 16.
"My sister," said Judi, "knew his sister."
I talked to Frank only once, more than six years ago now, and even then only briefly. It was a conversation about one of the things that mattered to him most, his church, St. Patrick's.
"Gone are the days when the parish sign in front of Old St. Patrick's Church here announced Mass schedules and confessions, or told passers-by the name of the local priest whose door could be knocked upon in times of need," I wrote in a column back then.
St. Pat's, then 144 years old, had just been merged with St. Kilian in nearby Hartford, and Frank, a St. Pat's parish trustee, was upset the archdiocese had moved to take over the church's funds.
His name, without his acquiescence, had been removed from parish bank accounts. He was one to stay in the background, but not that time.
"The last words I had with the archbishop were they were a bunch of robbers and thieves," Frank told me, "and we left it at that."
"He never regretted it," Judi said of his stance on behalf of St. Patrick's. "He never regretted standing up for what he thought was right."
Frank and Judi moved to Belgium three or four years ago, when Frank took a job as a landscaper for some private land near Port Washington. But he remained an integral part of a group formed to preserve the Erin church, one that is to this day trying to persuade authorities to allow Latin Masses there.
The group meets regularly at the Erin Town Hall, and last summer everyone attended a celebration of St. Pat's sesquicentennial.
"He looked so great," said Maureen Fitzsimmons-Vanden Heuvel, who is part of the group. "We were so hopeful at that point."
It was not happenstance that brought Frank and Judi to Belgium, and not just the job, either.
"We just looked for a community that we thought we would like to belong to," said Judi. "What drew us to Belgium is that everybody just takes such good care of their homes, of their property."
A landscaper by trade, Frank quickly became the president of what some folks would consider the most obscure entity you can imagine: the Belgium Tree Board. Didn't get paid for it, just did it, determined which trees went where, helped beautify things.
"I think he liked the small-town feel of this village," said Sandy St. Peter, who has now succeeded Frank as board president.
Though a newcomer, he became the man who quite literally kept the community rooted.
It wasn't until just recently, said Judi, that it became clear Frank wasn't going to make it. He had lymphoma, and in just 11 recent days needed 21 units of blood, took them until he decided there were other people who could use them more.
"Everyone is given a book," said Frank, who was just short of 60 years old. "Mine happened to only have 59 pages."
And, of course, an epilogue. Thanks to people like Frank, St. Patrick's is still a part of Erin.
"It's a chapel," said Fitzsimmons-Vanden Heuvel. "It has not been sold. It has not been demolished."
"I still believe to this very day that God called us to save St. Patrick's."
And they have in a way. There still aren't regular Masses, but there are sacraments such as funerals from time to time - including, just the other day, Frank's.
"We had not talked about it being there," said Judi, "but that is where he would have wanted it."
He wasn't just part of the group that fought to preserve the church, after all, he was a member of the St. Patrick's Cemetery Committee. He was cremated, said Judi, but there will be a marker there. And flowers.
"I believe," said Judi, "that my children would like to be able to go to a spot that says their dad was here on this Earth."
Not in the ways that typically get a lot of attention, just in the ways that last.
From the Nov. 6, 2005, editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel