Trinity counts its many blessings

Wauwatosa church celebrates milestone, 125 years of faith

July 17, 2012

What was once surrounded by green fields now sits in the middle of residential homes and bustling streets.

Trinity Episcopal Church, celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, is a landmark in Wauwatosa whose growth mirrors that of the city, which was once a farming and mill community and has transformed into a populated suburb over the years.

Growth wasn't always steady, and the church's future wasn't always certain.

Through the smarts of its longest tenured rector, George White, and the post World War II baby boom, the church began to thrive in the early 1950s. It has remained stable ever since.

In the beginning, to today

The church's official charter date was April 4, 1887, and much has happened since that start.

In the late 1800s, the Episcopal faith in Wauwatosa had a large enough following to form a parish. The Warren family donated a plot of land from their farm so the parish could build a church to call home. The original church was built in 1889 and 1890.

The parish struggled in its first 50 years. Pastors would come and go and the church had to borrow money or sell pieces of its property to stay open, though it remained in the same spot where it began.

Like the rest of the country, Trinity was hit hard by the Great Depression in the 1920s and the congregation struggled to keep its doors open.

If you ask Mike Hagon, president of the Parish Foundation, how the church managed to survive and later thrive, his answer is simple: "Perseverance."

When George White became rector in 1930 in the depths of the Great Depression, one act ensured the church never faced the same hardships it did in the beginning. In 1932, Hagon said White created the endowment fund.

"When everyone was really down economically he had the foresight at that time to begin an endowment fund, which would help to keep the parish on a firm financial footing going into the future," Hagon said, noting that the fund still exists today and continues to help maintain the parish budget.

After World War II, as Wauwatosa began to grow and more and more families moved to the area, Trinity also grew. White, who remained rector for 37 years, decided a larger building for worship was necessary.

"As Wauwatosa grew, parishes grew and Trinity was a beneficiary of that growth," Hagon said. "(George White) was very influential."

In 1950, a new church was built, though pieces of the original church still remain, including stained glass windows and a Baptismal Font, the oldest piece.

The church's finances and membership have stayed steady ever since.

A congregational community

The Wauwatosa parish has about 500 members from all over southeastern Wisconsin, both young and old. The average age nationally for Episcopal congregation members is 57 years old. Trinity Pastor Gary Manning said the Wauwatosa church's average age is 45.

Jill Paradowski, a junior warden who has been a part of the parish since 1957, said what makes Trinity unique is its welcome feel.

"We want people to know we're glad they are there, but we are also respectful that they might just be visiting and seeing if the church fits," she said.

For 14-year congregation member Bill Robison, it is the history and roots that he loves about Trinity Episcopal Church.

"It's whole way of being and its willingness to live in everything and not always being cut and dry," he said. "There's a space for people to have differing nuances in their belief and still all be at the table."

To celebrate its anniversary, Trinity will hold a service during the first weekend of November commemorating all of the people who have been a part of the church's long history. The bishop will also hold a visitation at Trinity that weekend.

Ministering everywhere

Through its history, Trinity church has been instrumental in founding several ministries that benefit both the local community, the Greater Milwaukee area and abroad.

"The church has a real can-do attitude," Manning said. "People aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves for a project and get things done. It's helped the church not only survive, but thrive."

As part of a new ministry, Trinity has partnered with St. James Episcopal Church, 833 W. Wisconsin Ave., in Milwaukee. In the Red Door Clothing Ministry, those in need can come to St. James on the first and third Saturday of every month, when members of both parishes will give out free clothes and a new set of underwear.

"It's very rewarding and we get support from a bunch of people dropping off their clothes," Paradowski said.

Trinity's ministry has also reached abroad. During the Protestant and Catholic conflicts in Ireland in the 1970s, Hagon said Trinity participated in the Ulster Project, an organization that brings both Catholic and Protestant teenagers from Ireland to the United States to live with American families for six weeks.

"It's specifically to bring Irish kids to the U.S. so they could get away from that conflict and learn to live together," Hagon said. "Trinity was a part of the formation of that."

Trinity also supports Our Next Generation, a program that helps children in the inner city. Our Next Generation provides a safe place for children to gather, as well as tutors to help them with school work.

For information on the church or its additional ministry projects, visit


WHAT: Trinity Episcopal Church services

WHEN: 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Sundays; 9 a.m. Wednesdays

WHERE: 1717 Church St.



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