Glimpses: The history of St. Francis Borgia – U.S. priest shortage affects Cedarburg

As St. Francis Borgia Parish approaches its 175th anniversary (1844-2019), we will share some short articles about our congregation’s growth through the 1800s into the present. Thanks to Marty Moore for his diligent research for these articles.

In the mid-1990s, concerns about a priest shortage were rising. Statistics told the story.

In 1970, there were 59,000 priests were serving U.S. parishes. By 1995, there were 10,000 fewer priests. In 1970, there were about 800 annual ordinations of priests in the U.S. This dropped to about 500 in 1995, compounded by a 50% drop in graduate seminarians in waiting.

The future outlook for adequate priests looked bleak, and was reflected in the growing number of parishes without resident priests – during a period when the Catholic population increased by 40%. In 1970, only 600 U.S. parishes were without a resident priest. By 1995, the number was more than 2,000 parishes.

The priest shortage was real and the trends were felt in the Milwaukee Archdiocese, with repercussions eventually filtering down to the Cedarburg parishes.

Cedarburg had been growing during this time – about 40% during the 1970-95 period – and Catholics were part of that trend.

When Fr. Leo Zingzheim departed the stone church in 1970 and formed daughter parish Divine Word, 250 families moved with him and 600 families remained at St. Francis Borgia. In 1975 when Fr. Ed Wawrzyniakowski arrived as pastor of St. Francis Borgia, membership had already risen to 800 families and by 1995 the count was about 1,300 families. With a church that seated about 350, many Masses were needed each weekend to accommodate parishioners, and additional priests helped out.

Membership was increasing at Divine Word Parish also, to more than 700 families by 1995. With its larger church, just three Masses were needed and help-out priests weren’t required.

Both parishes were financially viable. But knowing that more priests were retiring than new priests being ordained, the Archdiocese advised in 1997 that by June 2002 there would be only one priest to serve the Cedarburg parishes.