Church and Family


When I was in grade school, my maternal grandmother lived in an apartment building across the street from Victor Elementary School where I attended classes. After school, I would walk over to her apartment and do a little bit of helping out, play gin rummy, and learn Christmas carols in German until my mother or father was released from work and came to pick me up and take me home.

At Grandma’s, I had a small collection of toys to keep me occupied, as well as a collection of German magazines that my Grandmother’s friend, Giesela, had given her. While Grandma would sit in her chair crocheting a pair of slippers or a hat and scarf set, perhaps a baby blanket or an afghan, I would sit on the floor clipping pictures from the magazines to make collages. While we were engaged in our own creative endeavors, Grandma would be teaching me those German Christmas carols, or the Lord’s Prayer, or tell me stories about growing up at the turn of the century.

Hildegard Wehlitz, née Jenny, my grandmother, was the daughter of Johannes (or John) Jenny the second pastor of Saint Jacobi Lutheran Church in Milwaukee Wisconsin. Grandma was born in 1895 and lived with her parents, brothers and sisters in the parsonage built in 1894 at 1321 West Mitchell Street. In 1906 Saint Jacobi built a new Gothic style church building next to the parsonage on the corner of South 13th and West Mitchell Street.

As a little girl, Grandma had a playroom just off of the new church building in which she had a collection of magazines that she enjoyed looking through, cutting up and making collages. Just before the church was finished, the ceiling of the nave was being painted with a mural. The mural depicted a landscape with rainbows pouring down and angels holding a placard with “Vater unser der Du bist im Himmel” printed on it. Above these angels, at the very topmost point of the nave, was a dove with rays of glory shining down on the angels and the entire landscape below.

Saint Jacobi

However, the artist painting the mural could not find a model for the dove. Somehow his search led him to my grandmother’s playroom where he found her with her magazines. One of those magazines has a picture of a dove in it. My Grandma cut the picture from the magazine and gave it to the painter who modeled the dove in the church on the one from the magazine.

In the late 70’s, as I sat on Grandma’s floor cutting pictures out of magazines and listening to her story, I was about the same age she was when she gave her magazine to the painter.

The death of my grandfather, the onset of severe arthritis, and the trials of advanced age precipitated Grandma’s move into an apartment in Torrance, California, far from her two-storey house in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. My father died a couple of years ago, and my mother (who now suffers from severe arthritis) has moved into an apartment attached to my sister’ and brother-in-law’s house where her great grandson visits almost daily, as I visited my grandmother.

As my mother was preparing to move out of her house and into her new apartment, she had me come out to go through some of my things that I’d been storing at her house.  While I was at it, I was to go through family things, too, and decide what should be sold, what should be given to children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren, and what should just be discarded. In this process, many boxes of photographs and papers from the Jenny line of the family were uncovered, including pictures and papers from Saint Jacobi, articles written by my great grandfather (Pastor Jenny), as well as letters that my grandfather wrote to my great aunt Adele–but more of that another time. The pertinent bits here are the pictures.

The pictures are of the old Saint Jacobi, torn down in 1977 to make way for a strip mall and a McDonald’s franchise. The windows and other fixtures were sold. My cousin has one of the less elaborate windows. While looking for information regarding Saint Jacobi, and possibly a picture of Grandma’s dove I discovered that the altar and pulpit along with the pews were sold to Saint Marcus Lutheran Church; their site has a virtual tour that shows all of the remaining bits of Saint Jacobi in their “new” home. I’ve been told that the painting of the dove was somehow saved, but I’ve not been able to find any more information about it, not even a picture. None of the family pictures of Saint Jacobi show the dove that my grandmother told me so lovingly about.

Saint Jacobi NaveThe picture below is of the confirmation class of 1908. In the picture are my great grandfather in the center and his daughter, my grandmother, Hildegard Wehlitz: she’s the second girl from the left in the front row of girls next to the pulpit. Saint Jacobi Lutheran Church Confirmation Class 1908In 1981,after many weeks of asking to go home for Christmas from the nursing home in which she was living after a series of strokes, Grandma was born into her heavenly home on Christmas Day. Her Earthly birth took place on January 21, 1895.


8 thoughts on “Church and Family

  1. Pingback: Music in Lent? | Uncle Frog

  2. Dear Friend,
    I can’t tell you how elated I was to find your story and the photos you posted–I found them by doing a google search, which I do frequently. I am a pastor currently serving in Milwaukee. I grew up at St. Jacobi and my family goes back to its founding. My grandparents were married by Pastor Jenny. When I served at Trinity Lutheran in Crete, Illinois, my associate was Pastor H. Curtis Lyon. He served your grandmother for awhile when she lived in Torrence, CA.

    I have a photo that clearly portrays the dove in the mural of the old church. What is interesting is that the mural was altered (which I never knew). The Vater Unser in the scroll was replaced by an alpha and omega, and the rainbow somehow disappeared. I was always puzzled by the verbal description of the mural in the newspaper article of the dedication, because it described the scroll with the Vater Unser. I never understood what the article was talking about, and figured perhaps it was a mistake. You have solved the mystery for me!

    I would love to send you an electronic copy of the mural as I remember it before the church was demolished. I know for a fact that the central portion of the mural with the angels and the scroll was cut out of the ceiling before the building came down, and I have pictures to prove it!

    I would be VERY interested in other photos you have. I also admire your great-grandfather, Pastor Jenny. He was the first editor of our Synod’s official magazine now called “Forward in Christ.” An interestng side note is that my predecessor pastor here at St. Andrew was Emil Schulz. He later served as an assistant to Pastor Jenny at St. Jacobi for many years, especially as he got older.


    • Dear Pastor,

      I’m so glad that you found this. I’m continually amazed at just how small the world is. I never met Pastor Lyon, but when you mentioned him it struck me that I couldn’t ever remember my Grandmother going to church with me as a child. I was raised in the LCMS. We attended Immanuel Lutheran Church. I asked my mother about this and she confirmed that Grandma went to the WELS church with her friend Giesela; a former member of Immanuel who felt that the LCMS had become too liberal and switched synods. I’m actually very happy to know that Grandma still attended a WELS church until her death. It is, somehow, a comfort.

      It was my hope in writing this post that I might find someone who had a picture of the dove as you say you do. I’d love to have a scan of it, if you would be so kind. I’m also interested in what happened to that panel, that you say was removed, and contains the dove. It was quite thrilling to find so much of Saint Jacobi at Saint Marcus. It was even more exciting to me as I’ve been enjoying the music of Koiné for some years now and they are members of Saint Marcus. I even wrote a post that basically endorses them as a good alternative to contemporary Christian music: Music in Lent?

      The changes to the mural are a strange thing. I wonder why they removed the rainbows; they seem like such a clear reminder of God’s promises. I wonder if the changes in the mural, especially the Vater Unser, occurred after WWI. I know there were some questions regarding the use of German in many churches during and after the War. It’s what my mother attributes to the death of German being spoken at home; except when they didn’t want the children to know what was being discussed; which the children always did. One of the things that strengthened the friendship between my grandmother and Giesela was that they spoke German together, and many of the magazines that I used for my collages were German magazines that Giesla had given Grandma.

      I plan on posting more about Grandpa Jenny. I have some pictures of him and Grandma Jenny, some letters he wrote to Aunt Edele, and some copies of Gemeinde=Blatt and North Western Lutheran. Some of the letters correspond to a series of “travelogue” articles that he wrote for the magazine. I have few other pictures of the church building, the parsonage, and the house he lived in with the my Grandmother when my mother was a little girl.

      I look forward to corresponding with you via e-mail.


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  6. I enjoyed reading your post on st. Jacobi. I currently attend st Marcus and recently found out about the history of the alter and pulpit. I also recently found out that my great grandfather and his family attended st jacobi, and that he was confirmed by pastor Jenny in the early 1900s. We have his confirmation cirtificate which has been passed down to me that shows pastor Jenny’s signature. I often think about how my ancestors lives were positively impacted by the churches they attended and the strong bonds of family and friends that resulted from it. Thank you for sharing your memories.

  7. Hello,

    I found this while doing a web search on St. Jacobi. My paternal grandfather, Paul G. Naumann, was the pastor there from 1931 until his death in 1941 (he died of a heart attack in his early fifties). My dad, Bertram J. Naumann, was only 9 years old when his father died. My dad went on to become a pastor as well, starting in Upper Michigan (where I was born) and then in Hales Corners at Messiah Lutheran (CLC). We moved to the Seattle area in 1973, where Dad was pastor of Redemption Lutheran Church until his retirement in 2000. He passed away in 2009 at age 78. I have 6 brothers, 4 of whom are also CLC pastors, in Wisconsin, North Dakota and Washington.
    I very much enjoyed reading your wonderful memories! It reminded me so much of my own grandmother, Dora Naumann Berg, who also crocheted as she babysat me. And of all the stories my dad told about their time in the parsonage on Mitchell.

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