The Life & Times of Brother Booker Ashe: A Panel Discussion
In honor of Black History Month, a six member panel will be convening February 26, 1:30-2:30 PM, at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, 1927 N. Fourth Street, Milwaukee, to discuss the life and times of Capuchin Booker Ashe, co-founder of the House of Peace.
The event is also introducing the biography of Brother Booker, Brother Booker Ashe “It’s Amazing What the Lord Can Do” by new author, Willy Thorn. In this biography printed by Marquette University Press, the author presents the history of well known Capuchin friar, Booker Ashe, co-founder of the House of Peace. The book will be available for purchase at a special event price of $15.
The members of the panel include: • Brother Bob Smith-President Messmer Catholic Schools and nephew of Br. Booker • Father Matthew Gottschalk-Co-founder (with Br. Booker) of House of Peace, a Capuchin ministry that serves Milwaukee’s central city • Father Al Veik-Longtime House of Peace staff and advisory board member and close friend of Br. Booker • Ms. Shirley Patterson-Bordeaux-Longtime House of Peace staff member and close friend of Br. Booker • Sister Callista Robinson—Longtime member (along with Br. Booker) of Wisconsin Catholic Black Religious and Clergy groups. Former coordinator of African American Component Lay Ministry and Deaconate programs for Milwaukee’s Archdiocese • Ms. Arlene Skwierawski-Brother Booker’s main artistic co-collaborator
The role of Brother Booker Ashe in Black History in both Milwaukee and Wisconsin cannot be understated. He played primary roles aiding, supporting, educating, organizing, leading, feeding and even entertaining Milwaukee’s central city residents and city leaders.
His historic humanitarian work on Milwaukee’s north side, with its predominantly African American population, began after the neighborhood’s race-related riots of the late 1960s – and continued until his death, Christmas Eve, 2000.
He was a pillar in the central city, an important voice and liaison between the community and the Archdiocese, the Capuchin order, the prison and courthouse, the offices of the Mayor, Common Council, and Sheriff plus as an advocate of the arts.
The sheer number of young African American actors, artists, athletes, business people, clergy, doctors, humanitarians, lawyers, musicians, politicians and scholars he encouraged and supported reshaped the face of the neighborhood and city.
As a respected and renown cleric and orator, his Civil-Rights themed preaching reached the most rural and racially-segregated parts of Wisconsin and the upper Midwest. He also worked with national organizations in traditionally African American cities such as Atlanta, Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans and Washington, DC.
The Capuchin ministry he helped co-found in 1968 with Father Matthew Gottschalk, the House of Peace, continues today to serve as an anchor to the neighborhood of 17th and Walnut. The ministry provides food, clothing, pastoral care, medical and legal aide, teen leadership, and more to Milwaukee’s central city.
Born in 1932 in South Carolina and raised in Evanston, IL, just outside of Chicago, Brother Booker was a talented actor who pursued life on the stage at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. He was called to religious life, and – to the joy of his mother and reluctance of his father – in 1951 and joined the Capuchin branch of the Friars Minor.
Brother Booker served throughout the Midwest – including Chicago, Indiana and Detroit – but spent the majority of his life in Milwaukee, preaching, working for racial equality, and ministering to countless people at the landmark institution he co-founded, The House of Peace. He also directed plays, cooked grandiose meals, and became a beloved figure in the city.
In Brother Booker Ashe “It’s Amazing What the Lord Can Do,” Willy Thorn presents the story of one black man’s life-long dedication to justice, charity, and the poor.
“When it comes to African American people in Wisconsin and Milwaukee, Brother Booker may be the most important man this side of Hank Aaron,” author Willy Thorn explains. “Brother Booker brought national attention to Milwaukee. He served and spoke up for a community that has traditionally been underserved & under-heard.
Brother Bob Smith always said, ‘If you ask ten Black people over age 40 about Brother Booker, nine would know him personally and the other one would know of him.’ Even Hank Aaron can’t claim that,” Thorn concludes.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is quoted in the book as saying, “I don’t know when I first met him. But I always knew who he was. I don’t remember not knowing of Brother Booker. He was such a larger than life figure in our community. He was a wonderful person. He had a heart of gold. People who’d meet him and interact with him wouldn’t forget him. He had a jovial disposition. He was an amazing love for people in the community. His presence and the love he exuded were pure caring.”