Many people still associate the House of Peace with the late Brother Booker T. Ashe, who co-founded that ministry with Father Matthew Gottschalk in early 1968. Most people didn’t know that Bro. Ashe was a cousin of the late tennis star Arthur Ashe. That’s because he had a gregarious nature and unassuming spirit that put people at ease and attracted attention throughout the archdiocese.
Located at 18th and West Walnut Streets, originally the House of Peace was just a small storefront outreach ministry of St. Francis of Assisi parish. When the House of Peace first opened it was located in one of the most unstable neighborhoods in Milwaukee. During the previous summer, the community had experienced civil disturbances which claimed the lives of a number of citizens and police officers and resulted in looting of businesses and the destruction by fire of many properties. Racial tensions were high and animosities, distrust, and despair were common.
When the city of Milwaukee decided to widen Walnut Street into a boulevard in 1974, the original storefront was torn down to facilitate the widening. An anonymous donor provided Bro. Ashe with the money to buy another storefront at 1702 W. Walnut Street, where the House of Peace has been located ever since.
Brother Booker was only 36 years old when he opened the House of Peace, which he oversaw for more than 30 years until his death at age 68. He and the House of Peace became alter egos for the next three decades. The mission of the House of Peace has evolved with the needs of the times. In the early years, it was a place of growth, learning, and healing. The House of Peace was devoted to developing African-American empowerment. A black cultural library was developed, consisting of books, records, tapes, periodicals, films, and cultural artifacts. The House of Peace was also known for conducting workshops and other group sessions devoted to discussing issues of black identity. Eventually the House of Peace focused on serving those in with basic needs and, particularly during Christmas, Bro. Ashe and his staff provided families with food and toys.
Under Bro. Ashe’s leadership, the House of Peace survived several tragedies, including a fire, and a multi-vehicle collision, where a cement mixer truck barreled through the walls and windows of the facilities. Then in 1995, Bro. Ashe himself suffered a series of small strokes, compounded by the effects of diabetes. In September, 1995, he was relieved as director of the House of Peace and made director emeritus. Bro. Ashe died on Christmas Eve in 2000, but his image remains on an outside mural, and his spirit lingers in the minds of the staff as the legacy he left continues.