A long and rich legacy of local Catholics, both clergy and lay people, following Christ’s call to serve their neighbors is the foundation upon which the Catholic Multicultural Center today stands.
The organization was originally founded in 1946 as Blessed Martin House, named after Blessed Martin de Porres, who was canonized in 1963 and named the patron saint of interracial harmony. Father Jerome L. Hastrich, who later became Bishop of Gallup, NM, established the organization with the goal of promoting interracial unity between blacks and whites. His brother, Monsignor George Hastrich, worked closely with him in founding Blessed Martin House and later became the St. Martin House spiritual director.
Blessed Martin House moved from W. Washington Ave. to the current Beld Street location in 1952. Led by Bishop Hastrich and a group of devoted lay women, the original building was built entirely by volunteers including local seminarians. In its early days the organization offered an array of activities from sewing class to summer programs for children to a Golden Gloves boxing club. It offered help to those in need by giving away food or by assisting with finding employment. At one point St. Martin House even served as an orphanage.
For many years, St. Martin House was managed by Margaret Straub who volunteered as its director and oversaw the day-to-day operations. It was her impetus to begin the free meal program during the economic recession of the early 1980’s to assist those unable to find work, and which now has become one of the cornerstone programs of the CMC, serving 25,000 meals every year to those in need. Margaret passed away in 1996 after dedicating much of her adult life to serving others through the work of St. Martin House.
With the arrival of more and more Spanish-speaking migrant workers in Wisconsin, Centro Guadalupe was formed by Dolores Ann Silha in 1977 to aid the Latino population and worked alongside St. Martin House. Much of the early work of Centro Guadalupe was to provide spiritual assistance to families because no local parishes had bi-lingual clergy or staff. Its offerings included children’s catechism classes, sacramental preparation, clothing program, Spanish Mass and English classes. Though they shared the same building, Centro Guadalupe was operated by the Diocese Office of Hispanic Ministry and was a separate organization from St. Martin House. The current CMC food pantry was begun by Centro Guadalupe to assist newly arrived immigrants struggling to feed their families.
In 2002, Centro Guadalupe and St. Martin House officially united and became the Catholic Multicultural Center when the original building was razed and the new Center was built. After seeing the impoverished state of the original building, Diocese of Madison Bishop William Bullock led the way in building the new Center in order to better serve the community and meet its needs with dignity. The new building was designed and built to accommodate the services the Center offered, like the free meal program and educational classes.
In 2009, the CMC hit a bump in the road when the Madison Diocese, which had operated the CMC since the early 90s, closed the Center due to budget problems caused by the economic downturn of 2008. However after much outcry, immediate rallying of the community, and the leadership of one local parish, the CMC re-opened two months later under Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish. The CMC is now stronger than ever, continually growing and changing to better serve the needs of the community.