In an ideal world Les Miescke would have relished the opportunity to welcome each and every one of the more than 20,000 visitors that showed up unannounced at the doors of the Basilica of St. Josaphat in 2018 seeking to discover what was underneath that large, impressive dome. But he only works four days a week and allows others to take ownership of his privileged role when he can’t.
“You greet them, make them feel at home . . . and let them explore,” said Les, manager of “Basilica Gifts and Tours” for more than three years and part-time host/coordinator/guide – and friend – to folks from literally all over the world drawn to this special place. The interactions are by far the most fun part of his job as he explains a bit of the history, artistry and significance of what they are about to see as they’re walking about. “Some people come back (to the gift shop) and feel a need to whisper because they’re so overwhelmed and feel a need for that type of respect and reverence. All these wonderful people . . . I love them all!”
In addition to the many spontaneous, self-guided “walk-ins” in 2018, there were 99 formal, scheduled, docent-led tours – usually an hour in length – of some 3,000-plus participants. Last fall, as evidence of the church’s worldwide appeal, a bishop from the Eastern Orthodox Romanian Church made the pilgrimage with 45 monks from Europe for an official tour. Afterward, they lingered in the Basilica to chant, pray and sing together.
For groups of local children, in lieu of the usual $5 tour fee, students of any age are asked to bring two or three non-perishable items in a benevolent gesture to be included in the weekly Parish Center Food Pantry distribution on Wednesday mornings.
Many of the conversations Les initiates with visitors resume inside the gift shop after they have completed their tour. He frequently needs to remind them to speak up, as they often continue in the hushed, reverent tones they used within the Basilica, while they search for mementos or special treasures from the mélange of assorted items for sale on the shelves from vendors the world over. There are rosaries for sale from the Czech Republic, statues hand-painted by Columbian women, pottery from Poland, and a Ukrainian artisan has created a charming three-dimensional, pop-up paper presentation of the Basilica available to the public. Recently, a guest from Barcelona found the perfect nativity to take home that she had taken great pains to find.
Les, a parish member now for 21 years, has spent much of that time volunteering in various capacities, and even prepared the garden beds around the Basilica years ago. There is an ongoing need for more volunteers whether it’s training to become a docent, helping during busy times in the gift shop, directing and advising tourists, or aiding with the food pantry responsibilities.
“It’s my church and when things come up you help!” said Les. “There are so many skilled people within the congregation, and they’re needed to help carry out specific projects. You can’t drive from the airport to downtown without passing this beautiful dome and it’s a point of reference for people and they need to discover the Basilica’s historical, architectural, and spiritual aspect and a place worth visiting. We want it to look nice . . . and friendly.”
“I hope we local people love, care for, and respect the Basilica as much as these world travelers do!”
Les Miescke’s dedication is one more reason the Basilica of St. Josaphat is one of the top things to do in Milwaukee. If you would like to assist Les in the gift shop, your help would be most welcome. If you can offer one or more days a week to volunteer, Les is a great mentor and friend. Even if you can only share a few hours of your time, please contact the St. Josaphat Basilica Foundation at 414-902-3524 or firstname.lastname@example.org to express your interest.