Basilica of St. Josaphat Dome Lighting is a Community Effort

My ace tour guides were none other than Pieper Electric Department Managers Alan Czajka and Gary Tiegs as we strolled around the Lincoln Village neighborhood and the perimeter of the Basilica of St. Josaphat, both men key players in the monthslong, arduous task of lighting the stately dome and forever transforming the skyline of Milwaukee. During our very informative walk, they gladly shared a fascinating account of the physical and logistical challenges of the major project, their desire and strategies for cutting costs and maximizing energy savings, partnering with neighbors, local businesses and city engineers, and a detailed lesson on the modern, high tech computerized equipment available to allow it all to happen.

Pieper Electric Department Managers Alan Czajka and Gary Tiegs
Pieper Electric Department Managers Alan Czajka (left) and Gary Tiegs were instrumental in the lighting of the dome of the Basilica of St. Josaphat.

Largely through their efforts and dedication, the timely payoff was a highly successful dome lighting ceremony and celebration on the evening of Sept. 21, 2019, the debut of what will become a distinctive, lasting, nightly tradition. And in addition to sharing the multiplicity of the substance of the plan during the tour, Czajka couldn’t help but sprinkle in a bit of nostalgia as well, considering his roots are right here in Lincoln Village and he owns a special affinity for the church and community.

“For me personally this project brought back so many fond memories and it was such a neat feeling,” Czajka said.

“Working with [St. Josaphat Basilica Foundation Treasurer and Secretary] John Rozga and Claude Krawczyk – it was like the old gang getting together again. I grew up on 9th Place and Lincoln and was the youngest of eight and attended St. Josaphat School. My father, Robert, was the first permanent deacon for the Basilica in the 1970s and Mom, Anita, baked bread for the Friday Fish Fries. We were very involved here and virtually lived at the parish. I was an altar server here. My brother Carl used to help maintain the motors for the bell towers. I was married here, and my two kids were baptized here. This work brought back memories of how many people it takes to actually keep a parish like this alive and flourishing. There was a real sense of purpose along with the job itself – a real connection.”

The Basilica of St. Josaphat is number one on the list of things to do in Milwaukee.
Gary Tiegs (left) and Al Czajka (second from left) demonstrate the LED fixtures, early in the process, a year ago in October, for Basilica Rector, Fr. Lawrence Zurek, OFM Conv. and St. Josaphat Basilica Foundation Treasurer, John Rozga (right of Fr. Lawrence) and Foundation Secretary, Claude Krawczyk (far right). Czjaka, Rozga, and Krawczyk grew up in Lincoln Village together. Fr. John Clote, OFM Conv., Parochial Vicar, was also present (behind group).

Twenty some years ago some dome lighting was in place at the four cardinal points of the Basilica, but with old technology, faulty lamps and timing not being synched, it was never going to be a long-term solution. Today, sophisticated, computerized and programmable systems are available; often referred to as “Smart Lighting,” and for good reason. Pieper’s Czajka and Tiegs brainstormed with lighting distributor company, Élan Lighting (specifically employees Brian Haggerty and Justin Hendrickson), and decided on installing an “Acuity nLight Controller” system using timers with both “Astronomic” and Daylight Saving Time (DST) functionality.

The Basilica of St. Josaphat is first on the list of things to do in Milwaukee.
Alan Czajka, Pieper Electric Department Manager, discusses the lighting system used to illuminate the dome of the Basilica of St. Josaphat, seen in the background.

The Pieper Electric team relied heavily on Élan Lighting’s know-how and it was Hendrickson, an engineer, who drew up the plans and did the computerized layout for placement of 11 lighting fixtures, with two LED bulbs each, surrounding the Basilica. Unless you’re looking for them, they’re easy to miss as they blend in seamlessly with the surroundings. Three of the locations are on rooftops, five poles are placed on city easements and three are on church property. The private poles on city easements purposely match the aggregate of the existing adjacent city poles for harmony, but the poles placed on St. Josaphat property are made of steel as a cost-saving measure since Pieper was not required to match the more expensive existing concrete poles in public areas. In addition to these 11 locations there are lights up in the two bell towers to provide fill lighting to compensate for shadows.

“Gary and I looked at the dome as kind of like shooting light at different sections of a pie and he and his team were the real workhorses of this project,” Czajka said.

“The concept was ‘massaged’ along the way trying to determine locations and Élan’s expertise was instrumental during our consultations. All the lights are dimmable, and the intensity is adjustable at each location, and we did a lot of tweaking of the lumen output to make sure of an even transition all the way around the dome. If we determined there was too much shadow in certain areas, we dropped some of the new lighting and increased the fill lighting through the computer system,” Czajka continued.

Not only were the technical challenges cumbersome but the physical challenges of getting the new computer system hauled 240 feet up inside the guts of the church to the cupola were daunting as well. Much climbing up narrow wooden steps and ladders was involved, and the going was rough. Pieper places a high priority on worker safety and two harness lines were always in place during the many trips the crew made up to the top. Czajka himself made 12 exhausting, individual trips on the testing day just prior to the Sept. 21st ceremony, to fine tune and ensure a successful launch (and he also rediscovered his name he had etched in the tower back in 1978).

Touring the Basilica of St. Josaphat tops the list of things to do in Milwaukee.
The inaugural Dome Lighting at the celebration held September 21, 2019.

The sophisticated “Smart Lighting” system now in place utilizes solar time scheduling which requires that the location of the Basilica be set using the geographic location with latitude and longitude coordinates. An electronic timer with “Astronomic” functionality determines each day’s sunrise and sunset times based on geographic location, while the automatic DST functionality resets the clock by one hour in the spring and fall, which automatically adjusts to the seasonal day to nighttime changes throughout the year.

Finally, Pieper Electric is an employee-owned firm, with an uncommon and benevolent approach to doing business. Czajka and Tiegs couldn’t be finer representatives of the company’s philosophy:

“Our people grow in a unique culture of entrepreneurship, empowerment, servant leadership, lifelong learning, quality, safety and high ethical standings.”

“Founded on the principle that every person should strive to first and foremost be a servant leader, we work tirelessly to keep our people safe, enlighten and stimulate their minds, and teach them how to be good stewards of the community in a genuinely serving way.”