By Melanie Rossi
GREEN BAY – Staying true to their motto — “Open Doors, Open Hearts” — St. Willebrord Parish serves the community by always keeping a door open for those in need.
The church was founded by Dutch immigrants in 1864, and since that time, they’ve made acceptance, diversity and inclusion a main priority.
Father Andy Cribben, who on July 1 began his 13th year with the parish, emphasized the connection that the parish has with the Green Bay community.
“Serving the spiritual needs of whoever comes to our doors is a community service,” he said. “We receive people from all over the place — it’s amazing. Every day I see and encounter people who come from places other than those who would say they’re members of the parish.”
As a result of this open door philosophy, the parish has welcomed a diverse range of people; they’ve been frequented by steadfast parishioners, travelers visiting Green Bay and homeless residents seeking warmth and food — even Vince Lombardi attended St. Willy’s during his time in the city.
“It wasn’t his parish,” Cribben explained, “but he came here every day for Mass because his office was nearby, and we had an early Mass in the morning that was convenient for his work schedule.
“With St. John’s Homeless Ministry just down the street, we get a lot of folks that come in here to get a drink of water, use the bathroom. . . We had rain on Monday, and our halls were full of folks just getting out of the rain, laying down and getting a nap in our hallway. Part of our service is being a church that’s open and available to people as much as we possibly can be. We open at 6:30 in the morning, and we’re open until 5 o’clock most days, and then the weekend’s even longer, so folks can find an open door here.”
For Father Cribben, the parish’s openness has been fundamental in helping it to pursue its mission.
“Our mission is the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ, and we think that that’s a message that is one of invitation and openness, hospitality and interaction that builds relationships,” Cribben said. “People came to [Jesus] from all over the place, and he didn’t ask about their membership in the synagogue nearby… he just received them. I think that’s what we try to do.”
While the church hosts two masses each weekday and eight masses per weekend, it still finds the time to prioritize community outreach and service.
With their weekly food pantry — supplied by donations from their parishioners — St. Willy’s provides bags of food for those in need and recommends services that can help them for the future.
“We’ve been doing that for many, many years now, and it’s been an important ministry; it’s not one we do a lot, but for the five or six families that come in any given week, it can mean the difference for them,” Cribben said.
“Anybody who comes to our door and asks for a sandwich, we will give a bologna and cheese sandwich, without question. Right now, after Covid, people come in, it’s kind of the honor system; we have sandwiches in a cooler… That’s been going on here for maybe twenty five or thirty years or more. We make probably 150 to 200 sandwiches a week that we give away… That’s been a fundamental ministry of feeding the hungry.”
As a celebration of their focus on diversity and inclusion, each summer the church hosts St. Willy’s Jam, a picnic that features a variety of diverse music groups.
Their 2023 celebration — featuring a polka band, a group playing a traditional Mexican style of music, a Green Bay rock’n’roll band, individual soloists and a band playing contemporary Latin American music — was held on June 11 in the parish parking lot.
“It was pretty chilly this year,” Cribben said, “but we’ve always had a nice crowd, and we did again this year.”
Although the church was originally founded by Dutch immigrants, its number of Hispanic parishioners has rapidly grown in the last 30 years.
Now, according to Cribben, close to 70% of St. Willy’s parishioners are Hispanic.
For Cribben, the diversity of people in the parish is what he appreciates the most.
“In 1990, [the parish] started a missionary to the Hispanic community that really didn’t have a home or a parish of its own in Green Bay, and St. Willebrord offered not just a place to celebrate Mass but a place to say, ‘this is our parish.’… I certainly appreciate the fact that we’re involved in the Hispanic community, and they are such an important part.”
The St. Willebrord Church building is currently closed and undergoing “extensive and expensive repairs” after plaster fell from the roof; but while their church building is currently not open, Cribben stressed that their parish center still is.
For more information on the parish, visit https://stwillys.org.