Shields, a Marquette University priest, created the Casa
Romero Renewal Center, which offers outreach programs for the
The Rev. David
Shields believes he has experienced a bit of divine intervention.
debilitating disease that struck him about two decades ago, the Jesuit
priest might never have come to Milwaukee and created Casa Romero
Renewal Center, a bilingual retreat on Bruce Street that offers
spiritual programs to the Latino community. "We say our mission
statement is to form and renew individuals, and to strengthen the
family and build the community," Shields says during an interview
at the center. "That is the real goal. How can we build a
stronger civic community, a stronger faith community and a stronger
community in Milwaukee? Our goal is a better Milwaukee and a better
The center is
home to more than a dozen inventive faith-based programs that focus on
the Latino family and the journey of life. The La Quincea-era —
Dreaming a Future of Hope program is a day-long bilingual retreat for
teenage girls and their mothers to connect and build a stronger
relationship. Another program — Canasta Liena — is a
four-session retreat intended to strengthen the spiritual and
communication bonds throughout the family.
the first-generation and second-generation Latino, there is a real
disconnect because the parents, when they think about what it means to
be a teenager, think about life in the past (in their homeland) and
the kids have never been there, and can’t go there because of the
immigration system," he says.
from macular degeneration, a condition that has left him legally
blind. He was stricken with the disease when he was working in western
South Dakota with the Pine Ridge Reservation in the early 1990s.
"So it became more and more problematic for me to exist out there
with declining vision," Shields says. "I couldn’t
three months of sabbatical time studying Spanish in Guatemala in 1996,
his superiors brought him to Milwaukee, where he worked at St. Patrick
Parish at 7th and Washington streets. In the course of working with
the Latino community on the South Side, it became clear to Shields
they lacked a place to gather for workshops, retreats or conferences.
It was then that
Shields had a vision for an abandoned, vandalized building, now home
to the center. Although the 115-year-old building was a wreck, it
still had strong bones, he says. "I would take people around and
I would say, ‘We can do this here, that there,’" he says.
"I had more than one person say they couldn’t believe they were
looking at the same building I was. It was one of those things —
some people saw this broken down, horrible building, and I saw the
Princess of Aragon."
During the last
decade, Shields and a group of volunteers have slowly created the
center — a cozy, welcoming, three-story home featuring Latino decor,
original cabinetry and decorative ceilings. The center features
several large meeting rooms, a dining area in the basement and an
enclosed courtyard area outside, where programs and gatherings can be
held informally. "I would really like to say that I had a
comprehensive idea. I didn’t," Shields says. "I’m Irish
and a Greek major, and those are two mitigating factors right there
for comprehensive ideas. I was just convinced the place needed to
exist for the people to come. It’s now a casa."
Taste Of Latin America
Saturday, April 30
Tripoli Shrine Center3000 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee
$30 in advance; $40 at the door