This grand, imposing, richly ornamented Neo-Renaissance edifice is a major landmark of Milwaukee's south side, the only Roman Catholic basilica in Wisconsin, and one of the nation's most important Polish-American churches.
Many of the materials used in the construction of St. Josaphat's originally constituted Chicago's Federal Building. The transformation from public building to church came about as follows. By the mid-1890s Father William Grutza and his parishioners at St. Josaphat's agreed that the parish needed a new church and retained Erhard Brielmaier to draw the plans. While his work was in progress. Father Grutza travelled to Chicago, where he learned that the aging Federal Building was soon to be razed and the materials offered for sale. Aware that the parish could realize a considerable savings if salvaged materials were used, he asked Brielmaier if he would modify his plans accordingly (the architect's original scheme called for a brick building trimmed with terra cotta). Brielmaier complied, and for $20,000 Father Grutza purchased stone for the walls, polished granite columns for the front portico, doors, hardware, bronze railings, and light fixtures and had them transported to Milwaukee on five hundred railway flatcars. Inspected, measured, sorted, and numbered, all these materials eventually found places in the new building.
The application for the building permit (No. 556) is dated September 19, 1896. On July 4, 1897, the cornerstone was laid, and on July 21, 1901, the church was dedicated by Sebastian Cardinal Martinelli.
St. Josaphat's was consecrated on November 18, 1928, by Bishop Paul Rhode of Green Bay, Wisconsin, in the presence of George Cardinal Mundelein of Chicago. On March 10, 1929, Pope Pius XI elevated St, Josaphat's Church to the dignity of Minor Basilica. It is one of only three in the United States. The papal decree is preserved at the basilica. The ceremony of elevation took place on January 25, 1931, in the presence of Samuel Cardinal Stritch of Chicago.
In 1969 St, Josaphat's was designated a Milwaukee Landmark by the Milwaukee Landmarks Commission and was the subject of Wisconsin Assembly Joint Resolution 49, passed by both the Senate and Assembly in 1969, urging that the State Historical Society of Wisconsin declare the edifice a state historical landmark.