SNAP loses a good friend

John Pilmaier's dad, the roof over our heads as survivors, died Sunday; let’s keep his seat for him at the hearing tomorrow   

Most of you know John Pilmaier III, SNAP’s Wisconsin director and a corporate officer of the Survivors and Clergy Leadership Alliance (SCLA).  John’s dad, John Jr., died this Sunday of cancer, at home, surrounded  by his family.  There will be an empty seat, in other words, at the archdiocesan bankruptcy hearing tomorrow, Wednesday, that John Jr. most certainly would have attended if fate would have allowed him to get there.  Let’s remember him at the hearing tomorrow as we stand with our fellow survivors as John always stood with his son and with us:  11:00 a.m., Milwaukee Federal Courthouse, Judge Susan V. Kelley courtroom, first floor.  You can email John III at  and his mom Lynn at  I know they would appreciate hearing from us.  John’s obituary can be found here and where you can make donations in his memory.    

One of my most endearing memories of John Jr. was during an historic day in Rome when his son and I, along with Barbara Blaine and Barbara Dorris, were conducting what would become something of an historic press conference for survivors outside of St. Peter’s Square.  Simultaneously with the publication on the front page of the New York Times, we were there discussing the infamous Fr. Lawrence Murphy case, and releasing hundreds of pages of secret church documents from St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee detailing the cover up by the church of the sexual assault of 200 deaf children by Murphy over several decades.  Those documents directly implicated for the first time the Vatican and the Pope in child sex crimes by pedophile priests.  We were detained by Rome police after the event, who carried us, press in tow, inside a  phalanx of police cars, sirens blasting, creating this truly surreal motor cade through the center of the city, and providing the breaking news scrolling across cable stations around the globe. At one point in this whirlwind, as I was preparing for a live interview in the BBC press room in Rome, I glanced up to look at one of the monitors, and there before me in all his glory, with signature mustache, was John III’s dad.  He and his wife Lynn were on a live feed from Milwaukee outside archdiocesan headquarters.  With them were deaf and other Milwaukee survivors and family members, readying for remarks.  ABC World News used Lynn’s words as their headline story (you can see a clip here).  That’s John standing next to Lynn.  He was the pillar we could all fall back on, literally or figuratively, if we found ourselves, as is impossible not to when speaking of these crimes, shaking with sorrow or anger.   

The pillar John represented for us is surely the pillar of justice.  Pillars, after all, are a very ancient and foundational human invention upon which civilization, such as it is, could never have evolved.  Pillars are designed to support the roofs that shelter human habitation.  John’s career was literally sheltering others.  He was a roofing engineer and one of the finest.  Most of us take the roofs above our heads for granted.   But many a person or family is safe inside their homes and buildings today because of John’s dedication and excellence in his work.  One of the complex roofing structures that John is responsible for is the marvelous new Collectivo’s Café in Bay View (formerly named Alterra’s, photos here).   John engineered the green roof of this beautiful and modern structure with metals found only in Europe.  The design incorporates an outdoor waterfall and rainwater as part of its water management system.  Coffee shops and cafes, of course, are the mobile headquarters for activists.  And they are also places where many of us read, think, draw, socialize, see the neighbors.  People fall in love in cafes. The cry and break up.  They laugh and share food.  An idea that might change a life happens under café roofs.  Where would philosophy, or art, or conversation itself, at least what artistry is left of it, happen if it were not for the café?  I almost always met John in a café.  He is gone.  But there is a lot of life that will keep happening under his roofs.  When you get a moment, just stop, think of John, and take a look above your head. 

I hope to see everyone that can make it at tomorrow’s hearing and do let John III and his mom hear from you.   

Peter Isely

SNAP  Midwest Director


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