BELLEVUE — On nearly any weekday afternoon, Al Hale can be found sitting on one of the front pews inside Prince of Peace Church. Next to him are three framed 8×10 portraits of his sisters dressed in religious habits. He also has smaller framed photos of his parents, John and Sarah and his wife, Virginia.
In the quiet warmth of the sunlit church, Hale, 84, prays his rosary and carries on conversations with “The Big Three,” Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
“What I like about it, there’s usually nobody around,” he told The Compass. “I can come and go; nobody knows I’m here.”
His conversations with the Big Three are mostly words of thanksgiving, said Hale.
“I was fortunate that the good Lord was good to me from the day I was born,” he said. “I was born with a clubfoot. My grandparents would give my parents a car to take me to Milwaukee to get my feet fixed way back in 1937 and 1938.
“I had good parents and good grandparents who took care of me. Then I had good (siblings) who watched over me and now a good wife,” Hale continued. ”The good Lord, he was instrumental in making sure I had those people, starting with my parents and grandparents. When I think of how many people are out there and he picks me as his favorite and gives me all of that stuff, I cannot believe it. No, no, no.”
Hale grew up in Reedsville and moved with his family to Manitowoc when he was 10 or 11. His family, which included four sisters and one brother, attended St. Boniface Parish. Three of his sisters, Sr. Mary, Sr. Sara and Sarah, joined the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, although Sarah left the order several years after entering. (His fourth sister is Martha Gorzlancyk.) His brother, Thomas, is a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Madison.
While in Reedsville, his family lived a few blocks from St. Mary Church. “I was always walking over to church,” he said. “I never got that out of my system.”
Hale and his wife, whom he calls Ginger, were married Nov. 10, 1962. They have five adult children and 10 grandchildren. In 2000, he retired from a career as a plumber, the last 20 years working for Vern Kummers Plumbing. That’s when he began spending time in prayer at churches.
He began visiting the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, when the Discalced Carmelite Nuns lived on the shrine grounds. (They moved to their new Monastery of the Holy Name of Jesus in Denmark in 2002.)
“Seven years ago we moved out here (to Bellevue) and I found this church,” he said. “In the mornings, I go to downtown churches.”
Hale pays regular visits to St. John the Evangelist, St. Willebrord, St. Philip the Apostle and SS. Peter and Paul churches. He brings his collection of photos with him to those churches, which serve as conversation starters.
It’s an opportunity to share with others how blessed and grateful he is for his family.
“I’ve got so much to be thankful for and I’m not afraid to admit that to (God) and I thank him,” he said. “That’s what’s so nice about coming here. And, in the morning, to the churches downtown.”
Hale spends 30 to 45 minutes at Prince of Peace in prayer and conversation. “I say to Joseph, ‘You are the typical dad,’” he said. “Here is the Lord on the cross, Mary is around, but very seldom do you see Joseph. He’s off to the side, a typical dad.”
His conversations with the Holy Family are no different than ones he would have at his home, he said.
“It’s so nice, I tell them that coming to their house is like them coming to my house,” said Hale. “We can talk out loud. There’s no silent prayer — well there is, but it doesn’t have to be, because there’s nobody here. We can be friendly and that’s what I like about this house here.”
While few people see Hale during his visits to Prince of Peace, many people, especially Green Bay Packers fans might recognize him.
Hale worked concessions at Lambeau Field on game days for 56 years, most of them selling beer to fans in section 117-119. One of his longtime customers, Dave O’Brien, nominated Hale for the Packers Fan Hall of Fame. He was elected into the exclusive fan club in 2008. He retired from selling concessions when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2019.
“It was fun because I got to know the people,” said Hale. “That’s why I say, ‘Never throw dirt.’ When you’re talking about somebody, that person may know this person and a lot of sad things are said about people.”
Hale said he plans to continue his visits to churches, photos in tow, “until the good Lord is happy to see me come, and he says, ‘Big Al is on his way.’”
Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Al Hale
Parish: St. Philip the Apostle, Green Bay
Favorite saint: Francis of Assisi
Words to live by: “Never throw dirt because you end up losing ground.”