In the mid-1970's few friends in the Milwaukee area began meeting to study Buddhism and to practice zazen. For several years, Rev. Dainin Katagiri of the Minneapolis Zen Meditation Center visited and guided the group through lectures and weekend retreats. Slowly the group grew more organized and with the help of many people, the Milwaukee Zen Center was incorporated in 1983 as a non-profit religious organization.
In September, 1985, Rev. Tozen Akiyama came here to be the Resident Priest. Then, in September, 1986, the Zen Center purchased its present home, where all center activities take place. Rev. Akiyama led the activities at the Center for sixteen years, until June of 2001, when he departed to act as Head Teacher for the Alaska Zen Community. He has since retired and lives quietly in California. He designated his student, Rev. Tonen O’Connor, as Resident Priest and her appointment was confirmed by the Center’s membership. She became semi-retired in September, 2011.
The Milwaukee Zen Center offers a regular schedule of zazen, weekend dharma talks and discussions, Introduction to Zazen sessions, two-day sittings and a special three-day sitting for Rohatsu Sesshin in celebration of the Buddha's enlightenment.
Active in prison ministry over the past ten years, the MZC is the central organizing force behind a group of six teachers from a variety of Buddhist traditions who serve ten Wisconsin correctional institutions. The Dharma Book Fund helps make printed materials available to prisons and other institutions.
MZC clergy also have a longstanding involvement with interfaith activities in Milwaukee. In addition to responding to frequent requests for talks and presentations by area churches, schools and community organizations, they are members of Milwaukee Area Interfaith Relations, a program of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee.