Before and After: St. Columban Church in Chillicothe, Missouri

Continuing on with our 'Before and After' series, I wished to share a restoration with you today that was executed by one of our LAJ partners, Conrad Schmitt Studios. The restoration in question was of St. Columban Church in Chillicothe, Missouri. By way of a bit of background, here is a summary of the project provided by the studio:


Built in 1879, St. Columban's gothic architecture features pointed arches and high, vaulted ceilings which lead the eyes upward to heaven. The existing decorative scheme was drab and dated, with severely deteriorated paint and plaster throughout the church. Four original murals, depicted in the historic photo, had been removed, and the murals which still existed presented with a deeply, yellowed varnish coating and poor previous restoration attempts.


Using the historic photo as a guide, a rendering was developed to illustrate the colors and patterns in the historic scheme. The rendering was incorporated to an informational board and brochure which communicated the vision for the project and assisted in generating the enthusiasm and funding for the restoration. A separate sample area was executed prior to the project, which assisted in determining the original colors and provided the opportunity to assemble a conditions and treatment report for the murals that still existed.

Due to the deteriorated surfaces of the plaster walls, a polymer wall system was applied to flat areas creating a smooth, long-lasting finish on which to apply the historic patterns. The ornate stencils were returned to the arches and a faux marble finish was applied to the columns. Two new murals to replace the missing artwork rounded out the decoration.

The gilded stencils and inspiring murals have returned to serve as a beautiful backdrop to the ornate wood-carved altars and shrines. The beauty of our forefathers is renewed - to be enjoyed and admired for generations to come.
Let's take a closer look, beginning with a historical view of the church as it originally was in the 19th century:

Here is the church just prior to the renovation by Conrad Schmitt Studios. You will notice that the painted details and stenciling had been painted over, as well as the figurative scenes above and around the altars and reredos.

In addition, the altar rail was moved further to each side of the church away from the high altar and primary side altars and the baptismal font was also moved to the front of the church (see upper right).

The following was the rendering showing the design proposal made by Conrad Schmitt Studios. (You will note in their rendering the altar rail had been restored back to its original position in the sanctuary.)

Finally, here was the work as it was actually executed in the end, along with a few of the details.

Here is one final look back at the before and after, side by side.

Really excellent work by Conrad Schmitt Studios and congratulations go to the parish for its vision and support for these efforts that are all part of the ongoing renewal and revival of the Catholic artistic tradition.

While I am certain that many readers are thinking how wonderful it would be to also see the restoration of the high altar as the primary altar, the altar rail, and the placement of the baptismal font back to its symbolically significant location near the entrance of the church, and while I would certainly be in agreement with all of these ideas, the significant gains that have been made here are our focus today and are worthy of nothing but praise.

A victory for beauty and "the beauty of our forefathers renewed" indeed.


An LAJ reader tells us: "...the communion rail was moved back at the end of the project and is now in use by the parish."

Very good news indeed.

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.