Restored Convent Chapel of Nuns in Minneapolis

Many of us know of no earthly magnificence to compare with the liturgical ceremonies of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.  That being said, how fitting to see this old convent chapel in Minneapolis refurbished with three brand new, hand-carved, wooden items: an altar, reredos, and altar rail.  Rediscovering the allure and beauty of quality hand-crafted ecclesiastical woodwork is quickly becoming a hallmark of our present age of restoration.    

Photos by OC-Travel

The convent houses the newly arrived Filiae Laboris Mariae (Daughters of the Works of Mary) -- five sisters who are the first members of a newly formed semi-contemplative traditional order of "Latin Mass" nuns from Missouri.  The sisters are trained catechists who help in the education of Catholic homeschooled youth in the parish, imbued with the mandate to teach the Faith.

Creating suitable woodcarvings for a chapel is a difficult job under any circumstances, especially considering how difficult it is to find competent Catholic woodcarvers in this part of the world.  The lost art of ecclesiastical woodcarving over the past two generations has created a great void in the Latin Church.  Hand crafted "heritage" woodwork like this does not "just happen."  The deep reveals and the flowing lines of the studied Gothic tracery and crisp cusps of the carvings take no small amount of skill and training from a professional who knows his craft.

The chiseled wood and hand-hewn work seen here blends harmoniously with results that are beautiful and practical, affordable and sensible.  It is traditional in style while contemporary in design.  The wood chosen is red oak with a beautiful walnut stain (sourced locally by the artist, suitable to the local, humid climate).  The tracery reflects both rhythm and structure. The solemn atmosphere of dignity, so desirable in a church, is achieved with ease and distinction, imparting an atmosphere of humble devotion.

This small chapel, built of humble materials, proclaims an achievement, especially in an age such as our own when we are yet recovering from the iconoclasm of many modern convent chapels. The good taste and good judgement of this project is thanks to the pastor, Fr. Gerard Saguto, FSSP, and the liturgical artist, Mr. Paul Sirba.  Paul has been designing and carving ecclesiastical interiors for the past several years.  His work is exclusive in design, liturgically correct and unequaled in beauty.  He is a competent craftsman who helps immortalize, in wood, ecclesiastical appointments of proper size and variety that are befitting God's house -- something that every diocese could benefit from.

Paul apprenticed under a Greek Orthodox master carver.  In his work, this young liturgical artist takes into careful consideration balance, scale, proportion, texture and harmony.  His work is finished in such a way to bring out the natural beauty of the wood.  His altar treatment, seen here, is modest and exquisitely designed, built with thought and foresight, with room for a richly woven silk and wool fabric dossal to be placed behind the altar cross on the altar reredos or a similar antipendium to hang on the front of the altar.

Paul's woodwork is made authentic by way of the traditional methods he employs, made vibrant with the chisel marks and adze strokes of the carver, and textures produced by the early classical methods that were once seen everywhere.  One does not easily tire of this classic approach by comparison with so much of the mass-market furniture on the market today.

As a Minnesota-based carver, Paul walks in the footsteps of many great woodcarvers who have come before him.  One such was Christ Steiner, a Swiss-born woodcarver who learned his craft in Switzerland and made a career of religious carving and ecclesiastical interior design for some fifty years in St. Paul, Minnesota.  His secret was that his art would become more beautiful as it grew older.

As I have said for years: authentic ecclesiastical art possesses an immemorial charm that makes it both outstandingly attractive and timeless.  Thank you, Paul, for bequeathing this fine gift to the sisters and those who pray in this chapel.  May heaven reward you, may the Immortal King of Kings be honored by this fine chapel, and may it ever please his Most Blessed Mother.

It seems fitting to conclude with an inspirational quote from John Ruskin, an art patron and art critic of the Victorian Age: "When we build, let us think that we build forever.  Let is not be for present delight nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, See! this our fathers did for us!"

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