Extra Touches Count: Making of a Church Entrance Marker

Photos by OC-Travel
The Whittier neighborhood around the Church of St. Stephen in Minneapolis, Minnesota is dominated by exquisite art and architecture.  Known as the Washburn-Fair Oaks mansion district, people visit here just to walk around and observe and marvel at the beauty seen everywhere, classical architecture at its best.  A great many properties stand out with their ornate stonework and leaded windows.

A stone's throw from the church is the grand dame of local museums, the towering Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the original main entrance in beautiful Beau-Arts Renaissance style, showing just what skilled architects and craftsmen can do when given the proper education and freedom of imagination to create (in today's world, it has been duly noted, a work of beauty has become a revolutionary act).

A walk through the neighborhood reveals an array of distinct architectural gems of historic building stock.  The church of St. Stephen blends right in, a Richardsonian Romanesque brownstone showing a fascination with H.H. Richardson's Romanesque Revival homes.  It was built in 1889 with a high green-copper tower, heralding the neighborhood with its old world flavor and Gothic finials thrusting to the sky.  The redstone look is distinctive on all levels, standing shoulder to shoulder with the other beautiful homes and mansions in the neighborhood.  A variety of local homes and other buildings from the 1890's were often built with brownstone, locally mined in Bayfield, Wisconsin.

St. Stephen's marker in Minneapolis, 2016
The marker in front of the church is a fitting creation and perfectly situated for all passers-by to see. It deserves special mention and praise.  This gem is the creation of a few great minds that came together and produced something permanent and artistic.  Thus, a work of art.  The project was completed in two years in August of 2016.

The story began with a phone call in July 2014 from the pastor, Fr. Joseph Williams, to John and Catherine Michel, parents of six children, devout and wealthy patrons of local church projects. The priest is also the great-nephew of Mr. and Mrs. Michel.  He asked for their help in the creation of a proper church marker for the front of his church.  The Michels had collaborated on a few similar projects in the past such as the marker seen below at Nativity church in St. Paul, completed in 2001.

Nativity of Our Lord marker in St. Paul, 2001, made of seven types of granite.
Fr. Williams worked with Matthew Alderman Studios for the configuration (the expert firm assisting with the ongoing renovation of the parish church).  Matthew is greatly esteemed in ecclesiastical architectural circles, a classically trained graduate of the Notre Dame School of Architecture who has become the go-to for similar church design projects.  He is also a member of the prestigious Sovereign Military Order of Malta.  The match was perfect. The visionary pastor and the expert Catholic architect came together to review some other markers that had recently been designed and built in the area with the input and financial contribution of the Michel family.

When asked to help, Mr. Michel's first thought was that the sign could be a unified community effort.  He assured the priest that "Uncle John" would be more than happy to help with the project, giving a donation while encouraging others  to donate as well.  In the end, a variety of parishioners came forward and contributed generously.

In addition, another great mind was brought in, Mr. Mark Salzman, ASLA.  Mark is a landscape architect who had designed the previous markers that Mr. and Mrs. Michel had collaborated with and helped to fund.  He, keeping all parties advised, helped complete final designs and exact location of the stone marker, successfully making use of natural stone materials in favor of cast stone materials.

Because of the age and period design of the church, the parish had to receive special permission from the City of Minneapolis as well as the Minneapolis Heritage Organization before construction could be initiated.  In the summer of 2015 permission was granted with all parties pleased with the selection of matching Minnesota brownstone.  The stone was provided by Rvard Stone of Somerset, Wisconsin.  The base foundation was installed by James Steele Construction.  The stone chosen for the large centerpiece is Minnesota Pink Limestone from Kasota, Minnesota.  The hand-carved lettering and its design was by Janey Westin of Paper & Stone in Edina, Minnesota.  She completed the sign during the winter months in her work studio.  The pastor approved the entire project, including the final colors.  After a few small adjustments, including an increase in the size of the base, the final construction was completed by Mr. Tommy Rau and Mr. John Zimmerman, stone setters from Avon, Minnesota.  The landscaping was done by Phillips Gardens of Minneapolis.  The marker is protected from the elements with two coats, wet-on-wet, of a solvent based sodium silicate solution. 

Assumption marker in downtown, St. Paul, 1993. 
While not every church has a fitting stone marker (let alone a sign of any kind), it is generally a good idea and proves immensely helpful for many, especially those out of town guests who may be visiting for such events as weddings and funerals.  It is invigorating for the local community to see these signs and a good way to get the word out while reminding the faithful of Mass and Confession times.  It also helps for taxi drivers and metro mobility vans transporting the elderly. 

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