Before and After: St. Mary's in Fennimore, Wisconsin

Conrad Schmitt Studios pursued this renovation/restoration project a few years ago and it is well worth featuring. The church in question is St. Mary's located in Fennimore, Wisconsin. It is the typical and all too familiar story of some of the mid-20th century ideologies and 'enthusiasms' stripping an historical church of its original patrimony -- now thankfully restored to something closer to its origins.

Let's take a slightly closer look at the before and the after.



As you will see, the "before" state of the church presents many of the typical issues we see in these projects. There was a distinct lack of focus created in part by the attempt to smash so many disparate liturgical and sacramental parts in and around the sanctuary. What's more, the furnishings provided no sense of drama, little sense of hierarchy and they further did not integrate with the rest of the architecture and its gothic inspirations. Add to this the various bits of statuary hung on walls placed around and about the church and the rather disordered picture is complete.

Fast forward to the new sanctuary where the new furnishings provide resolutions to these problems. Seemingly paradoxically, while the new arrangement is more detailed and more ornate (and add to this the painted mural work) the harmony between these pieces, their symmetry and the hierarchical relationship they setup between one another actually make for a much more integrated and thus more visually simple whole; they are now working with one another rather than in competition with each other  In short, the new scheme is a much better instance of noble simplicity (never mind noble beauty) than that which supposedly flowed from those very same principles in the renovation that followed the Second Vatican Council. 

Conrad Schmitt speaks to the project:

In May 1914, The Fennimore Times reported, “St. Mary’s Church is one of the most magnificently adorned church edifices in this part of the state.” With the coming of Vatican II and the theological interpretations that followed, these adornments were removed and with them, much of the spirit as well.

Rev. Miguel Galvez became Pastor at St. Mary’s in 2011. Father Galvez believed that the beautiful liturgical art work and fine custom furnishings were an important part of creating an environment that heightened the worship experience, and thus began a journey towards restoring the spirit of the original church’s interior.

The Conrad Schmitt Studios was selected to embrace Father Miguel’s passion and develop designs to beautify the church’s interior. After several consultation meetings at the church, CSS provided color interior designs for review and modification. These designs focused on the existing architecture, the need for both the standard and extraordinary mass while returning decorative elements from the original scheme.

New custom altar furnishings were inspired by nineteenth century Gothic high altars, like the one that was originally displayed in the church. CSS crafted chairs, sanctuary rails, an ambo, a baptismal font, and matching frames for existing Stations of the Cross. Above the sanctuary, the apse ceiling is adorned with six murals depicting Mary surrounded by saints. St. John Nepomuc and St. Lawrence O’Toole (co-patron saints of the parish community) stand alongside Doctors of the Church, ST. Thomas and St. Teresa, as they offer their crowns in honor of Mary, Queen of Saints. New decorative lighting and reupholstered pews refresh the century-old space and look to the comfort of the community.

Conrad Schmitt Studios takes great care to involve the client in creative decision making throughout the design process. Fr. Miguel provided input and feedback every step of the way. “We both worked together trying to find a unity of all the elements,” Fr. Miguel says. “It was about adding the necessary elements to create beauty, enhance the liturgy, teach the Faith, honor the history of the parish, and nuture the culture of our specific community…”
Here are a few more details from the restoration:

As always, our readers are very interested in 'the before the "before"' so to speak; in other words, the original historical arrangement -- and as always we are pleased to provide it.

We can, at one and the same time, lament the historical loss while also relishing in the restored present.

For more information, please visit Conrad Schmitt Studios on their website or on social media

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