St. Mary's Oratory of the Immaculate Conception in Wausau, Wisconsin

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the founding of St. Mary's Oratory in Wausau, an apostolate of the Institute of Christ the King. For many St. Mary's has been a refuge, an oasis of liturgical arts in rural Wisconsin, for both locals and those who vacation in the area at family cabins and lakeside resorts. Over the years the Latin Mass community has grown in this rural area and many local vocations have been fostered.  This year Cardinal Burke visited for the anniversary celebration.    

St. Mary's has a stunning Neo-Gothic design, built in 1892 to serve the German-speaking immigrants in the area of Wausau, once a small town on the Wisconsin River in the central part of the state. 

In 1953 an unfortunate fire destroyed the church interior. It was therefore redecorated on a budget in a simple style popular at the time, with mid-century modern influences. After the fire, new stained-glass windows were also installed, which remain to this day. By the late 1990s the parish was in its terminal stage, the result of declining Mass attendance. After the merging of several local parishes, it remained unoccupied.

In 1999, Bishop Raymond Burke, who was then the local ordinary of La Crosse, announced the church property would be entrusted to a viable new order from Italy, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. St. Mary's therefore became a state-wide center of the renewal of liturgical arts, and the church's interior redesign and restoration was initiated with great gusto. Through the generosity of the Scholz Family Foundation, a complete and total artistic resurrection of the entire church was initiated and brought to a successful conclusion. 

The redecoration of the church was a collaborative effort that took four years and involved both American and European craftsmen, artists, and architects who came together to bring the unique project to a successful conclusion. Below are before an after images. In 2003 Bishop Burke consecrated St. Mary's in a solemn ceremony and it remains a cherished memory for all those who were there to witness the impressive rites. 

The interior decoration is an obvious improvement, more pleasant than the previous color and decorative scheme. Walking through the front doors of St. Mary's reveals a splendor and magnificence that brings to mind the Gothic churches of northern Europe, with noteworthy works of art.

The main altarpiece in the sanctuary was constructed on a grand scale - it reproduces original works of art from the fifteenth-century Blutenburg Castle chapel in Bavaria, a tribute to the ethnic roots of the original parish settlers. The altarpiece is designed as a reredos triptych that closes with doors, revealing a statue of the Madonna and Child that dates back to the 1480s, a truly stunning and rare masterpiece in the New World. This statue is even older than the discovery of the United States. It is affectionately known as "Our Lady of Wausau."

The walls are in German north-European style, white plaster with painted floral decorations and rib vaults. Hand-carved statues of the Apostles also in Germanic style are located along the walls, completing the interior decoration, reflecting gold-leaf highlights that match the main altar decoration that shine in gold, symbolic of Heaven. The church is also decorated with vintage style chandeliers.

After the consecration of the restored church, Bishop Burke elevated St. Mary’s to the status of a public Oratory – which functions like a parish, featuring the full range of sacramental life, but without geographical boundaries – entrusting its care to the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. St. Mary’s Oratory of the Immaculate Conception, as the church is now called, continues to celebrate the sacred liturgy in the traditional Latin rite for the diocese of La Crosse, in implementation of Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum pontificum.

St. Mary’s is currently a thriving apostolate within the larger family of the Institute of Christ the King, with the number of faithful continually growing. The canons of the Institute resident at St. Mary’s assure the daily celebration of Holy Mass and the Divine Office, as well as providing daily Confession and regular faith formation classes for children and adults. Recognizing the priority of the sacred liturgy, the Oratory has an excellent choir and a large team of well-trained altar boys. The work of passing on the Faith to the next generation is advanced through the young adults group, as well as youth groups for boys and girls. 

The future of the Oratory has been placed under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and with her help, in the years to come, St. Mary’s Oratory will certainly attract many more souls through the timeless beauty of the traditional liturgy – not only those souls who have always loved this ancient rite but indeed many souls who have never before experienced the majesty of this precious treasure of universal Catholic heritage. 

The community is further blessed to have a convent of the sisters of the Institute of Christ the King, known as the Sister Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus Christ Sovereign Priest. This vibrant new order of religious sisters was founded in Italy in 2001. While most of the sisters are French, they now have members from multiple countries. Their home in Wausau was their first foundation in the United States, established in 2019. 

The sisters now have a total of nine convents throughout the world. The convent is named in honor of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The sisters have an apostolate of supporting the priests of the Institute who staff the parish, while also assisting with children's catechism and the girl's group of the parish, and making vestments and tabernacle veils. Orders can be placed through the parish office.   

May God continue to bless and reward this wonderful community that points to heaven as a living witness against the secular world that teaches us that life is a material process, that death is but the cessation of that process, and that any human occasion or social development can be completely understood when it is stated in terms of material things.  



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