The Beautification of St. Peter's in Volo, Illinois

The Canons Regular of St. John Cantius in the Archdiocese of Chicago are well enough known to many of our readers and of course are primarily known for their work at their mother church of St. John Cantius in Chicago. What many may not realize is that they also have charge of two other churches, St. Katherine Drexel in Springfield, Illinois, and -- the subject of today's article -- St. Peter's in Volo, Illinois.

Recently the canons shared news of a beautification project which they undertook at this particular parish and we thought it would be of great interest to LAJ readers to share some of the photos and descriptions of this project coming from the canons themselves: 

In 2007 the canons were asked to assume the pastoral care of St. Peter’s in Volo, Illinois, a parish situated in Lake County, on the very edge of the Archdiocese of Chicago. The assignment came from Francis Cardinal George, OMI, who was instrumental in the founding of the Canons Regular.... Divine Providence had its hand in the timing. Following their community’s charism of Restoring the Sacred, the canons have labored to renew St. Peter’s parish both spiritually and physically..


The restoration of the sacred begins first with one’s own personal call to holiness. That personal restoration of the sacred in each canon affects the parishes they serve. The spirituality of the canons is evident in their pastoral zeal and careful execution of the Church’s liturgy and sacraments in all their fullness. 

Since their arrival, the canons have increased the number of registered parishioners at St. Peter’s from 300 to 1100 families. The spiritual renewal of the parish brings together a growing community of souls that fill six parish Masses each weekend in a church designed to seat only 190.

It is important that the Restoration of the Sacred also be expressed physically in the art that adorns church buildings. As humans, we require tangible signs and symbols to understand the infinite majesty of the God whom we worship.

After much discussion It was agreed that this was an opportunity to enhance what was already a beautiful church. As Father Nathan put it, “We saw this opportunity not so much as a renovation, but a renewal.” The plan for the repainting of the church was not to restore the church interior exactly as it once was, but to bring its existing beauty to greater prominence. After all, tradition isn’t stale antiquarianism. Nor is it living in the past, or longing for a bygone era. Traditio means bringing the past forward; or handing on the past to future generations. Tradition invites the past to be a dynamic participant in the present. It’s what theologians call a hermeneutic of continuity.


Because the church’s original physical layout and furnishings were largely left intact from when the building was first constructed, required renovations would only affect the floors, ceilings, and walls of the sanctuary and nave. Repainting and re-gilding the walls and ceilings would be done in such a way as to make a visual separation between the sanctuary, and the nave and transepts. Refurbishment of the space would also integrate and harmonize recent additions of statues into the overall architecture of the church.

After preparing the plaster walls, attention was turned to the details of the new artwork that would be painted. It was important to find ecclesiastical artists with the talent, experience, and vision, to complete the interior in a way that respected the Catholic heritage of the parish and could bring it forward to the present. The committee immediately began looking for artists with these qualities.

Choosing an artist is like entering into a new relationship. Artists aren’t simply hired. Artists and their patrons have traditionally formed a symbiotic relationship based on shared values and a common vision.

Mr. Slawek Miskow, an artist from Poland was chosen to create artwork for the walls and ceilings of the sanctuary and nave. Miskow and his team were discovered through a parishioner who had commissioned him for a private chapel in their home.


The original walls and ceiling of the church contained beautifully stenciled designs and orphreys that included gold-leafed crosses on a neutral-colored background. The goal of the restoration was to incorporate the original style with the addition of greater contrast and depth creating a stronger visual separation to express the theological difference between sanctuary and nave. The final renderings show influences of the famous 19th-century English Neo-Gothic revivalist, A.W.N. Pugin who masterfully incorporated a mix of primary colors in his art and architecture.


Part of the patrimony of our rich heritage as Catholics is understanding that symbolism abounds and is present everywhere. This is particularly true in the choice of colors. The transformation of the nave ceiling was achieved by applying a blue background adorned with gold stars. Blue not only references the sky and heaven but symbolizes Our Lady’s purity. Blue is also the symbolic color of Byzantine royalty, which is only fitting for Our Lady as the Mother of God, who is empress and queen of heaven and earth. Stenciled on the blue background are stars in gold leaf which represent the original twelve stars that adorned Our Lady’s crown. These stars are mentioned in the Book of Revelation when describing a vision of Our Lady in Chapter 12. The twelve stars symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel in the Old Testament, and the twelve Apostles in the New Testament thus showing the unity between the Old and New Testaments.

The sanctuary ceiling is completely covered in raised gold leaf with red accents symbolizing “heaven on earth” or the “holy of holies” from Jewish temple worship. It is where the uncreated, eternal God dwells on earth and encounters his creation.
Gilding, or the application of gold leaf, is common in older churches, but it is rare to see it done today. Even more unique, and unusual is the technique of applying raised plaster to a surface before painting or gilding. This stenciling method was the finish that Mishko incorporated in the sanctuary dome to give the ceiling greater depth and texture. The application of gold leaf further accentuates the raised scroll work in the way that it interacts with light.

The sanctuary walls are painted red with stenciled gold-leafed crosses and fleur de lis representing Our Lord Jesus Christ and Our Lady. Red symbolizes martyrdom, but also God’s divinity and redemptive power through the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross. It is a most fitting color for the sanctuary since it is here that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is united to the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross offered for the redemption of the whole world.


Scrolled in Latin across the sanctuary of the Church is the quote from Sacred Scripture in the Gospel of Matthew: Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam. In English, You are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church, which is a reference to the parish patron saint.


The new artwork for the nave of the church further creates the visual separation from the sanctuary. The nave (which includes the transept) represents the created earth where humanity meets God through authentic worship in Holy Mass. Touches of green are appropriately used in the nave of the church to represent life-giving creation.

To read the entire story of this beautification, please go and visit the website of the Canons and give them your support and ongoing encouragement. 

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