In March of 2015, St Stanislaus Bishop & Martyr Parish & Oratory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, undertook the beginning of a truly providential restoration project of the Sanctuary in preparation for the 150th anniversary of St Stanislaus Parish in 2016. Similarly, in 1966 St Stanislaus went through a major renovation program in preparation for the parish 100th year anniversary and changes in the liturgy.
After studies, inspections and architectural designs, the plans for the Sanctuary were finalized and work started several weeks before Easter 2015. The first pictures show the free standing altar, aged carpeting, mono color of sanctuary, as well as the 2 feet of concrete poured to raise the level of the sanctuary up to the same level of the original high altar.
Before the concrete could be removed in view of returning the sanctuary to its original level, plans and drawings were carefully reviewed. The first step was to disassemble the free standing altar and the front of the high altar. The parts were carefully stored to return to the high altar in the future.
Easter Mass took place in the sanctuary using a temporary altar attached to the original high altar. After Easter, the sanctuary was emptied, the worn carpet removed, and the equipment needed to remove approximately 25 tons of concrete brought in. Using a small excavator and lots of man power, the sanctuary was cleared of all concrete, thus uncovering the original tile floor of the church dating to the 1930′s. Daily Mass was held in the Parish hall of the adjacent school and in the rectory, so that daily Mass continued each and every day of the construction.
Marble contractors returned and started rebuilding the high altar, while carpenters constructed a new base floor the front of the sanctuary.
During this phase, St Stanislaus Parish received a providential phone call from a stained glass collector, informing us that they had original stained glass from the church which had been removed and thought to be lost. The artisan wanted to return the glass back home. Mobilizing parishioners and artisans, the glass was rescued and taken to the stained glass contractor for evaluation. While almost all the glass could not be reused as such, it provided us with the missing pieces of the puzzle. There were no pictures of the original stained glass windows! Now we had enough answers to replicate new windows after the pattern of the original.
The decision was made to replace the sanctuary windows with windows of the Immaculate Conception and St Stanislaus. Artisans quickly went to work designing the windows with many revisions in order to make the windows as accurately as possible. During this phase, the celebration of Mass returned to the sanctuary with the use of a temporary altar. Our altar boys adapted to many changes with excellence!
The high altar and side altar marble work continued, while the start of the floor tile preparation began. The sub floor needed to be reinforced and leveled. Eventually the entire nave and sanctuary floors would be tiled. The reddish decades-old carpet was in its final days!
The stained glass replacement and installation took place, leaving the Sanctuary with a new yet traditional appearance. Our Lady with the help of St Stanislaus now looks over our restored high altar.
While all this work was ongoing, other plans and revisions including many measurements and re-measures were taken for the construction of a marble communion rail from Italy. The original communion rail was removed and lost in the renovations of 1966. It was only fitting that a new marble communion rail should return to the sanctuary. Marble contractors from Peoria, IL, worked along side the Italian crew who manufactured the communion rail to guarantee a flawless installation. St Stanislaus is now adorned with a beautiful communion rail composed of white carrara marble top and bottom rails with green onyx pillars.
The final phase of the sanctuary restoration was the painting. Shortly after Easter of 2016, the scaffold in the sanctuary went up, and the Mass was now being offered again on a temporary altar (with our altar boys wondering what was next). Old ceiling tiles from 1966 were removed, plaster was repaired, and layers of paint were scrapped off before the painting could start. Our Institute’s Prior General, Msgr Wach, took a look at the work from a high scaffold view. Many daily meetings occurred with the artisans making sure the correct colors were used. Many wonderful surprises were brought out by the new paintings. After four months of work, the scaffold came down revealing the artisans efforts. Needless to say, it is more than what we expected.
The pictures, while showing the beauty of the restoration, do not accurately show the real beauty. One must come to St Stanislaus and look with his own eyes to fully appreciate the magnificence of the sanctuary.
In just over one year the entire sanctuary and parts of the nave where restored! The faithful of St Stanislaus with God’s help have made this project complete for their future generations. God is so good. It shows that nothing is impossible with God.
Abbe George Baird, Oblate
Project Manager and Sacristan