In July of this year, the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is set to be dedicated in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The project has been underway for quite some time, under the patronage of Archbishop Raymond Burke of Saint Louis. Archbishop Burke began the project prior to his transfer from the Diocese of La Crosse to Saint Louis. The construction project is a remarkable endeavor that includes all sorts of artisans and artists from around the United States, and incidentally quite a few from the Philadelphia area. The Church is designed by the architect Duncan Stroik and incorporates traditional representations of Catholic art and architecture in the design. Most obvious in this Church is the fact that it looks like a Catholic Church and incorporates Catholic signs, symbols and images crafted by contemporary American artists that specialize in Sacred Art as the mainstay of their artistic careers.

The monumental shrine utilizes the materials of permanence that one would expect in a Catholic Church. This edifice is built to last, with arched columns, marble floors and a quarried stone exterior. Some of the noted projects include notable plasterwork of columns, pilasters, cherubs all created by Felber’s Studios in Norristown, Pa.

An artist from the Brandwine Valley, Neil Carlin, is painting original artwork of Saint Gianna Molla, Blessed Miguel Pro, Saint Therese and Saint Peregrine.

The Philadelphia connection continues with artist Noah Buchanan responsible for the paintings of Saint Maria Goretti and the Divine Mercy.

Painter Brett Edenton, educated in the Philadelphia area, now living in New York is the artist that portrays three Venerables for the Church’s lower narthex. They depict Bishop Baraga, Solanus Casey, OFM and a Dominican priest and architect Fr.Mazzuchelli.

Anthony Visco of Philadelphia did the Stations of the Cross, the 4 Angels mounted on the baldicchino, the four pendentives surrounding the dome of the Shrine and the narthex ceiling that portray, “The Visions of Guadalupe.”

Finally two other local connection professionals should be mentioned as well, Chris Smith, a Philadelphia sculptor completed the symbols of the Virgin Mary in a relief that surround the nave of the Church and the heraldic shields that surround the altar’s baldicchino.

Duncan Stroik is the architect and overall designer of the shrine. He was born in Philadelphia.

With such great local artistic representation in LaCrosse, Wisconsin it makes me once again raise the question…why aren’t we making use of these accomplished craftsmen and artists in our Philadelphia Catholic Churches? Why do they need to travel to the Midwestern United States to have their creations installed and admired? Finally, why are we not building Catholic Churches of similar materialistic and artistic quality in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the surrounding areas? It seems while the shifting demographics of Catholicism in the Northeast are causing the closing, merging, and consolidation of many parishes and Catholic Churches, we are still mired in the habits of designing and building structures for Catholic worship that are merely utilitarian in their purposes and intended not to reflect artistic quality and architectural quality.

The Catholic Church historically is the leader in the construction of high quality Churches that will endure for many generations. However, in the past forty years or so, the Catholic Churches built locally are little more than consecrated bus stops that offer no physical space of transcendence or institutional permanence. This type of squandering of material resources that permits our Catholic Churches to look like Protestant houses of worship need to stop. Our Catholic Church is the deposit of too many artistic and architectural heritages to allow our Churches to reflect the transitory and minimalist presence of architectural modernism and secularism.

Archbishop Burke seems to understand the fact that the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe represents an opportunity for American Catholics to shatter the artistic complacency that has been forced on Catholics since the Second Vatican Council. It is indeed the right time to design, build and successfully maintain Catholic Churches of material quality that provide a legacy for future Catholic generations.

If we have learned, anything from the pontificate of John Paul II is the great emphasis he placed on the need for the development of quality artistic accessories for our Catholic Churches and sacred liturgies. Noticing the same theme, Pope Benedict as well has also indicated the strong need to provide artistic and liturgical continuity with our Catholic spiritual and artistic heritages. I am looking forward to watching the continued completion of the Shrine in La Crosse, Wisconsin because it gives all American Catholics the opportunity to experience an identifiable Catholic Church constructed with quality and attention to details. In the meanwhile, locally our Catholic parishioners need to pay close attention to the great resources of artisans and artisans that reside here and provide them with opportunities to sanctify our local Catholic Churches with their vocational works of Sacred Art.

Hugh McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that writes on Catholic topics and issues. Hugh studied both philosophy and theology at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. He writes daily at: & & He writes about Irish Catholic experiences  at Nothing Left Unsaid!” is his daily column @ Comments are always welcome @

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