The museum opened on June 24, 2004, during the dedication ceremony for the Bishop Wycislo Center led by Bishop David Zubik. Prior to the museum’s construction, diocesan artifacts were first housed in a room near the vestibule, which today serves as the bridal room, said Carol Joppe, longtime volunteer and museum caretaker. In 2000, it was moved to an area below the cathedral sacristy known as the undercroft.
“They had installed some glass cabinets (inside the undercroft) from an old jewelry store and had some of the (artifacts) down there,” she said. “It wasn’t easy access for people. That was sort of the germ of the idea and then everything just kind of grew into this place today.”
When plans were announced to build the Bishop Wycislo Center, a diocesan museum was an integral part of the plan. Joppe said that the museum features a humidity controlled environment and filtered fluorescent lighting.
Glass cabinets house most of the ornate objects such as gold plated chalices decorated with precious stones and bishops’ episcopal rings and pectoral crosses. Historical books, prayer cards, letters, a collection of saints’ relics and sacramentals are also on display.
Joppe said the museum is a work in progress, with additional items being added to the collection. Some of the objects are actually taken from the collection and put into use, she added.
“This faldstool is what the bishops use when they are ordaining deacons and priests,” said Joppe, pointing to an ornate wooden stool. When Bishop David Ricken was installed in 2008, a chalice from the museum collection was used during the Mass. “In fact, Bishop Ricken uses one of Bishop Wycislo’s crosiers. It’s left permanently in the sacristy.”
Since it is a diocesan museum, parishes contribute artifacts to the collection. For example, five vestments embroidered and painted in China were donated by St. Leonard Parish in Laona.
Joppe said many of the artifacts are displayed by theme or chronological order. The display cases along the west wall feature items related to the sacraments. On the north wall, items belonging to Green Bay’s bishops are on display.
“Bishop (Francis Xavier) Krautbauer is certainly a focal point because he’s credited with building the cathedral,” said Joppe. Crosiers, mitres, photographs and replicas of their episcopal coat of arms are all on exhibit.
Bishop Robert Morneau, who helped organize a committee in 1999 to plan the previous museum, said the newest facility is a gift to the diocese.
“What impresses me most is that visitors and tour groups are exposed to a great deal of our rich history in a meaningful way,” he said. “Touring the cathedral space itself is impressive, but to have the opportunity of understanding our history is doubly impressive.”
Bishop Morneau said the museum not only offers guests “an appreciation of our earlier Catholic heritage, it provides a historical perspective.”
Guided tours of the Green Bay Diocese Museum and Cultural Center are by appointment only. To schedule a tour call (920) 432-4348. While at the Bishop Wycislo Center, take a free self-guided audio tour of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. Headsets featuring a pre-recorded audio description of cathedral highlights are now available.