Cathedral restoration: A Sistine Chapel moment

The Diocese of Green Bay had its own “Sistine Chapel” moment last Sunday.

For the hundreds of worshippers who turned out for the Mass of blessing celebrated by Bishop David Ricken at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, many experienced a jaw-dropping reaction as they entered the diocese’s mother church for the first time since restoration was completed.

While renovation of the cathedral’s century-old murals (especially the main Crucifixion mural on the west wall behind the altar) may not have been quite on par with the restoration of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling frescoes from 1980 to 1999, the cleaning of the original artwork by Conrad Schmitt Studios of New Berlin was dramatic.

Mural restoration was only part of the work completed at the cathedral since 2015 at a total cost of $2.4 million. But the paintings, depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis Xavier, the Beatitudes and the Crucifixion, are what visitors notice and have etched in their minds as they pray inside the worship space.

More than just a cleaning project, Bishop Ricken noted that the remodeling serves a higher purpose.

“This building is a symbol for the renewal of the entire diocese,” he said in his homily. “It’s not just about renewing our buildings. We need to renew our bodies and our hearts.”

As the Diocese of Green Bay prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary, coupled with Bishop Ricken’s emphasis on missionary discipleship, the cathedral’s restoration serves as a rallying point for the new evangelization.

Aware that active participation by young adults is a major challenge for the church, Bishop Ricken understands that buildings do not make disciples. They can, however, serve as our spiritual filling stations, offering nourishment through the sacraments that energize and renew the mission spirit.

“Each one of us has to be a missionary disciple reaching out to our neighbors,” said Bishop Ricken. “We’ve renewed the building, now let’s renew the temple of the body of Christ.”

If you haven’t visited the cathedral in a while — or at all — why not consider a pilgrimage to the mother church of the Green Bay Diocese? If not during Advent, then maybe during the diocese’s jubilee year in 2018. Carol Joppe, a local church historian and volunteer at the cathedral, offers tours of the cathedral every second Sunday after the 9 a.m. Mass or by appointment.

Joppe, who also oversees the Diocesan Museum in the cathedral’s lower level, has a keen knowledge of the cathedral’s history and its many works of art.

Thanks to the Keepers of the Cathedral, a group of volunteer parishioners, it’s possible for visitors to tour the cathedral on their own during weekdays. To learn more about cathedral tours, you can call (920) 432-4348 or visit sfxcathedralgb.com/adultvisitors.

Not everyone has the means to visit the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, but if beautiful, award-winning church artwork interests you, schedule a visit to St. Francis Xavier Cathedral.