A Church Renovation Worth Celebrating

Several years ago, the best thing that could have happened to my boyhood church in Pennsylvania did in fact happen. One evening the pastor entered the church, turned on the light switch, heard the pop of a short circuit, and peered into an impenetrable cloud of smoke. He ran out of the church and called the fire department. But there had been no fire. The smoke came from tons of plaster that had crashed fifty feet to the floor. The ceiling had collapsed.

Saint Thomas Aquinas Church was built in the 1870’s by the same rough Irish coal miners who built the town of Archbald. They fashioned it as one great open vault, without interior supports, in neo-Romanesque style. Then they hired three Italian painters to cover the interior. The first was Filippo Costaggini (1837-1907), a painter of some note, whose most famous work in this country is his fresco on the frieze of the Capitol rotunda in Washington. His Crucifixion in the apse is the finest such that I have seen in America. When the church was damaged by a fire at the turn of the century, the elderly Costaggini sent one of his proteges to repair the work.

He and the other Italians covered the church with color and significance. They graced the vertical spaces between the windows with figures from the Old Testament, prophets and priests, judges and kings. They surmounted each window with a medallion featuring one of the apostles. They filled the ceiling, too; Mary, giving the rosary to Saint Dominic, with Catherine of Siena and Thomas Aquinas looking on in adoration; Mary, standing upon a blue globe, the serpent crushed beneath her feet, with Pope Pius IX, who declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, kneeling in prayer; the four great fathers of the western church, Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, and Pope Gregory the Great; Saint Cecilia playing upon a spinet, near the choir gallery; the boy Jesus walking along a road with Mary and Joseph; Jesus as the Good Samaritan, lifting a battered man from the earth, no other help in sight; the Annunciation; and more, still more.

That was the ceiling that fell in.

And several years later, that’s the ceiling that has been restored, exactly as it had been. An insurance policy covered much of the cost. The diocese and the congregation handled the rest.

Why do I say it was the best thing that could have happened? Because it gave the pastor a chance to restore more than just the ceiling.

Restored Church

What the Irish miners built from the sweat of their coal-scarred hands, their heedless descendants in the 1970’s, the decade that taste forgot, did their best to destroy. The great main altar, sculpted from Carrara marble—the finest marble in the world, its rich white like vanilla ice cream—is now a stratum of shards and pebbles in some landfill. The marble communion rail, inset with Eucharistic mosaics (a bunch of grapes, loaves of bread, the Lamb of God, two fishes) was pried out and stashed no one knows where. Two large round paintings of Saint Peter and Saint Paul were taken down, leaving the church with but ten apostles. No one knows what became of them. Clouds over which angels hovered, above the sanctuary and in full view of the congregation, were painted blank white, obliterating all shades and detail, and the sky behind was painted blank baby blue, turning the work into a pastiche of sacred art and Saturday morning cartoon.

The Italian painters had softened and embellished the spare architecture of the open vault. They separated their paintings with “architecture,” bands of muted color, giving the impression of an interconnected whole. The eye could descend from the paintings in the center of the ceiling, to the paintings near the bend of the vault, to the paintings above the windows, to the windows and the painted niches between them, to the sculpted polychrome Stations of the Cross below the windows. That sensible tracery did not survive the 1970’s. It was eliminated, in favor of a cold blank white. Nor did the tile floor, inlaid with cruciform patterns, survive. It was covered over with a red carpet, which quickly grew stained and bald and grimy.

So the pastor now had the chance to restore or replace, at great expense, what had been removed or destroyed, at great expense. The result is magnificent. “It is easy to pray in Saint Thomas,” wrote one of our more than fifty native sons to enter the priesthood, before the demolition in the 1970’s. It was easy to pray there, and it is easy once again, because the church is now filled with signs and wonders.

You cannot turn anywhere, without seeing the Word of God, and hearing it in your mind’s ear. “Go to Joseph,” reads the painted scroll above the niche in the sanctuary where the statue of Joseph the Laborer stands. “Slain in Sacrifice,” reads the inscription surrounding the Lamb of Revelation, directly above the altar. “What doth it profit a man should he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” read the words pieced out in a stained glass window of Saint Ignatius, begging Saint Francis Xavier to join him.

I visited that boyhood church of mine the other day. It was quiet and peaceful. It was also full. I wasn’t the only person there. Jesus was there; I knew that from the red candle beside the tabernacle, at the (new) great altar in the sanctuary. But other people were there, too. I sensed their presence, as I could never have done inside a scoured-bare minimalist building functioning as a church. The Irish miners were there. Costaggini and his students were there. All the priests who added and never subtracted were there. Father McGinley, whom I do not remember, but who married my mother and father and baptized me, was there.

One thing that Father McGinley did attracted my attention most of all. He chose new stained glass windows for the nave. They were made in Scranton, about sixty years ago, just before the fad for primitivism and big clunky polygons—a fad that persists, like malaria, in our missals and in the banners that turn churches into kindergartens. He was Dr. Francis McGinley, an educated man, and he knew what he was about. He wanted windows for an Irish and now also immigrant Italian and Polish Catholic Church, in the United States of America, at precisely that time in history. He wanted windows to define who we were, as against the madness of the world. Here is what he chose.

Christ gives the keys of the kingdom to Peter. An image of Saint Peter’s appears in the background. The triple tiara of the Pope appears in an inset above. Below is a solid cube, the stone which the builders rejected, the rock on whom Christ builds his church; it is marked on one face with I H S, on another with X P, the Greek capitals abbreviating the name Iesous Christos.

The Virgin Mary appears to the three children at Fatima. The inset below features a hammer and a sickle. The inset above features a Russian cross. We were going to pray a rosary every first Friday of the month for the conversion of Russia, from the evil of godless communism.

Saint Patrick, with a bishop’s mitre and crozier, preaches to the pagan Irish, illustrating the Trinity by the analogy of the shamrock.

Jesus at Cana instructs the waiters to fill the earthenware jars with water. Whatever the world might say about marriage, we knew it was holy. The inset below features two golden rings, interlocked; what God has joined together, not even Moses, not even an American judge nodding at his bench, should put asunder.

Saint Ignatius wins Saint Francis Xavier to his cause. The inset below shows the dying Francis upon a seashore, holding a cross before him. We knew we were sent to bring Christ to a pagan world.

Pope Pius XII canonizes the girl Saint Maria Goretti, who holds in her arms the white lilies of virginity. Across the aisles, Pope Saint Pius X gives Holy Communion to a kneeling boy and girl. Next to that window, Jesus preaches to the Samaritan woman at the well. Do we understand the profound goodness of childhood, and what that has to do with purity? Maybe we will if we look to the next window, where Saint Anne is teaching the girl Mary, who kneels by her side, a distaff in the background, and an open book in the mother’s lap.

If we don’t yet understand, we look to the next window, where a standing Thomas More speaks to a seated fellow who is clearly in ill humor. “Ever the king’s good servant,” reads the inset, “but God’s first.” No surprise that an Irish priest named McGinley should favor the saint who spoke the unwelcome truth to a British king. But the messages are clear. We do not worship a State or a statesman. Marriage is holy, ordained by God.

Then comes Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, both mother and consecrated nun, holding a book and a lighted lamp, with an inset below of the school she built. We knew we were to educate our children, regardless of what the State might do. Then the scholar Saint Thomas Aquinas himself, the portly dark-skinned Italian, with two books on a table: the Summa Theologiae, resting upon the Holy Bible.

That was Saint Thomas Aquinas Church, in the world, for the world, against the world, but not of the world. And that was but one church, in a no-account little town in Pennsylvania. The people who built that church were poorer than we are in material goods, by far, and, if what they built with their hands is any testimony, they were richer than we are in spiritual goods and surer in spiritual direction, by far. For the sake of these poor, our eyes shut fast with fatness, it is high time, pastors, principals, composers, musicians, teachers, and writers, that some more ceilings came down.

Anthony Esolen


Professor Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).

  • Derrick Celso

    Wonderful indeed. Congratulations to all involved.

    (By the way, I think it was Pope Pius XII, not Pope Pius IX, canonized St. Maria Goretti)

  • djc

    One of the things that brings a smile to my day is to read an article by Anthony Esolen.

  • Austin Ruse

    Tony…really really nice piece…

  • LarryCicero

    “[If] what they built with their hands is any testimony”- it sure is Tony. When I first travelled to Europe, I realized that truth- “they were richer than we are in spiritual goods and surer in spiritual direction, by far.” It played a part my conversion. Three more examples of ethnic churches that have been restored are St Joseph(German) and St John Nepomuk(Czech) both in St. Louis, and St. John Cantius(Polish) in Chicago. It is nice to hear about this Irish one.

  • BigDuane

    I love this article! I’m going back to PA myself this weekend, and one of the joys of visiting my parents is attending Mass at the parish where my family has attended since at least 1876. Some renovations were good, some not so good, but it is the parish where my great-great grandparents, my great grandparents, and grandparents were married along with countless confirmations, baptisms, funerals and other services.

  • me, myself & I r all here

    that ‘priest’ , despite the authors backhanded slaps, a man of the 80’s, who led the restoration with God’s people, the very next day after the collapse, was named administrator of the Scranton diocese & is now bishop! A great guy, a great job, good people & a great God!

    • Tony

      Excuse me, but there are no backhanded slaps in the article. The men who restored the church did a very fine thing. It’s just a fact that a different pair of priests, both of them I believe genuinely good and even holy men (and close to my family), were misled by a lot of bad ideas about church art.

    • JD

      Pray tell, after reading Mr. Esolen’s piece, what exactly do you find “great” about the 70’s renovation?

  • John O’Neill

    On the down side of this issue is the fact that I cannot go home again to my home parish. I grew up in a beautiful old church in Philadelphia where I was an altar boy and received all the sacraments. This church was also built by hardworking immigrants, mostly Irish, but has now been torn down and its school also destroyed. I now reside in rural Lancaster County and our small country church which was built at minimum cost and looks it still serves the people of God and is a thriving parish. If I want to see the glories of the past I need only to travel up to Lancaster City and visit the beautiful old immigrant churches which are still thriving and filling the pews. I do agree that a church that reflects the glory of God is easier to prayerful disposition. I have been fortunate and have lived in Europe and I have seen the splendor of St. Peter’s in Rome, Cologne Cathedral, Notre Dame etc and they certainly are awe inspiring, unfortunately they do no serve a large Catholic population anymore.

    • jacobhalo

      john, I was born and raised in Philly in the Port Richmond section. My parish was the Nativity. We had three church on adjacent corners, Nativity, Our Lady Help of Christians and St. Aldaberts. All three had schools, but only St. Aldaberts is open. It is called Our Lady of Port Richmond. The churches are still open, but just about. These 3 churches are absolutely beautiful. They were build in the late 1800’s

      • John O’Neill

        I grew up in Ascension parish which is right next to Port Richmond and I know those three churches well. I am still puzzled where they got the name Our Lady of Port Richmond; but it does work. Serva fidem.

        • RMF

          Decades ago, the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia was filled with shipping docks and railroad terminals operated by the Reading Railroad Co. Amid the busy docks was a modest yet sizable chapel available every day (especially on Sundays) for the dock workers; the chapel was dedicated to Blessed Mary and the Infant Christ, and therefore was named “Our Lady of Port Richmond.”

          I believe the chapel closed many years ago when businesses such as the Reading RR Co. stopped using the Port Richmond docks. This may have been the inspiration behind the naming of the current grade school “Our Lady of Port Richmond” – a nod to a long-held tradition of asking Our Blessed Mother to watch and guide the people in that Philly neighborhood.

          • DE-173

            Not to be picky, but the “Reading Railroad” only existed on Monopoly boards; the actual name was “Reading Company”, in large part due to it’s diversification until the Federal Government forced divesture of coal interests, etc.

      • stpetric

        On one hand, I find it very moving to realize that these beautiful churches were built by working-class immigrants a nickel and a dime at a time. OTOH, the ethnic identity of these parishes leads to the situation at one intersection in New Haven, Ct, from which one can see five parish churches: the Italian, French, German, Polish, and Irish parishes. It’s painful to close churches that are beautiful and that are the repositories of so many memories. But it’s difficult, expensive, and perhaps even unwise to try keeping them all open.

        • Tony

          I agree with you, but only in part. Sometimes churches have to be closed; the money isn’t there. But every time a church closes, we should be viewing it as we would view the death of a dear friend. It is not just a management decision. It is a death, and often a death brought on all the quicker by bad faith and betrayal.

          In the meantime, it simply isn’t true that there aren’t the PEOPLE to make those churches vibrant. There are plenty of people. There are more people in the US now, by far, than when I was born; around a hundred million more people. The problem is that they are not in church. And that is not a problem of demographics, so much as a problem of evangelization. It is our failure.

          Now, if I were the bishop of a diocese, and I thought only in emulous worldly terms about success and failure, the first thing I’d do is take a hard look at priests and orders that have turned parishes around, that suddenly have the places bursting with families and lots of children, that are flush with vocations and so forth. And I would go ahead and invite them to my diocese. I would demand that my priests do just what those others were doing. Is it too much to ask of our bishops, that if they are not going to be Charles Borromeo, they might at least be Red Auerbach or Walter O’Malley or Bob Kraft?

    • Makalu

      In MN recently the bishop just sold St. John’s church to muslims… the steeple cross was found broken in the garbage can after the sale. Crescent over the Holy Cross… Need I say more???

  • jpct50

    The Lord is merciful!

  • jacobhalo

    There is a St. Thomas Aquinas parish in South Philly that is magnificent.

  • Sherry

    Thank you for this beautiful, heartening story! Just reading your description of the restored church gives one a sense of awe and wonder – and great joy. To be surrounded with beauty like this is a holy experience – where praise, glory, and adoration emanate from our very being to the Lord and creator of us all.

    Each of the pictures and statues and representations tell a story that can be a source of meditation – as you indicated the importance of Jesus with the earthen jars, the picture of the wedding feast at Cana is its own catechesis and indicates the holiness of marriage in a way that many texts fail to do.

    Recently, an atheist friend of mine asked me to take her to my church so I brought her to Sunday Mass. She was enthralled with the stained glass windows and wanted to know what the stories were for each of the windows. Same with the stations of the cross. She continues to learn about our faith.

    Hopefully, ideas such as restoring our churches will be one of the recommendations of the synod to help surround our families with the truth, beauty and goodness they need to flourish.

  • Robert

    Thank you this beautiful article. There are so many Catholic Churches today that are sterile and are more a meeting hall than a Church. Recently, while traveling, I had to ask where the Tabernacle was located. It was in an undistinguished space behind a closed door, down the hall, that was about the size of a medium size walk-in closet. I have been told by others that the space is not what is important, but that we should be more concerned about getting people in the building (not Mass) to hear the Word of God. That Communion Rails separated us from God, fancy altars are waste of money, and the artwork made us appear to worship idols and not God. These beautiful Churches inspired us so much more than the modern Churches of today. The reverence of our new modern Churches seems to have disappeared.

    • fredx2

      You point out the misleading language that was used to get people to destroy their beautiful churches. Who in their right mind would come up with something like “communion rails separated us from God?” Of course, a communion rail does not such thing, but a person with an agenda will come up with many “reasons” why their odd vision of the church must be followed.
      The mind wanders during the Mass. When it does, you look around, and what do you see to bring your mind back to the holiness of the occasion? In a beautiful church such as the one shown above, your mind is gently led back to thoughts of God. In the semi-circle brutalist warehouses of today, you just see other people, what they are wearing, watch their kids fidget, etc.

      • AugustineThomas

        I love altar rails. They remind me of the Last Supper, that Christ himself commanded what I’m about to do.

    • Steve D.

      “…and the artwork made us appear to worship idols and not God.” Okay, this is straight out of the Protestant anti-Catholic bigotry play book. How did we get here? The new Mass of Pope Paul VI was developed not to offend protestants, and ended up watering down the faith all in the name of Ecumenism. Never mind the Liturgy itself is a form of catechesis. And THAT’S how we came to Catholics holding ridiculous beliefs like this.

      • DE-173

        Robert was giving examples of the specious reasons given by others, not promoting those views.

        • Robert

          Absolutely!!!! I want us to find what was lost. I feel as though I am cheating when I travel and have only a Modern Church to attend. I am not one of those, who I have read on other postings on this website, whose sole purpose is to criticize the Catholic Faith. I am a Catholic and VERY proud to be!

      • Robert

        Yes. It seems that all that was done to make us more accepting to Protestants (changes to the Holy Mass, traditions, and practices) has back-fired. It has only served to make others question our commitment and inspire others to feel they can define Catholic Theology by their own terms. I too drank that Kool-Aid growing up. However, I was determined that my son would attend Catholic School until he graduates High School. But I have not only relied on them; I continue to make sure he knows about the Rosary, and our Traditions, what they mean and why they are important, attending Mass as much as we can during the week. Attending Mass on Sunday has never been a question, but I and my son have friends who question why we attend so often. He never complains or quibbles about attending Mass. I have taken him to The Extraordinary Form of the Mass a few times and he does not really like it because he does not understand, but I have not given up. As he and I look for Colleges there are some we both agreed to strike off the list immediately because of their lack of faith, following the Catechism of the Church.

        • ForChristAlone

          Franciscan U, Christendom College to name two

        • musicacre

          Thomas Aquinas College.

  • Makalu

    Really a fun article and inspiring. Pope Francis give us our heritage back; hand on to us what was handed down to you and previous generations!!!

  • ForChristAlone

    I doubt that all that art and architecture would have found its way into the landfills of PA if those 1970’s pastors were told that its collective value was worth $500,000,000. By that time, the measure of things had changed. But to the faithful who built that Church and what it represented to them was worth more than any sum of money could ever approximate. Eternal verities can have no price tag attached to them.

    • slainte

      It’s time to restore tradition to Catholic Churches which were looted and thus transformed to comply with modernity by the Spirit of Vatican II liberals within the Church of the 1960s and 70s.

      As the archdiocese of New York is slated to close many Catholic parishes in the very near future (ie., Holy Innocents on 37th Street in Manhattan), there will likely be many churches whose beautiful antique statues, crucifixes, altars, and altar rails will become available for distribution. Many of these churches in the outer boroughs of NYC escaped the wrecking ball of modernism in the 1960s and 1970s.

  • fredx2

    I hope some Catholic billionaire starts giving churches money so that all churches can be renovated in this fashion

  • Blanche

    Yes, I feel the sterile interior of the Catholic church in my parish. It is so contemporary and almost cold. I remember well the communion rail at my first home church, how often I was at the rail praying. Where ever I may be I always visit the local parish marveling at the beautiful old world architecture & interior. One has to think about those who did the beautiful craftsmanship. To add to that no one play the organ any longer. Music is a guitar and maybe a piano. Music and singing are the joy of the mass.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      Austere can have a beauty of its own. One of my favourite churches is the Pantheon in Rome.

      It is a former pagan temple, but their is something about the way in which the lines of force converge on the “oculus,” the only source of light that is really sublime.

  • Captain America

    Gorgeous stuff! Our old church was also gang-vandalized in the 1970s—-the almost life-size marble stations of the cross buried somewhere in the Catholic cemetery. Nice.

  • Neihan

    Thank you for this article, and thank you Saint Thomas Aquinas Church. Truly. God bless and keep this parish and her priest.

  • CE User

    Anthony, I’m originally from Mayfield; right up the road from you. I attended Sacred Heart of Mary in Jermyn. A beautiful, simple church that was also “updated” in the 70s. Thank God the pastor of several years ago had the sense to return it to its original beauty.
    If you had an aunt (or even a great aunt) that lived in Mayfield I knew her. She was a friend of my grandmother. “Mrs. Esolen’s cookies” were the best!

    • DE-173

      Mayfield.. so you know about Baumann’s scrap yard, huh?

      • CE User

        I sure do. It was right up the road from me; not far from where Kay’s Pizza relocated. I hope both are still there. I haven’t been back in a while.

        • DE-173

          Baumann’s was “famous” as the final resting place of some New York Ontario and Western (aka the O&W, or the “Old and Weary”). Baumann’s is sort of still there.

    • Tony

      Dear CE User: that was certainly my grandmother, Mary Esolen! They lived on Whitmore Avenue, just over the border into Mayfield, two houses on the right from Division Street. You may have known then my father and some of my aunts and uncles. They had ten children… The cookies she made were egg-based (yellow inside), frosted with icing flavored with vanilla. She kept them soft in a Charles Chips can … If you went to Sacred Heart of Mary, you might have known the man who was priest for many years, and whom my father and my uncles served as altar boys — Father O’Neill. He wanted my father to become a priest, and so did my grandmother, but, happily for me, that wasn’t how things turned out!

      • CE User

        I know exactly where she lived. I lived on Depew Ave. right across the street from the Whitmore Hose Company but I never visited. Your grandmother and my grandmother (Angela Pisano) were good friends. And yes I new Father O’Neill very well. I was an alter boy at SHM. I was one of the alter boys he used to re-choreograph the mass when they had the priest face the people – he was not thrilled with the change. He was a great man. I lapsed in my faith for awhile; thoughts of him and my grandmother brought me back.

      • DE-173

        “She kept them soft in a Charles Chips can ”
        The original Tupperware! Excellent for storing fresh-baked roles, too.

    • Thomas

      I was born in Bryn Mawr, but moved to CA when I was 3.
      Growing up as a football fan, lots of players, especially quarterbacks, hail from around there. Hell, I would never have heard of McKees Rocks if I hadn’t watched so much NFL in the 60’s and 70’s.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    I am in France on business quite often and one good result that came out of the the Law of 9 December 1905, separating Church and State is that all the historic churches are state property. Accordingly, the Ministry of Culture and Communication has prevented any destruction of the country’s heritage – le patrimoine culturel – by the enthusiastic iconoclasts let loose after Vatican II. The clergy cannot put so much as a tin-tac in the wall, without the leave of M le Ministre, thank God.

    • ColdStanding

      That isn’t the state’s heritage, that is the Church’s heritage. You do not get any points for taking good care of something of the stolen goods in your possession. Indeed it is even more ridiculous for what the French state failed to finish off, namely: the destruction of the religious orders, sound moral theology, Thomistic philosophy, and parish life, those empowered by the council pitched in to help get the job done with an unseemly relish.

      • Tony

        Mr. Paterson-Seymour was clearly speaking with mordant irony. It is a sad state of affairs when we have to depend upon cultural wardens in the State to protect us from the iconoclastic imbecilities of our own people, some of them meaning well, and some not. He puts me in mind of the splendid church of Saint John the Evangelist, in Stamford, Connecticut. That Irish Gothic church was spared most of the depredations of the 70’s because at that time the parish was too poor to “renovate” …

        • ColdStanding

          Detecting irony in an MPS posts is a mug’s game.

        • ColdStanding

          Syllogistically speaking, I just called you a mug.

          Only with earnest effort (ergo a mug’s game) can one detect irony in a MPS post
          Tony detected irony in a MPS post
          Tony is a mug.

          My bad. Sorry. How’s about a Mulligan? You are, after all, a professional English teacher and I but a humble anonymous blog commenter.

        • Michael Paterson-Seymour


    • DE-173

      “all the historic churches are state property. ”
      They revised the Commandment to thou shalt not steal, unless you are the state.
      You know, you can post some good stuff, but your fawning Francophilia is tedious.

      • Michael Paterson-Seymour

        It was Thomas Jefferson who remarked in his letter to Madison of 6 September 1789, “This principle, that the earth belongs to the living and not to the dead, is of very extensive application and consequences in every country, and most especially in France. It enters into the resolution of the questions, whether the nation may change the descent of lands holden in tail; whether they may change the appropriation of lands given anciently to the church, to hospitals, colleges, orders of chivalry, and otherwise in perpetuity; whether they may abolish the charges and privileges attached on lands, including the whole catalogue, ecclesiastical and feudal…In all these cases, the legislature of the day could authorize such appropriations and establishments for their own time, but no longer.”

        • DE-173

          That’s an analysis, not an approval. Then again, I think for myself, so even if that was an approval, I don’t care what France does, I’ll never forgive them for bankrupting the Weimar Republic and making Hitler possible.

          • Michael Paterson-Seymour

            That the earth belongs to those who are on it, not under it, was one of the guiding principles of both the French and the American Revolutions, as was the belief that the future would be unlike the past, that it would be better, and that the experience of ages may instruct and warn, but cannot guide or control.

            • DE-173

              I could care less about France, and your equating of the goons of the state as the sole custodian for the interests of the living.

            • slainte

              MPS, for those of us who believe that perfection will never be realized in this material world and that historical progress will never alter or perfect nature/man, why is your point important and relevant?

    • Ford Oxaal

      And many churches in this country only survived the wrecking ball of the merciless 1970’s because they were classified historic by governmental entities. God works in mysterious ways. Our beautiful church still has everything intact including the communion rail. It is almost incomprehensible how anyone can desire to destroy legacies that are simply irreplaceable. Maybe the mystery of iniquity ultimately amounts to bad taste.

  • hombre111

    Nice article. Congratulations. When there are rich images to nourish the imagination, the faith of the children can grow, and the faith in the heart of an old man can flourish.

  • Bill Russell

    Lovely and inspiring. Just get rid of the pews, They are theologically Protestant and aesthetically Barbaric, destroying the proportions of a beautiful structure.

    • ForChristAlone

      Interesting point. One thing that at first startled me when visiting major cathedrals and even smaller parish churches throughout Catholic Europe was their pewlessness. And those stone floors were rock hard to kneel upon during the consecration (and i was young then).

      • GrantM

        Yes… the Eastern Orthodox (and ironically the Muslims) have retained the tradition of pewlessness. Maybe Eastern Rite Catholics too? Interesting that some Western Catholic churches are still pewless. One Catholic chapel in NZ that I visited had no pews or kneelers, but individual chairs. But the floor was carpeted, so comfy to kneel on…

  • ForChristAlone

    I always enjoy visiting our familial parish church in Martley England. It, too, suffered a similar fate as that at the hands of the “reformers” of post Vatican II – but in the case of St. Peter’s, Martley, these were the original “reformers” who managed to desecrate Catholic churches by whitewashing over frescoes of the Virgin (and much worse things). These have since been partially restored so that my 12th century ancestral church can have a bit of her patrimony returned. Perhaps some day her full patrimony will be restored when the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass will be prayed there by an authentically ordained priest of the Catholic Church.

  • jhmdeuce

    Take up a collection and replace/restore the communion rail. I’m in.

  • Glories

    If the clergy say that it should not be preserved – the heritage of the faithful who build the church- does this leave the window open to tear down all the churches in Rome and the Vatican because they are old? Thank God they haven’t done that yet. Whenever they preserve great churches in Rome and elsewhere the workers that are hired to do the preservation many times are moved by the Holy Spirit to join the church or return to their faith by their experience of preserving the sacred.

  • johnalbertson

    Costaggini’s frieze in the US Capitol was based on sketches by
    Constantino Brumidi. They were not completed because of an original
    miscalculation in the dimensions. Ironically, the finished product was
    an improvement on Brumidi’s original design. In a period of generally
    bad religious art, Costaggini was superior to most, albeit at best in
    the second tier of artists. Certainly he excelled Brumidi, who is generally
    understood as third rate, if typical of his genre. The painting
    attributed to him in the Church of the Holy Innocents in Manhattan, which is now
    proposed for closure, is one of Brumidi’s worst works, only in part due
    to bad restoration over the years. An improved restoration recently is
    now ill served by a garish turquoise border. There are some who doubt
    the Brumidi attribution, but in the likelihood that it is his work, it
    is a poor pastiche of one he did in nearby St. Stephen’s Church, and
    another copy in the College of Mount St. Vincent. In a further irony,
    since the Church of the Holy Innocents is a very traditional parish,
    Brumidi was a 33rd degree Freemason, caught up in the Garibaldi
    revolution and, after threatened imprisonment, ordered out of Italy of
    Blessed Pope Pius IX.

    • Tony

      Mr. Albertson: Can you give me a fair idea of just what it would take for a bustling little town of Irish miners to hire someone like Costaggini? Also, besides the painting in the Capitol, what other works by the man do you know of, in Pennsylvania?

      • johnalbertson

        While hard to translate into modern dollars, Costaggini was paid the equivalent of a Congressman’s salary when he worked on the Capitol. Among the other churches he did in Pennsylvania is the Church of the Holy Infancy in South Bethlehem. He also did the decoration of the Billmeyer House in York, Pennsylvania, now an historic landmark.

  • Vincent Fitzpatrick

    “…Mary, giving the rosary to Saint Dominic, with Catherine of Siena and Thomas Aquinas looking on in adoration…”

    Really? Are Sts. Catherine and Thomas adoring Mary, the Rosary, St. Dominic, or all three?

    • Tony

      I don’t see the trouble. The attitude of adoration suggests that they are caught up in wonder at the grace of God, who is giving this gift to man. They are also caught up in love for Mary. When Saint Bernard shows Dante the mystic rose, that is the rose made up of all the blessed souls in heaven, he says that Saint Anne gazes into the face of her daughter without ceasing; that is literally what it means to “adore”: < os, oris; as if to hang upon someone's lips, or to gaze lovingly upon someone's countenance.

  • Thanks be to God!

  • Objectivetruth

    Beautiful article, Tony. My ancestors came over from Ireland in the last half of the 19th century, settling in the Wilkes Barre/Scranton area, becoming coal miners. I’ll have to dig in to family history to see if they had any involvement at St. Thomas Aquainas.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    Amen absolutely!