Oratory Completing Beautiful Renovations
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
March 14, 2024

ROCKFORD—After about three years of behind-the-scenes renovations (a new roof and central air conditioning) the current stage of renovations at St. Mary Oratory in downtown Rockford is focused on beauty.

From the newly stenciled ceiling and walls to the sanctuary’s marble and porcelain floors, the front of the church is nearing completion. The work began at the beginning of this year, enlisting the talents of artists at Conrad
Schmitt Studios.

After working with a total of seven people to do the “hard work” of scraping old paint off and plastering walls, artists Erika C. Hutchins and Bethany Diez went to work with stencils, paint and gold leaf on those walls and the communion rail, also outlining windows and working on the side altars. Red and white painted marbleized patterns will soon enhance several areas and the communion rail.

A canvas mural of the Blessed Mother painted by a Conrad Schmitt artist originally from Ukraine was installed on March 7 and now “caps” the sanctuary. It received touch ups of gold leaf on March 8 by the artist who asked not to be named.

The work was expected to be completed for Easter Sunday, but the studio reported recently that it will be ready a week ahead of schedule, says Canon John O’Connor, rector of the oratory and a member of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. The oratory is the diocesan location for the Latin Mass.

“The paint part is mostly done,” Canon O’Connor says, explaining that fundraising for the renovations began about nine years ago. Just over $1 million has funded all three parts of the renovations. A new capital campaign to fix up the sanctuary will begin after Easter, and future work will be, pending approval, done as it can be paid for.

“It is really edifying,” Canon O’Connor said of “the sacrifices people make,” noting how all the work has been paid for by parishioners and not
major donors.

“As the money comes in, we will see what we can afford to do,” he added, mentioning hopes to finish the church walls and possibly refurbish the pews. He says his hope is someday to have a mural in the center of the ceiling, “of Our Lady and St. Joseph.”

In an early Lent broadcast on Rockford’s WREX-TV station, Canon O’Connor explained that “Lent is a time when spiritually we seek to restore the temples of our souls to glorify God by seeking to grow in virtue. And so, what we are doing interiorly in this church, we’re also trying to do interiorly in our hearts, to beautify and prepare them
for Christ.”

Parishioners at St. Mary Oratory will move from their temporary place of worship — the church hall in the  basement — upstairs to celebrate Palm Sunday, graced in the new beauty of the renovations, in plenty of time for Easter!



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