Brick by brick in Madison: an Altar-ation!

Brick by brick in Madison, WI, one of the wackiest liberal locales in the US of A.

The great Bishop of Madison, Most Rev. Robert Morlino, about whom I have written quite a few times (his tag), has made a change in the chapel of the “chancery” of the diocese, or as people call chanceries these days “pastoral center“. Terminology aside, the building which houses the diocesan offices used to be a minor seminary and it has a big chapel. The chapel was wreckovated, of course, but I reckon steps are being made to un-wreck some the wreckage wreaked.

Here is a shot of the sanctuary of the chapel as I saw it some time ago.

Note the “Benedictine arrangement”.

From a blog with photos of the new “development HERE:

The celebrant’s/bishop’s chair has been moved to a liturgical North position and a new, old altar has been placed at the wall under the mosaic.

The free-standing “ironing-board” altar (or “Reason #643885 for Summorum Pontificum”) is still there.

All too often we have seen main altars torn out and silly altars placed in the center of sanctuaries.  All to often we have seen silly altars set up in front of beautiful main altars.  Not too often have we seen an altar set up in the apse or at the wall in the place where the main altar was but leaving the table altar in place.  But I suspect the work is not yet done!

It is too bad that there couldn’t be the usual three steps up to the footpace.  It looks as if that could be rectified pretty easily down the line.

Altar by altar in Madison!

It’s nice to have good news once in a while, no?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Papabile says:


    quick question. This is certainly a beautiful addition, but do we know it’s really an altar and not just a superstructure for the Tabernacle? In Arlington, we have had a problem where they will install a similar older altar, yet the Bishop will not consecrate mensa or emplace relics within it. It’s really more of a superstructure.

    It’s a little frustrating. I am not sure if our experience is the more common one nowadays.

  2. Still has a very cold feeling IMHO.

  3. Timbones says:

    A beautiful change and a sign of hope!

  4. acardnal says:

    As you know Fr. Z, my good Bishop Morlino celebrates the EF Mass at times and this could be a prelude to doing so in his renovated chancery chapel. The altar shown appears to have the altar table-space for doing so. As background for your readers, the cathedral church in Madison, St. Raphael, burned to the ground (arson is suspected) in 2005.

  5. AnnAsher says:

    A happy development. Too bad giant slabs of marble are so expensive, though. The space still feels vacuous. It is heartening and I’m beginning to understand the brick by brick mentality. Nice tongue twister – the wrecked wreckage that was wreaked …. :)

  6. acardnal says:

    Further research indicates the arsonist was convicted and sentenced to 15 yrs in prison and 15 yrs of extended supervision.

  7. acardnal says:

    Readers: please check out the blog link that Fr. Z posted above for a progression. More to come . . . .The bishop is moving in the right direction and renovation takes money and time.

    Thanks to Ben Y. for the blog post!

  8. mamajen says:

    With that architecture it has the potential to be a very beautiful church. Shame the altar looks like a skating rink. Some different materials here and there could make this a gorgeous, even traditional space.

  9. mamajen says:

    On second thought, I probably shouldn’t refer to the entire area around the altars as “altar” lest I confuse anyone. The altars themselves do not look like skating rinks, the vast expanse of gray floor does. I think the word I was looking for was chancel.

  10. everett says:

    Very nice. Interestingly enough, the name of the young man who runs the blog seemed familiar, and sure enough, he uses our homeschool program. Way to go Ben!

  11. smmclaug says:

    Yes, it still looks empty and barren. But we have to recall that acts of destruction always take less time than creation. In Genesis, creation happens over 7 days–the Fall is practically instantaneous. Civilization is very slow to build, and works of extreme beauty and high cultural achievement take an excruciatingly long time. The iconoclasts and radicals of the recent past effected enormous desolation in a short time, but compare how long it takes to burn a book, versus how long it takes to write one.

    So take heart in every small step, and perhaps we might even be grateful to have so much good work to do in our lifetimes. Idle hands, and all that.

  12. acardnal says:

    I am sure that another photo essay of this chapel six months from now will show a marked improvement!

  13. Marlon says:

    I was in Madison some time ago, and my time there fell on a weekend, and I had to find a Mass. I was too far from the Extraordinary Form Mass that is in the city, so I went to the nearest Catholic Church. I knew I was in trouble when the “gathering area” had vending machines, and the church had stadium seating. You can guess the rest. I know Bishop Morlino is one of the best, and after that Mass, I made sure to pray for him every day. I still do.

  14. acardnal says:

    Please do pray for Bishop Morlino. He is a VERY orthodox bishop but he has met great resistance from the liberals – both in the laity and the clergy – since his arrival a few years ago. He is doing his best to bring everyone and everything into orthodoxy and orthopraxis.

  15. Ben Yanke says:

    Hmm…… Didn’t expect to see this here… :)

  16. Ben Yanke says:

    I can’t help it, here’s my proposed arrangement of the new altar, once it’s consecrated. I also put this pic up at my blog…

    New altar

  17. Placing the “presider’s chair” where the high altar and holy tabernacle should be sends one clear message by its liturgical suggestion: man is in the place of God. This neatly summarizes the emphasis of the Second Vatican Council and its ‘anthropocentric’ foci. It also presents a grave occasion for offending God in His holy sanctuary.

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  19. NoTambourines says:

    In so many ways, the altar has restored something that was missing. You don’t have to be an interior designer to consider that how a place is built — color, style, materials, symmetry/assymmetry — affect how people feel and their attitudes when they in that area. Decisions are based on what the space is intended for.

    Great thought goes into planning along these lines for things like libraries, but it has been thrown out in churches. In fact, it almost seems like there is an unspoken imperative to do the opposite and insist it doesn’t matter.

    After being reminded at Christmas of the beauty of the church in my hometown parish, I got to thinking: Churches should be in some way a foretaste of heaven for all to enjoy and to ponder on. Rich and poor, young and old. And the art is instructive as well as beautiful and inspiring, also encouraging awe and reverence.

    And then there’s this: educators know very well that the more senses are engaged, the more people retain what they learn. So, why have we made our churches so dull, flat, lifeless, and unwelcoming?

    On my reading list: “Ugly As Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces and How We Can Change Them Back Again”

  20. pookiesmom says:

    There was a caption describing the beautiful high altar at St. Cecilia’s Church in Rome which also referenced the”unfortunate Novus Ordo table in front”….’unfortunate Novus Ordo table’ hits it about right I think!

  21. wmeyer says:

    “Much water has flown under the Tiber’s bridges, carrying away splendor and mystery from Rome since the pontificate of Pius XII… [T]he banalities and translations which have ousted the sonorous Latin and Greek are of a supermarket quality which is quite unacceptable. Hand shaking and embarrassed smiles or smirks have replaced the older courtesies; kneeling is out, queuing is in, and the general tone is like BBC radio broadcast for tiny tots….” — Sir Alec Guiness

    That wreckovation exemplifies Sir Alec’s sentiments. Nice to see that progress is being made in turning back toward tradition. Covering over that vintage 1970s background image would be a wonderful next step. A couple of coats of paint, and a suitably large crucifix would make a huge difference, and reduce the frigidity of the space.

  22. Supertradmum says:

    wmeyer, Sir Alec and his wife were in the same parish as my little family in England. He was a convert and we had a priest friend in common, Fr. Derek Jennings, who sadly died young of cancer. That Sir Alec was conservative was a known fact, but even he did not see the Summorum Pontificum, as he died before that. His wife died months after he did. Many in England deplored the use of wreckovation in the Catholic chapels and churches, saying tongue-in-cheek, that we were glad the Anglicans had so many old churches, which were not being ruined. The ruining of churches has always shown me that many priests wanted to radically Protestantize the Church and almost succeeded. Thank God for good bishops like Bishop Morlino, who was one among several leaders in the Church, who told my son to be a priest!

  23. Elizabeth D says:

    I was at the O’Connor Center recently for a funeral luncheon (Richard Blaney, very instrumental in starting and running our Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel downtown, RIP), and was very excited when I saw this new altar and tabernacle being installed and worked on by a craftsman.

    In this chapel the old tabernacle was a freestanding wood pillar in the right arm of the church, with prie-dieus in a half circle around it. This now BOTH supplies a front-and-center tabernacle and a suitable EF altar. From the design, it is definitely meant to also be an altar. The color does not match other wood in the chapel very well. It is true that it would not be too difficult to add additional steps since it the whole thing sits on the floor. A knowledgeable friend of mine says there had long been a desire to make this and other changes in this chapel, but Bp Morlino waited out of respect for the more liberal bishops emeritus, who have passed away now. My friend expected that there would be more changes coming.

    Not only Bp Morlino, but a great retired priest who lives at the O’Connor Center, Monsignor Del Schmelzer, celebrates the EF Mass (Bp Morlino actually lives downtown). Another thing is that diaconal or even priestly ordinations are sometimes held at the O’Connor Center and sometimes it may be desirable that these ordinations be in the extraordinary form, for instance those for the Society of Jesus Christ, Sovereign Priest.

  24. Cricket says:

    Sorry all, but the Chapel at the O’Connor Center (formerly, Holy Name Seminary) was never “wreckovated.” It was built in 1967–what you see is what’s been in place for the past 35 years. The big mosaic is very lovely, actually. But so is the new Tabernacle arrangement!

  25. wmeyer says:

    Cricket: Then it was wreckitected? What a shame. The big mosaic may be a delight, but in the picture, it contributes to the cold feeling of the place.

  26. incorpore says:


    I’ve seen pictures of the chapel with a high altar and communion rail, as well as side altars. While those things were torn out, I’d add that the old pictures don’t include the improved stained glass windows that were added (in the 2000’s?)

    Regarding the steps to the altar, I understand that there was an attempt at consideration for the retired priests who also reside at this center, some of whom have some difficulty with steps (especially while holding something – a Ciborium for instance)

    In general this is a chapel and not a parish church with generous parishioners. I think the outcome was not perfect, but a great step – especially considering that the diocese doesn’t even have support yet to build a Cathedral.

  27. It’s not the mosaic that’s a problem. It’s the floor.

    No northern area needs arctic-white or gray walls during the winter, but even then you can have a nice colorful floor. This is a horrible expanse of white carpet, simply begging to show dirt and stains when dirty, and terribly soulless when clean.

    I bet underneath the carpet is some kind of floor with a design to it, unless somebody went with soulless white linoleum or white tile or something. A golden-ish or colorful, patterned floor would make a big difference. Heck, even a throw rug, or an Oriental rug containing all the liturgical colors, would be a great change.

  28. Heck, I’d even go for brown, or a tan like the bricks.

  29. Ben Yanke says:

    I might also add that two other rumors that I heard a while back (along with the rumor of this new altar) were concerning the floors and an altar rail…just so y’all know, since there seems to be a general distaste with the floors. I’ll certainly post more pics on my blog if there’s any more major updates.

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