1980 - 2020
He reviewed the controversy of what to do with the Shrine. He even sent another architect to take a look and get a second opinion. The report back was that it would be a shame to take down the Shrine. Meanwhile, the Friends of St. Joseph’s had been legally organized into a not for profit corporation, the codicil in Ann Biddle’s will bought some time, and the grand truck depot venture was beginning to unravel.
The new Archbishop invited all five of the officers of the newly formed corporation along with Wofford to meet in the Chancery along with Msgr. Gallagher. Said Wofford, “before-hand we had done our homework and, having obtained copies of building permits, this gave us real information about the new St. Patrick’s Church that Sverdrup and Parcel had been awarded to build. At the meeting, the Archbishop started off talking about the future St. Patrick and used false incorrect numbers, and we countered with the correct information we had researched. We questioned the cost and other numbers being given which we knew were wrong.” The Archbishop, realizing the six men were well prepared, quickly changed the subject. In effect, he said: “okay then, I will lease the property to you for a dollar a year and you will agree to bear all expenses, including restoration. The Archdiocese will only be responsible for the ministry and all liturgical questions.” To the Archbishop’s surprise, all six men accepted the terms joyfully. It should be said that relations between the Friends and the Archbishop quickly warmed considerably and he actually became quite interested in the progress of the restoration in the years to follow.
Thus, On Oct 1, 1980, Archbishop May made the rather bold and innovative decision to grant to the Friends, Inc., stewardship of the Shrine, in a long term written lease agreement in which the organization was given all financial responsibility to raise the revenue for, direct the restoration, and to pay all other necessary bills while the Archdiocese would continue to make religious decisions. It was warmly accepted by the entire Friends organization. For a group of people that went into a “happy dance” over receiving a mere ten dollar donation and whose meager funds were kept in a cardboard box at Finninger’s Restaurant in Baden, they realized this was a huge financial challenge to undertake. It was a task seemingly so awesome that there were plenty of skeptics.
Indeed, the early years of stewardship were not easy. The early group had the drive to see the restoration through, but they didn’t always have the financial means to make it happen. Boll, the Friends first treasurer, even arranged with the bank that if plans for the restoration didn’t succeed, the early donors would get their money back in hopes that this would give donors some assurance. Finninger, the Friends’ first president, remembered “passing the hat” just to be able to pay utility bills.
In 1982, Archbishop May assigned Father Valentine Young to the Shrine as its religious administrator and he also designated the church officially as a Shrine. Before that, although people would refer to the church as St. Joseph’s Shrine, it was never officially given that status until Father Valentine’s assignment. Father brought peace to troubled waters during his over 25 years with his gentle and loving service. He and his fellow Capuchins lived at the new controversial St. Patrick Church. Although the living arrangement was acceptable, as predicted, the church never got off the ground as a parish. From the very beginning, Father “Val” was supportive of the Friends efforts to restore the Shrine. He celebrated Mass at the Shrine during the years when there was nearly always scaffolding and falling old paint chips, and dust somewhere as work was progressing. He implored people to be patient and would say when pointing to a completed area “just look at how beautiful this is all going to become.”
The first years of an expanded Board of Directors had been painful, with Board meetings often lasting past midnight and could be quite contentious. Said Wofford, “we had several members who thought restoration was a matter of just slapping on new paint.” Said Father Valentine, “some on the Board always thought they knew more about restoration than Ted--and Ted was always very gentle in answering their questions...I give Ted a lot of credit for the way he handled all of this.” Father Val went a long way in helping to unify the Board into a more cohesive group and keeping people motivated in donating to the effort. He was at the Shrine for 26 years--his last official pastoral celebration was the blessing of the completed tower stonework in June of 2008. Thus, he had virtually seen the restoration to its completion and old-timers feel he certainly had a positive influence toward helping the Friends to ultimately succeed.
Early Restoration Efforts
The first priority had been to restore the crumbling house to a livable rectory in hopes of housing a priest. Charlie Rallo contributed immensely to this effort. In one day, his men dry-walled the entire rectory. He also rebuilt the back porches that were falling apart, and through the years, was a loyal source of support and aid. Wofford went to Mike and Carolyn McAvoy’s basement in Lafayette Square as well as Antique Lighting Company to view their collection of period lighting fixtures. For $1,800, the rectory was completely re-lighted with antique fixtures appropriate to its period. During the Missouri Governor’s Mansion’s restoration, Wofford had begun to assemble a group of skilled craftsmen who would eventually make their way to the Shrine. Tom Sater, had just formed Artisan Decorators, a firm that hoped to specialize in Victorian decoration. Wofford brought Tom to the rectory to look at the parlor south of the entry, since some on the Board were balking at the idea of returning the house to its period. For almost no money, Ted and Tom decorated that room as a sample, and from that time forward, it has remained virtually unchanged. Based on the look of what they created in that room, all of the rest of the rectory was also done in similar fashion except for Father Filipiak’s bedroom. Although his room has been “prettied up” a bit, it still has the austere feeling of his bleak existence, and is a memorial to his tragic death for this church. Years of cigar smoke had coated the glass on the parlor doors on the first floor, and it took paint remover to reveal the beautiful etchings. The third floor had built-in book cases in the hallway, and housed nests of pigeons and their droppings as well as old theology books in German and were probably toxic. The books were offered to St. Louis University, but they didn’t want them so most of them were disposed of and the book cases were restored. The rest of the house was wall papered in the halls with a paper designed by Pugin, the founder of the Gothic revival in England, and in the other parlor with a wallpaper by Sir Christopher Dresser, a famous botanist and designer of the mid 19th century. These were from Bradbury and Bradbury, a California firm dedicated to accurately reproducing Victorian wallpapers.
One of the Board members, John Holzhauser, had been a sales rep at Lammert’s Furniture for many years and had a list of loyal clients. He himself was knowledgeable about furniture appropriate for a Victorian period. One of his clients donated some of their furniture, a painting, and some of their fine china to the Shrine. John was a great help to Wofford in supporting the quality level of the rectory restoration. After a couple of years of effort, the rectory was amazingly and exquisitely transformed from the sad shape it had been in, to a wonderful Victorian interior.
Fairly early, the floor in the lower hall (Shrine Shoppe) was replaced with concrete thanks to the work of Sam Vitale and his men of Vee Jay Cement Contracting who generously contributed to this effort as well as the building of the handicap ramp. The floor had been nothing more than rotted wood with termites. Anita Schene remembers how her husband, John, would come in on Saturdays with their two sons, and haul out this old deteriorated wood floor so that new concrete could go in. This space had originally intended to be re-converted back to a chapel and meeting room. But the advent of the thrift shop altered that idea.
Early on, Wofford made temporary repairs to the stone on the facade. But, having run out of funds at a critical point, each Fall Charlie Rallo furnished Wofford with a lift. Said Wofford,
“I would go up and take off up to ten bushels of loose stone with my bare hands to keep it from falling on our visitors...the sandstone was like mud in a matrix, and to my horror, I later discovered that the large cornice on which I walked to check the erosion of the balusters that supported the heavy stone railing at the top was actually eroded inside and barely a shell. Water penetration had created long voids within much of the facade that made replacement difficult. Every known technology was used to solve the problem of support efficiently and economically.”
Several labor unions who wanted to see the Friends succeed, made valuable contributions by completing a number of jobs that were needed: brick tuck pointing, hundreds of feet of new electric wiring, a new bathroom, ceramic tile -- all infrastructure work that was necessary. Among those were: Ted Peterson of Peterson Woodworking Co., who made some fine woodworking contributions, Joe Sheehan Sr. and his company for plumbing work; Mike Mohrmann and Sachs Electric for donated or reduced labor services.
Also in 1981, a Jewish man active in the Hebrew faith that Ted Schafers knew, who had grown up in the neighborhood and wished to remain anonymous, made a $100,000 donation. All of this early work and this sizable donation gave the early Friends group a big boost of confidence. Father Filipiak had always felt that the area would someday come back, and...it happened. In 1981, a group of investors announced that they were sinking an initial $50 million dollars into the development of Columbus Square and a beautiful piazza in front of the Shrine. Said one investor, “we would not be doing this if the Friends were not serious about restoring this beautiful church.”
In 1982, Carmella Baker began her many years of heading up the annual June festival in the park just east of the Shrine. It became a major event which attracted hundreds and hundreds of people and brought in thousands of dollars. She gradually added four booths where enthusiastic women would cook and provide German, Polish, Italian, and Irish food thus giving the festival a distinctly ethnic quality.
Nearly everyone familiar with the church in those days who knew of the church’s problems remembers the numerous pigeons who made the Shrine their home. In 1983, a giant vacuum-type machine with the capability of gobbling up bricks was brought in to remove the thousands of pounds of pigeon droppings that had accumulated in the towers. The Super Sucker, as it was called, took over a week to suction out over what was reportedly 100,000 lbs. of droppings. According to Carmella Baker, some of the droppings were bagged and sold as fertilizer to support the restoration...that is, until the city Board of Health stopped them. The machine was not able to maneuver around the bells and had to be done by hand. This work was done by a volunteer group of seminarians over several Saturdays. Father Glenn Eftink, one of the seminarians, reflects on this experience: “We would go to the Shrine on Saturday mornings in the winter. It was usually freezing cold up in the tower, and, honestly, some of the pigeon droppings were 3 feet deep. We attached a pulley to 2 x 4’s...removed several of the louvers and hanged the pulley out in front. We had some 200 feet of rope and several 5 gallon buckets...Three or four guys would shovel the droppings into the buckets and lower them down. One guy would stand below by a dumpster and empty them. At day’s end, we would head home for a well-deserved shower! The idea of us going to the Shrine to shovel pigeon droppings provided for plenty of comic relief at the seminary.” Father Eftink added, “the church was basically in a shambles...it was hard back then to imagine how the old Shrine in a blighted part of town could ever be revived. I feel I had a small part to play in this long, wonderful renewal of such a special, sacred place where heaven is wedded to earth.” (Fr. Eftink is a priest in the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese).
Interior Restoration Begins
By 1985, more donors were beginning to get on board. In addition, Ted Schafers and Cleo Baker received some significant donations from banks and other corporations. While they were working on the financial end, John Schene became a wonderful salesman for the Shrine and was instrumental at bringing in more volunteers. For example, Schene, Walt Raney, Conrad Philipp, and Ralph Ellerbrock had all attended St. Engelbert’s together as kids. They went their separate ways but later in life, Schene convinced Philipp and Raney to come and volunteer their talents together with him and Ellerbrock- all four of them eventually even ended up on the Board together. Baker in 1989 followed by Schene in 1995 became presidents of the Board.
Finally, enough donations were in the bank, for Ted Wofford and his carefully chosen group of artisans to begin restoration of the interior in 1985. It would be a lengthy restoration. It was done one project at a time because the decision had been made that no new project would be started until there was enough money to pay for it. Wofford and his group of artisans had just completed a Victorian restoration of the Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City.
With these fine, dedicated craftsmen, they carefully unearthed the original colors and patterns of the decoration by controlled chemical removal of several layers of various kinds of paint in order to reveal the often fragile, original layer. Starting with the east side altar, they scraped through the layers with razor blades down to the varnish coat above the original marbleizing to discover the palette to match in restoring the main altar and west side altar. What one sees today in the east altar is almost entirely original finishes.
When that was successful, the restoration moved to the stained glass windows. Fortunately, Art Glass Unlimited was able to find replacement glass that was textured on the outside that closely matched the original glass some of which were broken. The two figural windows in the organ loft were so damaged by the flow of water resulting from an unflashed gap between the parapet and the roof, that they had to be reproduced from the fragments of the original windows. Again, Gary Harris and Art Glass Unlimited did a fantastic job.
Restoration of the ceilings required solving two major issues: first, the ceilings had all been covered with a thick build-up of carbon and soot from the years that the church was lit with gas lights. All of this was cleaned with a product still made in St. Louis called absorene. Said Ed Benson, the Shrine’s lead artisan recently, “we used gobs of that stuff...it looks like play dough, but it really does the job of thoroughly cleaning surfaces.” (the rear two bays in the rear corners on each side were left untouched so people could see from where we started) Secondly, in various areas plaster was pulling away from the lath. At the Governor’s Mansion, Wofford had developed a device that would screw in and re-attach sagging plaster back to the wood lath. These devices are invisible when viewed from a distance. Each major bay area in the Shrine’s ceiling has up to 100 of these located in the field colors and not in the old, decorative work.
The Shrine is now on its third generation of the original artisans. The young ones actually give up their regular jobs to work at the Shrine during January and February as needed. In the early years, the artisan group was headed up by Tom Sater, followed by John Picco, and then by Ed Benson. Now Ed Benson, of the successor firm of Picco and Benson, guides the delicate painting touch up work that preserves this elegant decoration for the future. Assisting Benson have been Tim McClain, and Dustin LaGarce, who have worked again on the ceilings over the last five winters. Said Wofford, “this type of delicate work is art rather than normal painting. Each side bay ceiling panel, for instance, requires 42 custom colors in order to look like nothing has happened. We have used only 22 carat gold leaf for accents as it will last forever, and has a life span that regular gold paint lacks.”
Shortly after the restoration work began in 1985, individuals or a family were asked to “adopt” a work of art or statuary. It was through this type of fund raising that, little by little, most all of the religious artwork and statuary were meticulously restored. Most of this work was done by Michelle Bowman and Diane Pappas. Said Michelle, “In 1988, when I first started working on the “guardian angel” statue , it, along with nearly every other statue was so over-laid with at least 5 or 6 layers of paint, that you could not see the fine detailing.” For example, it took-- on and off -- a period of over 6 months for Michelle to remove a thick layer of silver paint typically used on radiators and to painstakingly restore the “Guardian Angel” statue to its original colors and bring back the fine detailing in the wings. Michelle and Diane worked for a period of five years up to 1993 restoring nearly every major Shrine statue.
Another noteworthy story of statue restoration was the massive “Death of St. Joseph” statue which weighs well over 600 lbs. and measures 5 ft. long by 5 ft. high. A large, deep crack had opened up through the middle of this statue and at least two of Jesus’ fingers were missing. Angelo Lancia, a custom woodworker, said, “I still remember getting this large statue out of the Shrine to our shop and then into the living room of Ray Mateuzzi.” Lancia repaired the large crack and Jesus’ fingers. Mateuzzi, a master artisan, was suffering from arthritis. He said: “ if you can get that statue into my living room-- on days when I am able to work I will work on it.” The statue was put through his picture window opening with six able bodied men. Ray carefully and methodically re-finished and re-painted the statue in his living room shortly before his death. This statue stands as a lasting tribute to his love for the Shrine, and to his skills. This wonderfully restored statue was returned to the Shrine and re-dedicated in 1986. This story just symbolizes the high level of dedication that existed on the part of all the artisans who worked on this restoration.
In 1988, the American Institute of Architects gave Ted Wofford and his artisans a special award of excellence for the exceptional quality of preservation work on the east and west side altars and the 14 ceiling bays. And also in 1988, one of several visits to the Shrine to see the progress first-hand of the restoration resulted in this comment made in a letter to the Friends by Archbishop May: “It was very encouraging for me recently to see all the progress you have made...” Just before the 1994 sesquicentennial celebration--150 years--Wofford and a friend named Bud Levin had personally completely built all the chandeliers from brass pieces brought over from all parts of Europe and elsewhere to give the same appearance as the original gas lights.
It took all of the years from 1985 to 1994 to accomplish this magnificent interior restoration. The St. Louis Post Dispatch referred to the Shrine’s restoration as “St. Louis’s best kept architectural secret.” Joe Kenny of the St. Louis Review went further than that when he wrote: “To say that the Shrine is beautifully restored does not do it justice...rather, to say that the Shrine is magnificently, lovingly, painstakingly, and even eye-popingly [sic.] restored comes much closer.”
The Last 25 Years
Except for Ted Wofford, the original founders of the organization have all died. Charlie Finninger had a difficult end of life because one of his employees was disgruntled over wages that Charlie was required by the Courts to withhold. He took it out on Charlie and murdered Charlie’s wife and daughter at their restaurant. Charlie died couple of years later. Gene Boll, who had done so much earlier work for the organization, spent nearly the rest of his life with severe back pain. Wofford is the only one of the six who is still living, a man who has everyone’s respect not only for his knowledge but especially for his intense devotion and commitment that he had made to the Shrine’s restoration. Wofford’s work and leadership that he put into restoring the Shrine was a total “labor of love.” It is very doubtful that this story would have ended as successfully as it did without the many years of sheer dedication that Ted Wofford gave to this church with very little compensation. Wofford and his wife, Phyllis, attend Mass every Sunday and he continues as a highly respected member of the Board of Directors. People who had grown very attached to the Shrine began including the Friends organization in part of their Will or Trust. These donations allowed a considerable amount of additional work to be done. With the interior restoration completed, the Board of Directors worked toward the completion of other needed projects throughout these last 25 years.
The following is a summation of the highlights of this work:
In 1997, under the guidance of Conrad Philipp, a dedicated volunteer who had retired from the heating and AC business, oversaw the replacement of the heating system and added air conditioning thus improving the comfort level in the Shrine to year round.
In 1998, the Board negotiated with the city for the purchase of several vacant lots. This resulted in their successful purchase at a good price, and the subsequent building of a very attractive, gated and well-lit parking lot for about 75 cars.
In 1999, the historic Pfeffer 35 rank tracker pipe organ was completely taken apart and restored by Martin Ott. He brought a master organ builder in from Germany to assure the authenticity of the restoration of this historic instrument. The organ, originally built here in St. Louis and put in place in 1890, is very highly regarded by the Organ Guild Society of St. Louis, contains nearly 2,000 pipes, and was impeccably restored with 22 carat gold leaf applied to the large exposed pipes.
In 2002, a group under the leadership of Leo DeCarlo, were praying for the canonization of Padre Pio. On June 16th their prayers were answered and he was canonized a saint in Rome. DeCarlo had also headed up a fund for donating to have a statue of him carved. This successful fund raising effort allowed for a life-size statue of St. Padre Pio to be carved in northern Italy, brought to the Shrine, and blessed by Fr. Valentine on the very same day the canonization took place in Rome. It is the Shrine’s most recent statue acquisition and stands at the rear of the main aisle.
In 2004, further improvements were made: all six of the tall, 14 foot front doors were taken down and restored, the front steps were replaced with new steps, and the main altar received new lighting.
In 2005, the Board of Directors were surprised to say the least when they were informed that the Shrine would receive a 1.2 million dollar gift from the Acquiviva Trust. It was known for many years that the stonework on the twin baroque 125-foot towers were desperately in need of attention, but there was simply no money to do anything. Instead, every Fall, Wofford would get a lift from Charlie Rallo, go up on each tower and remove all of the loose crumbling sandstone that could safely be reached so that it wouldn’t pose a danger. This gift came at just the right time and was used toward giving the towers a much-needed first-class restoration by Western Waterproofing Co. which was a massive 20-month project completed in 2008.
In 2010, the roof was replaced with high quality slate. Under the guidance of Joe Finazzo, the vice-president, the Shrine received all new energy-efficient LED lighting and Kevin Finazzo, the treasurer, has updated the organization’s accounting system. The third floor offices have been moved to the 2nd floor for easier access.
Additional statuary restoration was done and the historic parquet flooring containing six species of wood from the 1860’s in the priest’s sacristy was beautifully restored.
The restoration of the Shrine was essentially completed. In 2015, the Board of Directors began a very careful and systematic effort to maintain the well-known, highly regarded restoration--that is, to conserve what has already been restored. At that time, Wofford did an analysis showing that, after over 25 years, there was chipping of certain primary colors in the ceiling. Thus, the central barrel vaulted ceiling has been re-done and now the side aisle ceiling bays are being re-done occurring in stages throughout the winter months.
The Shrine Shoppe
Around 1985 or so, a number of married couples got involved, all of whom were very active and contributed greatly to the operation of the Shrine. Some of them were: John and Anita Schene, Walt and Dianne Raney, Carmella and Cleo Baker, Richard and JoAnn Geisz, Tom and Donna Milligan, Leo and Pauline Frost, Ralph and Doris Kannady, Bernie and Dooley Pestka, and Whitey and Gloria Brostoski. Unfortunately, Father Time took many of those in this group from us, and, around 2010, left us with a smaller group of regular volunteers. In 1988, volunteers came forward to develop a thrift shop selling gently used items (now called the Shrine Shoppe) in the lower level which was originally begun by Tony and Marge Colletta and their large group of busy workers.
Today, the Shoppe’s core group of hard-working volunteers are Mae Skubiz, Terry Davis, and Frank Slonicke, with John Coughlin on medical leave-of-absence. In 1981, Ted Schafers began the first newsletter sent out twice a year which continues to this day and is mailed out to about 8,000 people. Pauline Frost became the organization’s devoted treasurer for 28 years beginning in 1987 until her retirement about five years ago. The Friends organization is extremely thankful and indebted to Pauline for her many years of extraordinary service. Fortunately, Kevin Finazzo very ably and willingly stepped up and filled that all-important position. Ralph and Doris Kannady took care of the membership office for many years until their retirement. Sherry Chibnall now handles the membership office by herself. The air and steam club, whose donors generously contribute to paying utilities, is currently run by Diane Raney, John Colao, and Pat Shanahan. For years, this fund raising effort was handled by Ralph Ellerbrock, Donna Milligan, Dianne Raney, Bernie and Dooley Pestka and a few others.
The Men's Club
A long time supporter of the Shrine was that of the Men’s Club headed up by Ralph Ellerbrock. Some of its early members included Ross Barrale, John Holzhauser, Gene Cusomano, Les McLaughlin, Gene Brostoski, Bernard Hardi, Leo Frost, Ralph Kannady, Joe Orzel, Joe Deptula, Warren Pinckett, Les Pieper, Bernie Pestka, John Schene, Stanley Parciak, Tom Milligan, and Father Valentine. Nearly all of these men have died; they made valuable contributions to the Shrine and also got a good poker game going after Shrine business was concluded.
Music at the Shrine of St. Joseph
Ralph Ellebrock served the Shrine as organist and director of music from the 1940s until his death in 2011. In 1989, Maribeth McMahon, became the Shrine’s music coordinator and principal cantor. After Ralph passed in 2011, Maribeth continued to organize music and various instrumentalist. In 2016, Maribeth successfully encouraged David Byrne to assume the role of Organist and Choir Director, while she maintains the Role of Music Coordinator. In addition to David Byrne's role, the Shrine has attracted a group of some 20+ talented and well-rehearsed singers. Along with Maribeth, they have embraced Shrine and greatly enhance the liturgy with vibrant high-quality liturgical music. The Choir sings for Sunday liturgies, Holy Days of Obligation and Holy Week as well as special occasions and Feast Days within the liturgical life of the Shrine of St. Joseph.
Weddings at the Shrine
The wedding program, started by Mimi Gray and Donna Milligan, was continued by Anita Schene and Jo Ann Geisz, and today continues to be headed up by Jo Ann along with Kathie Schmid with the help of some 25 wedding volunteers. Geisz and Schmid are both very experienced and knowledgeable -- they have done a monumental job of representing the Shrine through their exceptional handling of the many inquiries that come into the wedding office. The Shrine wedding program is well known to many -- the Shrine is sometimes referred to as a “destination venue” for a truly memorable Catholic wedding. When two weddings occur on a Saturday, this allows the Shrine to be seen by perhaps 400+ guests from across the country who are awe-struck by the Shrine’s magnificent restoration.
If there are 60 weddings per year, the wedding program can produce enough income to pay for nearly half the Shrine’s operating expense.
Photography at the Shrine
Another very important supporter of the Shrine has been the Arteaga family. Eldon was one of the few photographers allowed on top of the Gateway Arch to photograph the final pieces going into place -- he was precariously up on top as his father, Robert, was shooting photos from a helicopter. After his father’s death, Eldon has, to this day, continued to support the Shrine through his wonderful photography which are used in color brochures, the newsletter, and in other venues for promoting the Shrine’s special events. All of his photographic contributions were voluntary and pro bono for which we will always be indebted. It would take a large room to display the sheer number of photographs through the years that Eldon has taken of the Shrine and its events; thanks to Eldon, we have a wealth of Shrine archival photographic history.
Tours of the Shrine
Tours during the week and on Sundays after Mass bring in a significant number of additional people to see the Shrine and hear its story. Les McLaughlin, who died in 2017, came on the scene in 1986 and became the Shrine’s primary docent for over 25 years. McLaughlin’s tours had a strong, positive impact through his masterful articulation of the Shrine story. He personally spear-headed the idea of having a professional video made of the story of the Shrine. In 2001 that video was completed and subsequently won a Tilly award for documentary excellence. That same year, EWTN ran the entire video around the world on March 19th, Feast of St. Joseph. For a couple of weeks after its debut on EWTN, calls and correspondence came in from all over the world wanting more information about the Shrine and having questions about how a lay group of people managed to save and restore it. EWTN ran this video for each of the next eleven years and truly gave the Shrine international fame. Taking Les’s place was Jim Allen, now the Shrine’s lead docent and also in charge of our website. Jim also took it upon himself to develop a very fine booklet for tour guides as a reference tool.
The Board of Directors
The Board of Directors is an elected body of 15 people that generally meets on the second Sunday of every month in the rectory before 11 am Mass. The Board oversees all of the non-religious aspects of the maintenance of the Shrine. The make-up of the Board has gradually changed over the years -- today, half of the Board members are folks who are not retired but who are still holding down a “day” job.
The Board’s executive committee is elected by the Board every year. It has also changed: Jim Blum has been president since 2015, having previously been vice president for 21 years The 40 year line of succession of Board presidents are: Charles Finninger, Eugene Boll, Cleo Baker, John Schene, Ralph Kannady, Jim Allen, and now Jim Blum. Stepping into the vice president position is Joe Finazzo, a Board member since 2012. The treasurer is Kevin Finazzo, a position he accepted after the retirement of Pauline Frost who was the Board’s treasurer for 28 years. The secretary position is now Frank Fessler, who replaced Gloria Brostoski. Just like all of our some 60 volunteers, all Board members are volunteers and not paid.
The Rector of the Shrine
In 2009 Father Dale Wunderlich was assigned to the Shrine as its rector. Father “Dale” came to the Shrine with an extraordinary reputation as church leader and communicator. It was not difficult for Shrine worshipers to immediately see why he had previously been named a recipient of the “Great Preacher Award” by the Aquinas Institute back in 2006. His highly personable, humble, ecumenical, and welcoming style has become a strong asset for the Shrine, the Friends organization, first timers and visitors. Father “Dale” also handles some of the Shrine wedding preparations as well as the celebration of weddings, which is a testament to how well he interacts with people and especially young people. In his book he wrote entitled “Manna”, subtitled “preaching-based reflections to explore your spirituality” he said that our task as ministers is not to stand at the pulpit and impress people with our knowledge. Instead we should preach to help make people’s relationship with God more simple and enriching.” Father certainly accomplishes this goal, and, along with his fine singing voice, with our wonderful choir, the liturgy is done in a most beautiful, authentic, and sacred manner. Thus, worshipers at Mass experience a wonderful and holy liturgical celebration. We have been very blessed and fortunate to have had Father Wunderlich as our priest now going on 10 years and this year represents the 45th year of his ordination.
For well over 40 years, the "Friends, Inc.", have directed a successful “grass-roots” effort to rescue, save, and restore this magnificent edifice back to its former glory. “Regular” people wanted to see the Shrine saved and regular people made it happen. This was accomplished with a large number of donors who gave what they could and loyally stayed with our Friends organization all these years. And it was also done with many hard-working dedicated volunteers who have given it their “all” for the sake of the Shrine. Volunteers are the life blood of the Shrine. Crucial to the future of our organization is how well we can maintain the high level of voluntary service and donor base that has prevailed for so many years. As stated earlier, the organization is run by a smaller number of volunteers than were once here throughout the 1990’s into 2010. Every time a volunteer must resign, there is always worry about who will take their place and continue their work. So far, we have been extremely fortunate and blessed. About nine years ago, two groups of volunteers got involved. One group was the Gene and Mary Ann Wetzel clan, who brought in her son Andy Chibnall and his wife Sherry, their son, Joe, and Gene’s sister Barb. Another group was Joe and Donna Finazzo and Kevin and Denise Finazzo, all of whom gave the organization some renewed energy. Additional newer volunteers more recently joined including Kathleen and Mike Weltzin, Jim Fuller, Lee and Barb Bilbrey, Mike Boyne, Tom Bakersmith, Terry Davis, Tim Tierney, Jim Fesler, and Joe Stuckey. Many of these volunteers and a few others have stepped up and filled the shoes of volunteers who came before them and have picked up the work for which they were responsible. Still, there are gaps and a number of volunteers are having to take on more than their primary job. One such gap is that it would be beneficial to the Shrine for it to be staffed at least three days a week to be able to open the church to “walk-in” visitors and handle phone inquiries more often during the week.
The highest priority in the future will be to maintain the very carefully researched and monumental restoration that has been achieved. Jim Blum, president of the Friends’ Board of Directors, refers to and emphasizes the continued conservation of this effort. For example, every 25-30 years it may be necessary to do considerable refurbishing, cleaning, and touch-up of altar and ceiling areas and also every 25 years some of the stained glass panels can seriously become bowed and break due to expansion and contraction of the glass, which has to be addressed. Therefore, sufficient funds have to be accrued and set aside for these kinds of possible future eventualities. It is vitally important that we put reserve funds in a safe place where they will at least keep up with inflation. A significant part of the operating expense is dependent on Sunday collections and number of weddings held, and these numbers can fluctuate from year to year, while, as everyone knows, utilities, postage etc, keep rising.
In regards to future financial needs, as we celebrate this 175th Jubilee it is incumbent on us here to establish an Endowment and a Planned Giving Program to continue the Restoration, Conservation, and Preservation of this historically important Landmark church. We need to pay tribute to the philanthropy of John Mullanphy and his daughter Ann Mullanphy Biddle for their concern for Catholic immigrants and by her gift of the land on which this Church stands. We want to set the stage for the Great 200th Jubilee in 2044 to reflect the vision of Father Filipiak and those early volunteers to manifest itself with a secure source of funding to continue to make this church available for generations to come.
Another project currently in the formative, planning stage is the development of a museum which would display and visually show highlights of the Shrine history and the various aspects of what was involved in the restoration process, thereby giving the viewer a greater appreciation of the Shrine story. The current thinking would be to locate the museum area in the rear of the lower balcony. With attractive dividers across the length of the balcony, it would create its own space and, at the same time, be virtually unseen from the main floor, yet still allow access to the balcony seating area and the choir’s access to the piano and Hammond organ.
Many individuals both living and deceased have made valuable contributions to the Shrine effort with their time, talent, energy, and financial donations. As we move into the 175th year, there are some current 60 volunteers supporting the Shrine. It would be indeed a staggering task and this booklet would have to be much larger in order to name all of the volunteers, donors, and benefactors, living and deceased, all these years who have been responsible for this successful preservation and restoration. Likewise, it would be impossible to put a price tag on the amount of money so many volunteers and Labor groups over the years have saved the Friends organization from having to hire that work to be done. The satisfaction that has been achieved by so many individuals comes not only from knowing that they achieved that which few believed was possible but also in the knowledge that their efforts are dedicated To the Greater Glory of God.
God does work in mysterious ways.