Adorned in Beauty to Honor Our Lady of Lourdes

The interior of St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Scottsdale, Arizona, has been transformed.

Conrad Schmitt Studios of Berlin, Wisconsin, worked on all aspects of the recent renovation.
Conrad Schmitt Studios of Berlin, Wisconsin, worked on all aspects of the recent renovation. (photo: Courtesy of Conrad Schmitt Studios)

This Feb. 11, St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Scottsdale, Arizona, is celebrating the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes in the church’s transformed interior that went from simple to splendid. 

Nearly all the transformation took place in 2021 and was nearly completed this past December.

Although the parish edifice was dedicated in 2017, the spacious interior seating 900 was largely unadorned. Only the baldacchino, with its golden dome held high by four tall marble columns, signaled what was planned once more funds were raised. The church’s cruciform design, along with the exterior’s simple traditional lines and a soaring 100-foot bell tower hinted at what the pastor, the late Father Peter Rossa, had in mind as the church was built. So did the large inscription above the triangular pediment and Ionic columns framing the front entrance: Gloria in Excelsis Deo — “Glory to God in the Highest.”

 “When we walk into the church building,” the current pastor, Father Don Kline, told his parishioners as the renovation was revealed, “we should be filled with a longing for our true heavenly home and a sense of awe in the presence of God.” 

The high, barrel-vaulted ceiling, formerly white, is now adorned with eight magnificent murals separated by decorative ribs. These scenes depicting the life of the Blessed Mother and her Son Jesus become the theme. Beginning with the Annunciation, biblical events unfold chronologically through the Visitation, portraying the love shared by Mary and Elizabeth, then on to the Espousals of Mary and Joseph, the Nativity, Presentation, Flight Into Egypt, Wedding at Cana, and finally Mary at the Cross.

“For a parish under the patronage of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Bernadette, this seems appropriate,” Father Kline explained to his flock. “Our devotion to Mary leads to worship of Christ, and that’s the theme of these murals.”

To enhance the beauty of the sacred art, on either side of the murals, the ceiling includes framed panels of azure blue sky, complete with stars. Below them are deeply arched clerestory windows, their once-clear windows now replaced with new stained-glass images of the apostles and archangels appearing in traditional artistic designs that echo timeless beauty of past decades.

St. Bernadette Church Phoenix
The interior of the church raises hearts and minds to God. | Courtesy of St. Bernadette Church


The purpose of the beautiful stained glass through the church is to raise minds and hearts to Christ, Father Kline explained to the Register. He believes this traditional artistry will inspire devotion and enhance the liturgy: “The new windows will bring a deeper sense of the transcendent beauty of God.”

As the ceiling murals above and the tiled aisles below lead to the sanctuary, both are rich with symbols of the seven sacraments. Joining them, the columns and arches are now intentionally decorated with crosses, vegetation, flowers and lots of ropelike vines, “all meant to depict a garden image, the garden of Eden,” explained Father Kline. The “ropes” seem to go on to infinity, to evoke God’s eternal presence.

More new stained-glass windows on the lower level bring to light six images of Our Lady, proclaiming her titles in both English and Latin, including Mater Christi, Salus Infirmorum (Health of the Sick), Refugium Peccatorum (Refuge of Sinners), Consolatrix Afflictorum (Comforter of the Afflicted) and Virgo Clemens (Virgin Most Merciful). Considering them truly unique, the pastor said, after first studying examples from several churches, “We tried to follow tradition,” even to the floral borders and decors of the windows.

The Marian theme continues above the nave’s many arches and around the apse with the Litany of Loreto. Its many titles of Mary in Latin circle the church’s entire perimeter. These titles embrace the entire community, acting like Mary’s mantle surrounding everyone.

The traditional look of classic churches and cathedrals continues in the sanctuary, where, under the baldacchino, the Holy Spirit is depicted radiating celestial rays and hovering over the altar. This marble altar has a carving of Michelangelo’s Last Supper filling the center, while, flanking it on either end, are images of St. Bernadette and Pope St. John XXIII, the patron of the parish’s school.

Decorative painted panels surrounding the apse appear like tapestries filled with symbols, including crosses and vines. Behind the altar, a large crucifix appears within a similar decorated arch.

Filling the apse dome is a specular mural featuring the Immaculate Conception, as painted by artist and fresco painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. It was part of seven altarpieces commissioned in 1767 by King Charles III of Spain. The Immaculate Conception was a popular theme in art, with this one appearing just over a century after Murillo’s renowned version of the Immaculate Conception. Placing it over the altar, Father Kline said its prominence is to remind the faithful that the “Immaculate Virgin was, in effect, the first tabernacle for Christ present in the Eucharist.”

In St. Bernadette’s mural, Our Lady appears in an ocean of clouds and surrounded by depictions of angels. Mary is both majestic and approachable, magnificent and motherly. Crowned with stars, she tramples a snake. To update the Tiepolo classic, in this mural, Mary is shown joined by saints, representations of American saints and blesseds. “We wanted something unique,” said Father Kline. “They are all American saints because she is the Patroness of the Americas.” Among these holy men and women are depictions of Sts. Elizabeth Ann Seton, John Neumann, Marianne Cope, Katharine Drexel, Damien de Veuster, Junípero Serra, Kateri Tekakwitha, Isaac Jogues, Frances Xavier Cabrini and Rose Philippine Duchesne and Blesseds Francis Xavier Seelos, Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, Fathers Stanley Rother, Solanus Casey and Michael McGivney.

New saints also appear in eight stained-glass windows elsewhere in the church. Pope Sts. John Paul II and John XXIII join, among others, Sts. Bernadette, Thérèse the Little Flower and John Vianney. More windows include Our Lady of Lourdes as she appeared to Bernadette, and in the transepts are representations of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

More liturgical beauty now enhances the Stations of the Cross, which were present since the opening of the church. They are described as “old-school type images” with three-dimensional statuary in color, Father Kline told the Register. They became even more eye-catching, as Conrad Schmitt Studios of Berlin, Wisconsin, which was responsible for all aspects of the renovation, added gold backgrounds and built frames and pillars around each station.

Bryon Roesselet, the studio’s project foreman, was pleased with the “spectacular transference.” He told the Register, “Clearly, the murals are an incredible highlight for the imagery, the depth of color, and how they ‘read’ from the floor. Everything about the murals turned out quite beautifully.” The Litany of Loreto with Mary’s titles around the frieze, back wall, and apse as another highlight. “The Litany of Loreto makes a huge statement and doesn’t overwhelm but provides the opportunity to think about their faith and Mary,” the foreman said, adding that it “makes it a prayer and great teaching tool.”

Roesselet pointed out the “delightful surprise when the scaffolds came down.” The shiny floor surface reflects the ceiling murals and decoration “for awareness of the decoration, even before looking at the ceiling.”

“When the church was built, they intended to have the sense it was older than what it was,” he said. “We created that sense of permanence and the church’s importance as a place of reflection and worship.”

Music for worship was also included in the restoration. St. Bernadette’s commissioned and installed what is considered the largest pipe organ in Arizona. Built by the century-plus Peragallo Pipe Organ Co., this instrument also follows the theme of building on tradition. With 3,000 pipes, the organ works on pressurized air and uses no electronics.

Father Kline is “eager for the effect of 34 high-quality stained-glass windows, sacred murals and pipe organ on our spirituality and contemplation.”

Last year, when the renovation was planned and underway, Father Kline made clear the goal was “to provide a worship space that speaks of God’s glory and inspires a person to a sense of holiness and reverence from the moment one walks in. Why? Ultimately, to lead to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church. That relationship, then, leads to a greater commitment to Christian service and being a disciple.”

He explained the Church’s ancient tradition believes the church edifice should represent the truth, goodness and beauty of God. “The architecture, the furnishings, the art and the very ambiance should both represent the kingdom of God and draw us into the great meeting of heaven and earth that is at the heart of the Mass. … The ultimate goal of this renovation is to be inspired to a closer relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church.”

“And who always brings us to Jesus?” he continued, “Mary.” 

Asked who was responsible for the details of the renovation, without hesitation Father Kline said that it was “Our Lady’s idea: ‘I want it to be this way.’ That’s how all this happened. It’s such an inspired work of the Holy Spirit, Our Lady and the saints,” he added of the overall reverence.

Indeed, St. Bernadette’s is a model of what renovation can do to lift minds and hearts to the Lord.

As Bishop Thomas Olmsted said in his homily when dedicating the church on May 25, 2017, “Church architecture impacts the way that we worship, and the way that we worship impacts what we believe.”

 

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Ivan Aivazovsky, “Walking on Water,” ca. 1890

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