Saints of the Americas Celebrated in Peoria
By Jack Wintz, O. F. M.
About a year ago, Sacred Heart Church in downtown Peoria, Illinois, reopened its doors after an 11-month renovation that dramatically changed its artistic appearance. Amazingly, almost everybody likes the new look.
Perhaps the most magnificent and unique features of the new church is the 29 murals of the “saints of the Americas” that adorn the inner walls of the church. This splendid array of icon0like images represents a good number of the holy men and women in South and North America presently canonized or beatified by the Church.
This includes saints of recent years and decades, like St. Katherine Drexel (1858-1955), who labored and died in the United States, and Blessed Miguel Pro (1891-1927), killed by a firing squad in Mexico, and blessed Andre Bessett (1845-1937), a native of Canada, who built St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. This article includes photos of 14 of those saints and blesseds.
Inspiring Visitors to Pray
How many pastors can change the whole artistic arrangement of a church without upsetting a sizeable part of the local community; especially those who tend to resist change? The pastor in question is Father Larry Zurek, O. E. M., a 53-year-old Chicago native and Franciscan friar of the Province of St. John the Baptist, based in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Father Larry, who took a lead role in determining the church’s design, has been pastor at Sacred Heart since 2004. He told St. Anthony Messenger that he knows of “no other church in America that features as many American saints as are represented on the walls of Peoria’s Sacred Heart Church.”
Re the novation of Sacred Heart Church has sparked a good deal of attention in and outside Peoriga since its reopening and rededication on October 29, 2066. During my 10 days at Sacred Herat Parish last June, I asked Father Larry when it first dawned on him that the church’s redesign was moving in the right direction.
“Two weeks before we reopened the church and had its rededication ceremony,” he responded, “four businessmen from Bolivia wandered into the church, pulled a kneeler down and started praying.
“Several workers were still in the church at the time, doing some of the last-minute work with lots of hammering going on and bolting of pews to the floor. And yet the four Bolivians prayed with quiet reverence. To me, this was a sign that our remodeling was on the right track. We had created a holy space that would lead both parishioners and visitors to pray.”
We Are Not Alone
Father Larry applies the words of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews to all who enter Sacred Heart Church. The first-century author reminded the people who made up the Church of that era that they were not alone in their struggle to walk in the footsteps of Christ.“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” the sacred writer urged them, “let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus…” (see 12:1)
Father Larry likes to assure all those who come to this church that “these words of encouragement are just as true for us today as they were for the first-century Church. In fact, we could probably say that they are truer today. For we are surrounded by an even greater cloud of witnesses!” And all he needs to do is point to the great company of witnesses who fill the walls and sanctuary of the church.
And those of us who only read about Sacred Heart Church in these pages and see these images can turn out attention to a still larger “cloud of witnesses”: namely, that highly cherished communion of saints – past, present and future – which is a most vital and comforting belief of our Christian faith.