It is a devastating feeling when a parish closes. But what if sacred pieces of it could continue to be cherished by faithful Catholics for years to come?

St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Hartland, Wisconsin, will be doing this very thing as they make final preparations to move into their new building. The congregation has been blessed since its establishment in 1863, evidenced by growth to the point where another expansion effort to its current building would no longer suffice. They have raised $12.4 million dollars for their Cornerstone Project to build their new church and renovate the existing space to meet the needs of their expanding community. 

Now that construction is complete, the matter to be addressed is how they would decorate their new space with sacred art. Pastor Ken Omernick noticed the work of Conrad Schmitt Studios, Inc. of New Berlin, Wisconsin, within the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and throughout the country and worked with them several times on smaller projects such as the creation of a bas-relief sculpture of the church’s namesake in 2014. They have once again called on the Studio for their decorative services and restoration and installation of several beautiful Tyrolean stained-glass windows from Innsbruck, Austria, which were previously used in another parish.

Since 1889, Conrad Schmitt Studios, Inc. has been privileged to provide decoration, restoration, conservation, and artwork for buildings of architectural, historic, and religious significance throughout the country. The multi-faceted studio provides a full scope of architectural arts including stained glass, decorative painting, ornamental plaster, scagliola, murals, sculptures, and statuary. 

Originally established in Milwaukee by Conrad Schmitt, the founder was a talented artist and businessman in his own right whose leadership gained the company national recognition. The Studio was purchased in 1953 by a staff artist, Bernard O. Gruenke. Now, 70 years later, the fourth generation of his family is preparing to carry on the well-respected legacy and is still involved in the day-to-day operations.

The longevity of this familial legacy is what keeps the high quality of the Studio’s work constant. They have seen it all, are surprised by little, and know everything there is to know about creating artistic and awe-inspiring masterpieces, which is what keeps past clients, like St. Charles Parish, happy and coming back for more.

The new building was quite literally an empty canvas ready to be painted and decorated with sacred art, much like the Studio’s prestigious Acanthus Award-winning work for interior design in 2022 at St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Scottsdale, Arizona. Projects like these are especially enjoyable for the Studio as they see the transformation take place before their eyes.

“Beginning a project with a blank canvas makes for very dramatic before-and-after images,” says Heidi Emery, vice president of Conrad Schmitt Studios, Inc. and one of the project managers for the St. Charles project. “It is fulfilling from our perspective to help assemble the ideas, the history of the patron, the style of the architecture, and harmonize all the elements to create a space that is beautiful, meaningful, and tells a story to the parish.”

Emery recognizes the unique qualities of this project. “It is not too often we are able to conceive an original design scheme for a newly built church in a classical style. It is rewarding to transform the space into the vision that Father and his committee had in mind. The new church, able to accommodate 1,100 parishioners, has a monumental bell tower and large dome and creates a prominent Catholic presence in the community.”

The actual St. Charles Borromeo was adamant that church art and architecture be strictly Scripturally based, aligning church aesthetics with the edicts at the Council of Trent, excluding any secular themes entirely. Conrad Schmitt Studios, Inc. has attempted to honor this in their decorative motifs, ensuring that they are meaningful rather than purely aesthetic.

These tools have come to life in a variety of ways, including two faux mosaics of deer on the iconostasis that reference Psalm 42, a glorious Holy Spirit mural in the apse dome, various motifs that reference St. Borromeo, Four Evangelists at each corner in the Crossing’s ceiling, traditional Catholic symbols, and finishing touches of faux marble, stencils, and gilding. 

The church’s decoration is nearly complete, the only items waiting to be installed are the pews and several new stained glass windows that will be original to the building, which will be open for use in a few weeks.