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The Rockford Files

The Bells of St. Mary’s

P. Introibo ad altare Dei.

R. Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.

From the outside, St. Mary’s Oratory in Rockford resembles scores of other Catholic churches built in the Midwest in the late 19th century, with its red-brick exterior, steep roof, stained-glass windows, and a bell tower that reaches for the sky.  When you first walk through the front or side door into the modern entryway, you would have every reason to assume that the sanctuary will also look like those found in far too many of St. Mary’s sister churches today—blond wood pews, no altar rail, high altar replaced by a wooden table, abstract stained glass where old masterpieces used to be, statues (if, indeed, there are any) hidden away behind banners decorated with modern translations of Bible verses in felt lettering, confessionals abandoned in favor of a “reconciliation room,” tabernacle tucked neatly into a corner chapel that can only be accessed by leaving the sanctuary.

Yes, the blond wood pews are there, put in place after a fire in the 1970’s destroyed the original high-backed pews that matched the carved and gilded Communion rail.  Everything else, however, is right where you would not expect it these days, including the altar rail and the high altar.  Despite signs of water and smoke damage that show through the paint, St. Mary’s sanctuary would still be familiar...

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