The American Monastic Newsletter

Nr. 2, June 1999

The Changing Monastic Landscape

Renovation of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

Conception Abbey, Conception Missouri

The monastic community at Conception Abbey celebrated the completion of the renewal of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception with the dedication of the altar on March 16, 1999. Raymond Boland, bishop of the diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph, presided at the dedication Eucharist. The monks of Conception, celebrating the 125th anniversary of their foundation in northwest Missouri, rejoiced in the completion of the $8 million renovation of the basilica, a three-phased project that spanned over twelve years from its inception and planning phase to its official completion date this March.

The seminarians of Conception Seminary College, representing twenty-two dioceses, joined the five hundred guests for the Mass of dedication. Present too were forty-nine archbishops, bishops, archabbots, abbots and provincials from around the United States. Among those attending were Jerome Hanus, OSB, archbishop of Dubuque and Marcel Rooney, OSB, abbot-primate of the Benedictine Confederation, both monks of Conception, as well as the abbots of Engelberg (Conception's motherhouse in Switzerland) and Hagia Maria in Zion in Jerusalem, and the prior of Saint-Benoît-du-Lac in Canada.

[Conception Arms] The community was led by four of its abbots during the renovation process: Jerome Hanus, OSB, James Jones, OSB, Marcel Rooney, OSB, and Gregory Polan, OSB. Under the leadership of these abbots, the community, with the help of three committees, worked through the myriad problems associated with the mammoth project. The first committee guided the community through the early stages of one very important question, whether the basilica was to be restored or renovated or whether it was desirable to build a new building. With the help of various invited experts-- liturgical consultants, restoration experts, architects, and theologians-- the community decided it would be best to keep the building built over one hundred years earlier and to adapt the space to the requirements of the new liturgy as well as to take advantage of technological developments.

The next stage of the process demanded that the monks determine the arrangement of the floor plan and the thrust of the decoration. The community articulated the desire to have a renewed church that embodied both continuity and change. The decision was made to give the monastic community a place distinct but not apart from the rest of the worshiping assembly. The decorative elements were to reflect the desire for something lighter and simpler than what covered the walls in the old space.

In the third phase all these elements were transformed from thought and desire into blueprint and sketch, and from blueprint and sketch into concrete, plaster and paint. In some places, new foundations were poured or existing ones were strengthened. The floor of the basilica was replaced and lowered so that all the elements were essentially on the same level. New air-conditioning and heating was installed. The electrical wiring was replaced. The walls were replastered. New furniture was designed and replaced. A eucharistic reservation chapel was built; a flèche was added to the roof. New Rémy-glass windows were installed throughout the church. Icons were commissioned from Jerusalem and new windows were made for the west façade and the south and north transepts. A tracker organ of forty ranks was installed; it stands in the south transept almost thirty-five feet high and eighteen feet wide.

Conservators were contracted to clean and conserve the murals and to integrate them with a lighter palette of new decorative painting. The decorative scheme they proposed utilizes traditional Beuronese elements in a more contemporary language, blending new and historic elements into an integrated design. Their goal was to maintain the psychological impact and memory of the space, modifying motifs and palette but retaining the atmosphere, so that one could imagine that this is what the space had looked like when new. The restored murals set the tone for all the new decorative work.

Since the church already had been consecrated in 1891, the ceremony which took place this year was that of the dedication of an altar. The mensa or upper surface of the altar came from the original high altar, cut down and polished. Within the altar structure itself were placed stones from the Colony house and the original church constructed in the 1870s. In his homily, the abbot of Conception, Gregory Polan, OSB, reminded the assembly of the symbolism of the altar, "From this altar, Christ says to each of us: 'I want to dwell with you; I want to abide with you; I want you to become my temple, so that divine goodness and mercy will flow from you to our brothers and sisters, to your relatives and friends, to all whom you meet.' From this altar we are given God's own peace."

Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

Thomas Sullivan, OSB

Conception Abbey

Conception, MO


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Rev. 990626 / Copyright 1999-2009 by the American Benedictine Academy / Richard Oliver OSB / http://www.osb.org/aba/news/992902/basilica.html