The following is the text of our tour brochure:
St. Leonard of Port Maurice Catholic Church
Archdiocese of Omaha
A little bit about our saint. Preacher and ascetic writer, b. 20 Dec., 1676, at Porto Maurizio on the Riviera di Ponente; d. at the monastery of S. Bonaventura, Rome, 26 Nov., 1751.
He was a Franciscan priest, who dedicated his life to parish missions. He exerted himself especially to spread the devotion of the Stations of the Cross, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the perpetual adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and devotion to the Immaculate Conception. He also preached regularly on the Holy Name of Jesus. St. Alphonsus Liguori called him “the great missionary of the 18th century.”
As a means of keeping alive the religious fervor awakened in a mission, Leonard promoted the Stations of the Cross, a devotion which had made little progress in Italy up to this time. St. Leonard erected the Stations of the Cross in the Colosseum at Rome, and in 571 other parts of Italy. St. Leonard once said, “If the Lord at the moment of my death reproves me for being too kind to sinners, I will answer, ‘My dear Jesus, if it is a fault to be too kind to sinners, it is a fault I learned from you, for you never scolded anyone who came to you seeking mercy’.” (Leonard Foley, O.F.M., St. Leonard of Port Maurice, p.9)
The architecture is Romanesque Revival, the Architect was Jacob Nachtigall of Omaha. Fr. Muenich designed the Church. The walls of the base are eighteen inches thick. The Church walls are fourteen inches thick of solid pressed brick. There were nine doors, six of which are still used today and sixty-six windows, thirty-nine stained glass and twenty-seven plain glass.
There were two chimneys on the east side of church.
The church is one hundred fifty-three and a half feet in length, fifty-two feet in width, about forty feet interior height, and the tower is about one hundred and ten feet high. The tower contains a clock and three bells weighing nine hundred, sixteen hundred, and twenty-five hundred pounds. The Clock has four faces and the bells strike every fifteen minutes.
There was originally a slate roof on the church. The bell tower has a copper dome and a steeple.
Characteristics of Romanesque Architecture massive walls, high rib vaulted ceilings, huge columns, rounded archways, all of which are represented in our church.
The House of God
As you walk into the Church through the main doors, you walk underneath a stained glass window of Christ with the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7), indicating to us that Christ has searched us out when we had wondered and brought us on His shoulders to the house of God. Directly above the window on the outside is the stained glass window of St. Cecilia. She is the patron saint of music but more significant for us she is a reminder that we are not an independent church, but a parish church united with the other churches in the Omaha Archdiocese, as St. Cecilia is the patroness of Archdiocese of Omaha. This is a symbol of our unity with the Archbishop of Omaha.
Through the main doors (donated in 2009 in memory of Birdie & Edward Wolfgram) you enter the narthex. On both sides there are holy water fonts.
As you walk through the two glass doors you enter into the nave of the Church and begin a journey through the Sacred Scripture and Catholic Tradition. The imagery in the church helps people to experience key events in the Sacred Scriptures and the lives of the saints.
The High Altar
The first thing you notice is a beautiful high altar. Attention is easily drawn to this because in the center of the high altar is the Tabernacle (donated by Dr. Brockhaus) where the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ are reserved for bringing Most Holy Communion to the sick and for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
The High Altar is twenty feet high and it is hand cared of wood-onyx columns. The mensa of the high altar is of marble. At the top of the Altar is a statue of St. Leonard, the patron saint of the parish, along with him are two angels with trumpets.
On the south side of the high altar is the statue of St. Patrick representing the Irish heritage in this community. On his head is a miter the hat which bishops wear, the two points symbolizing that they are teachers of the Old and New Testaments. He holds in his hands a crosier which is a bishop’s staff reminding him he is to be a shepherd of the people. He also holds a shamrock. St. Patrick used this to explain to the Irish the Most Holy Trinity. Under his feet are snakes, as tradition says that he drove the snakes from Ireland.
The pulpit is adorned with the images of the four Evangelists.
St. Matthew is represented by the winged man. He is called the “divine man,” since he teaches about the human nature of Christ and since his Gospel begins with Jesus’ paternal genealogy.
St. Mark is represented by the winged lion, since he informs us of the royal dignity of Christ and since his Gospel begins: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness…,” suggesting the roar of a lion.
St. Luke is represented by the winged ox, since he deals with the sacrificial aspects of Christ’s life and since his Gospel begins with the temple scene.
St. John is represented by the rising eagle, since his gaze pierces so far into the mysteries of heaven and since his version of the Gospel being with a lofty prologue that is a poem of the Word become flesh.
The Altar Rail
This is hand carved wood with marble top, onyx columns, marble steps in front.
The Side Altars and Columns
The two side altars are made of the same materials as the high altar. Holy Mass is celebrated at these altars regularly.
The image at Our Lady’s altar is that of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, patroness of the United States. The image nearer the rail is that of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas. The altar panel depicts the sacrifice of the High Priest Melchizedek. (Genesis 14:17-24) Next to this altar is the image of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
St. Joseph’s altar is on the opposite side. The altar panel depicts Abraham and Isaac. (Genesis 22:1-19) Both this panel and the panel on Our Lady’s altar depict scenes from the Old Testament which prefigure the sacrifice of Christ. Next to St. Joseph’s altar is the image of St. Anthony of Padua.
The fourteen columns of the church are plastered wooden shafts. They are adorned with Corinthian capitals decorated with acanthus leaves and gold trim.
There are 66 windows in the church. The principal stained glass windows are thirteen and a half feet tall and five feet wide.
North side windows:
1. The Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38)
2. The Nativity (Matthew 1:18-25)
3. The Presentation (Luke 2:22-38)
4. The Finding of Jesus in Temple (Luke 2:41-52)
5. The Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17)
6. Jesus and money collectors (John 2:13-25)
7. Jesus blesses little children (Luke 18:15-17)
South side windows:
1. St. Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Our Lord (Mark 14:3-9)
2. Christ and rich young man (Matthew 19:16-22)
3. The Agony in the Garden (Luke 39-46)
4. The Resurrection (Mark 16:1-8)
5. St. Peter gets the keys to heaven (Matthew 16:13-20)
6. The Ascension (Acts 1:6-11)
7. The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Revelation 12:1-2)
In the north room (Originally the Baptistery) the windows are of St. Ursula, the patroness of girls and St. Aloysius Gonzaga, the patron of boys.
St. Ursula: Princess and daughter of a Christian British king. She travelled Europe in company of eleven fellow maidens. Ursula and her company were tortured to death to get them to renounce their faith, and old paintings of them show many of the women being killed in various painful ways. Namesake for the Ursuline Order, founded for the education of young Catholic girls and women.
St. Aloysius Gonzaga: Italian noble. He was trained from age four as a soldier and courtier. He suffered from kidney disease, which he considered a blessing as it left him bed-ridden with time for prayer. While still a boy himself, he taught catechism to poor boys. He received his First Communion from Saint Charles Borromeo. At age eighteen, Aloysius signed away his legal claim to his family’s lands and title to his brother, and became a Jesuit novice. Spiritual student of Saint Robert Bellarmine. Tended plague victims in Rome, Italy in the outbreak of 1591 during which he caught the disease that killed him at age twenty-three.
In the confessional are depicted St. Boniface and St. Patrick.
St. Ann and Our Lady, Mother of Our Lady, Grandmother of Jesus Christ, Wife of Saint Joachim.
St. Elizabeth, Descendant of the Old Testament patriarch, Aaron, Wife of Zachary, temple priest. Relative of Mary, Mother of Saint John the Baptist, becoming pregnant very late in life. She was the Elizabeth that Our Lady visited soon after the Annunciation. Described in the Gospel of Luke as “righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.”
St. Zita, Born to a very poor but pious family. At age twelve she became a domestic servant for the wealthy Fainelli family in Lucca, Italy, a position she kept all her life; she looked at it as a way to serve God. She often gave her own food, and sometimes that of her master, to those poorer than herself, which caused her to get in frequent trouble with her employers and the other servants in the house who resented her. However she did such a fine job she was eventually placed in charge of the house, and entrusted with its keys. Her reputation was such that Dante in the inferno referred to the city of Lucca as “Santa Zita”.
The saint in armor is unknown. He could easily be St. Wenceslaus, St. Alexander, St. Stanislaus of Cracow or several others.
St. Cecilia, Patroness of Music and the Archdiocese. Cultivated young patrician woman whose ancestors loomed large in Rome’s history. She vowed her virginity to God, but her parents married her to Valerian of Trastevere. Cecilia told her new husband that she was accompanied by an angel, but in order to see it, he must be purified. He agreed to the purification, and was baptized; returning from the ceremony, he found her in prayer accompanied by a praying angel. The Angel placed a crown on each of their heads, and offered Valerian a favor; the new convert asked that his brother be baptized. The two brothers developed a ministry of giving proper burial to martyred Christians. In their turn they were arrested and martyred for their faith. Cecilia buried them at her villa on the Appian Way, and was arrested for the action. She was ordered to sacrifice to false gods; when she refused, she was martyred in her turn. The Acta of Cecilia includes the following: “While the profane music of her wedding was heard, Cecilia was singing in her heart a hymn of love for Jesus, her true spouse.” It was this phrase that led to her association with music, singers, musicians, etc.
St. Hilary of Poitiers, Born to wealthy polytheistic, pagan nobility, Hilary’s early life was uneventful as he married, had children (including Saint Abra), and studied on his own. Through his studies he came to believe in salvation through good works, then monotheism. As he studied the Bible for the first time, he literally read himself into the faith, and was converted by the end of the New Testament. Hilary lived the faith, so well he was made bishop of Poitiers from 353 to 368. Hilary opposed the emperor’s attempt to run Church matters, and was exiled; he used the time to write works explaining the faith. His teaching and writings converted many, and in an attempt to reduce his notoriety he was returned to the small town of Poitiers where his enemies hoped he would fade into obscurity.
St. Lawrence One of the deacons of the Roman Church, was one of the victims of the persecution of Valerian in 258, like Pope Sixtus II and many other members of the Roman clergy.
If you look at the ceiling you will see Frescos paintings on the side walls. They are:
The Lamb of God and the Seven Seals
The Ten Commandments
An Angel with “Gloria in Excelsis”
The Sacrament of Holy Orders
The Holy Veil of St. Veronica
The Statue of Saint Therese of Lisieux
St. Therese defined her path to God and holiness as The Little Way, which consisted of child-like love and trust in God. She had an on-going correspondence with Carmelite missionaries in China, often stating how much she wanted to come work with them. Many miracles are attributed to her. She is the patron saint of foreign missions.
The Choir Loft
In the Choir loft there are 6 more stained glass windows. Three of which are visible from the loft:
The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (South West)
Three Angels (South)
The Immaculate Heart of Mary (North West)
Behind the organ are three more:
On the north side of the high altar is the statue of St Boniface, representing the German heritage in this community. He is credited with bringing the true faith to the German people. We see him also wearing a miter and carrying a crosier. He is standing by a stump of a tree with an axe in it. The German people were attracted by Christianity but unable to give up their pagan beliefs. Knowing that the people needed a reason to let go, Boniface called the tribes to a display of power. As the people watched, Boniface approached the giant oak of Geismar, a sacred tree dedicated to the pagan god Thor, with an axe. Some of the people must have trembled with each stroke of his axe, but nothing happened. Finally with a crack, the tree split in four parts that we, are told, fell to the ground in the shape of a cross. There stood Boniface, axe in hand, unharmed and strong in the power of the one God.
Immediately above the tabernacle you see IHS. These are the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek but rendered into Latin script.
There is also a pelican with her chicks in the nests. The pelican is a Medieval symbol Christ. There is an ancient belief that the female pelican would rip open her breast to feed her young with her own life blood to avert their starvation in famine.
Above, we have an image of Jesus on the Cross with his mother and St. John the Beloved Disciple. At the side of the altar there are two angels bowed down before Christ present in the Tabernacle, each holding the sanctuary lights. The Last Supper is depicted in the panel at the base with the twelve apostles, reminding us that each time we gather and celebrate the Holy Mass.
Communion of Saints:
God the Father and God the Son are depicted in the center with the Holy Spirit in the window above. They are directly above the image of the devil in agony.
The saints on the north side are, from outside to center:
St. Wenceslaus of Bohemia, St. Rose of Lima (crown of roses), St. Patrick, St. Catherine of Siena (crown of thorns), St. Martin of Tours, St. Helena (holding the True Cross), St. Longinus (with Spear), Our Lady, St. Joseph the foster father of Jesus, and St. Peter (holding the Keys to the Kingdom).
The saints on the south side are, from center to outside:
St. Paul (holding a sword), St. Jerome, St. John the Baptist, St. Dominic de Guzman (with the Holy Rosary), Sts. Felicity and Perpetua, St. Agnes (holding a lamb), St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Louis, King of France, and St. Lawrence of Brindisi.
There are also ten angels.
The Bell Tower
The tower is one hundred and ten feet high. It contains a clock and three bells weighing nine hundred, sixteen hundred, and twenty-five hundred pounds. The bell tower has a copper dome and a steeple. The clock faces are six feet in diameter and made of milk glass and iron.
A Little History
This was a missionary parish for thirty years. It was named for St. Leonard Church because St. Leonard of Port Maurice was a Franciscan and the patron saint of Parish missions. Franciscan missionaries from Columbus, NE were in charge of the Madison Catholic community from 1880 until 1910.
Catholics arrived in the Madison area about 1875. Services were held in the homes of Catholics at first. In 1879 they decided to build a church. The frame of the first church was completed in 1881, it was later enlarged. It was located north of the cemetery. The cemetery was plotted in 1882. In 1898 land was purchased inside the town of Madison and the Church was moved to the present location and another room added. In 1902 the parish purchased more lots and in July of 1902 the basement of the new church was excavated.
On February 17, 1903, a basement church was completed. The walls are limestone rock. The size of it was one hundred feet by fifty-two feet. It cost $8,000.00 and the parish ran out of money so they put a roof on the basement and used it for a decade as the church. The old church was used as a school. The interior of the basement church was Gothic architecture.
In 1910, the Franciscans left Columbus and the parish became a diocesan parish under the Diocese of Omaha. Fr. Edward Muenich was assigned to the Madison Church in October 1910. In March of 1911, construction of the rectory began. it was completed that year at the cost of $10,374.00. On Easter Monday, 1912, the basement was enlarged by adding fifty-three and a half feet to the east end.
On May 8, 1913, the cornerstone of Vermont marble was lad. On May 26, 1913, construction of the upper church started. Services were held in the town Armory during construction. On November 30, 1913, the building was complete. The solemn dedication was on December 4, 1913.
The total cost was around $75,000.00.
The pipe organ was built in 1879 by Hinners Organ and is not original to St. Leonard’s. It is a tracker organ and is used regularly.