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St. Joseph Altar Restoration Completed

“I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to this glorious saint [St. Joseph], for I have great experience of the blessings that he can obtain from God. I have never known anyone to be truly devoted to him and render him particular services who did not notably advance in virtue, for he gives very real help to souls who commend themselves to him.” St. Theresa of Avila.

Updated February 1, 2022

Małgorzata Sawczuk and Tomasz Słaboński of Art Objects Conservation very pleased with their work after 9 months of restoration and reconstruction on St Joseph's altar.

The Altar will be blessed, February 2nd after Candlemas Mass and the parish intentions will be placed in the Altar.

Photo at Right: Polish translation- "Saint Joseph, Patron of the Church pray for us!"

Updated December 21, 2021

The year of St. Joseph is coming to a close, and we are completing the next phase of the restoration. Many months of cleaning, reconstructing, and gilding all the mounted elements of the altar included the decorative squares, capitals, bases, and columns.

All dismountable ornaments—including beautifully crafted floral decorations, crosses, pinnacles, and other symbols—were disassembled and transported to the studio at the beginning of the restoration. Some of them will be back up before Christmas.

Dozens of carved wooden ornaments that have been destroyed by time and by failed restoration attempts were carefully assessed. Our inspection revealed that most of the damage was typical and very similar to the problems we encountered on the main altar.

However, we were surprised by the number of missing plant decorations and by the fact that many of them were replaced with badly reconstructed fragments in plaster that crumbled in our hands. We removed all such plaster fragments and replaced them with properly sculpted elements—all while keeping the original style of these wonderful floral compositions created by a talented craftsman more than 100 years ago.

The pictures showcase the results of the final gilding, and the short video depicts our process of burnishing and polishing the new gold leaves applied to a carefully prepared surface.

One of the methods we used is the traditional water gilding technique, which allows us to burnish the gold using special tools giving it a brilliant, reflective shine. We first apply layers of gesso and clay bole, which is prepared to be very smooth and firm. Then, we carefully apply each gold leaf onto the ornaments using animal hide glue. Once dry, the burnished effect is achieved with the use of an agate stone tool which compresses the gold and clay bole.

The gold leaves used can differ in color and shade depending on their karat value. Lower karat values, such as 12K, 16K, or 18K means the gold is alloyed with other metals like silver or copper to achieve lighter colors. High karats have higher gold contents, which makes the surfaces more enduring because gold is more durable.

We proudly used 24K gold leaves on the St. Joseph altar to ensure that the surface will survive in beautiful condition for decades to come. 24K gold is made of 100 percent gold and is resistant to corrosion. The gilded surface is protected with a thin layer of shellac, or specially-formulated synthetic resins. A clear de-waxed shellac (a natural resin mixed with ethyl alcohol) coating is the perfect top coat after the gold leaf has been applied. Its color and transparency go together very well with gold leaf which highlights the beauty and ethereal aesthetic of this material, and of St. Joseph himself.


Updated September 18, 2021

Thank you to all who have made the restoration of our St Joseph Altar possible.

Here are a few examples of the ornaments and surfaces covered with several layers of red and yellow clay. The clay will soon be sanded/polished to obtain a perfectly smooth surface before gilding. This process of applying the clay in multiple layers is time-consuming and requires precision and patience. The better the clay is applied, the better the final effect will be after gilding. The red and yellow clay give different visual effects of the gilding.


Updated August 6, 2021

Thank you to all you have made the restoration of our St Joseph Altar.

We hope you've had a chance to see all of the improvements. Here is the main image of St Joseph through various stages of restoration.

Here is the painting of the angel above the altar. Notice the right side after restoration.

The angel holds a banner announcing St. Joseph Patron of the Church, Pray for Us!

In this year of St. Joseph, may this restoration work be our Amen!


Updated June 19, 2021

We are pleased to announce this Father's Day weekend, that through the generosity of over 500 people that we have reached our fundraising goal of $248,000 for the restoration of St. Joseph's Altar!

You can still submit your prayer intentions and offerings. Additional funds collected will go towards any overages on this project or towards the future restoration of Our Lady's altar. All prayer intentions will be placed in the restored St. Joseph's altar for years to come.

Margaret Sawczuk hard at work

This past week, Father Joshua met with Margaret Sawczuk, the Lead Restoration Artist to check in on the progress and learn more about the restoration process.


Updated June 5, 2021

The restoration of St. Joseph's altar is underway. All 90 gilded ornaments have been removed along with hundreds of rusty nails. Work is being done to fill in gaps and repair the structural integrity of the altar.

We kicked the work off with a High Mass for the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, on May 1st. Though the work has begun, we are still in need of funds.

As we celebrate the Year of St. Joseph, we are restoring St. Joseph’s altar as an offering and a prayer for the Church. Seeking the intercession of this mighty Saint, we wish to repair and regild, in 24k gold leaf, this altar to match our magnificently restored High Altar.

Help Us Honor St. Joseph

We are inviting friends of St. Joseph to make an offering and a prayer intention to St. Joseph. All prayer intentions will be placed in the restored altar when it is completed.

The St. Joseph Altar is in dire need of repair and restoration. The altar’s stability is compromised by deep vertical cracks including cracks in the altar’s base. Much of the carved wood-and-gilded ornamentation is either discolored, damaged, or missing and the entire surface of the altar needs to be cleaned.

The St. Joseph Altar is used not only as an altar for the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but it also supports an elaborate and heavy Christmas Creche, the Holy Thursday repository, the Good Friday tomb, and the Resurrection tableau throughout Eastertide. The extraordinary use, in addition to the normal depredations of time and circumstance, have contributed to the altar’s need for repair and restoration.

The repair and restoration of the St. Joseph Altar will be accomplished in three phases from May 1, 2021 to February 2, 2022. We begin on the Feast of St. Joseph (May 1) the Worker and we will dedicate the finished project on the Feast of Candlemas (Feb 2), which is a period of nine months.

The project cost is estimated to be $248,000.00. The Canons Regular of St. John Cantius have made an offering to St. Joseph of $25,000, 10% of the total project cost. Join them in this work of the Restoration of the Sacred. This project cannot be completed without your help.

WE INVITE YOU to make an offering with your prayer intention to St. Joseph:

  1. Donate Online now or send in a donation by mail.

  2. Submit your prayer intention online or include it it with your check

All submitted intentions will be permanently placed in the restored altar where Mass will be celebrated.

We are also seeking leadership gifts from individuals who can assist the Canons Regular in this project. If you are interested in making an offering above $5000, please contact Father Joshua Caswell, SJC at or call the office at 312.243.7373.

Please make checks payable to the “AMDG Foundation” with, "St. Joseph Altar" in the memo line.

Mail checks and prayer intentions to:

St. Joseph’s Altar

AMDG Foundation

1025 W. Fry Street

Chicago, IL 60642

Download a prayer intention form below.

StJoseph_For website
Download PDF • 579KB

Project Details

May 1, 2021: Saturday, 8:30am

Special Mass offered at St. Joseph Altar to begin the project.

May 3, 2021: Monday, Project begins:

Phase I (on site)

1. The scaffolding will be erected for 3-4 months to allow removing all the ornaments and other decorative elements of the altar which are removable.

2. The surface and details of the altar will be photographed to document the condition before conservation.

3. The surface of the wooden altar will be cleaned.

4. The removable ornaments and other movable decorative and gilded elements will be dismantled from the altar and transported to the studio in Oak Park, Illinois.

5. The cracks of the altar will be strengthened with adhered from the verso wooden boards of the same type as the original, and then filled with an appropriate material.

6. The gilded frames of the paintings, moldings, decorative squares, capitals, bases, columns, pinnacles will be sanded, consolidated, covered with gesso, and gilded following the original technique used on the high altar.

7. All the discolorations of the altar’s surface will be retouched; a color balance should be obtained.

8. The two paintings will be restored.

9. The scaffolding will be removed.

Phase II (at the studio)

1. The wooden ornaments will be be cleaned. The old gesso will be removed. The wooden ornaments will be consolidated to strengthen their structure.

2. The missing fragments of the ornaments will be reconstructed in the original type of wood.

3. The small losses and cracks will be filled with an appropriate material.

4. The surface of the wooden ornaments will be covered with multiple layers of gesso and clay, then gilded with 24 K gold leaves to obtain a matte and burnished surface. The matte surface will then be protected with a transparent coating.

5. All the decorative elements will be restored and regilded.

6. Scaffolding will be erected for one week.

7. The ornaments and decorative elements will be re-adhered to the altar.

8. The scaffolding will be removed.

February 2, 2022 - Wednesday, 7:30 PM

Dedication and blessing of the Altar

Details of the Restoration

Three people will work on this labor-intensive project for nine months. Most of the cost of the restoration is labor.

The first stage will take 3-4 months of work on site 5 days per week. During this time the following parts of the altar will be restored and the following treatments will be performed:

  • Documentation

  • Removal of ornaments

  • Structure strengthening, cracks, cleaning altar’s surface, retouching discolorations, refreshing the finish.

  • Gilding (including the removal of old layers)

  • Upper frame with book

  • 151 squares

  • Upper moldings

  • 2 large column capitals

  • 4 central column capitals

  • 4 central column bases

  • 4 central column grooves

  • 2 elements from large column bases

  • 4 small columns (predella)

  • 4 small capitals (predella)

  • 3 frames (predella)

  • 19 frames

  • Central and lower moldings

  • Lower cross with the “dome”

  • Conservation of the 2 paintings

The second stage. The next 5 months will be devoted to work on the restoration of movable elements at the studio. During this time the following elements will be gilded (including reconstructions):

  • 6 pinnacles

  • Upper cross with rays

  • Garlands from the upper frame

  • 12 garlands from the upper part of the altar

  • 16 flowers with ribbons

  • 23 large ornament compositions

  • 2 wreaths

  • Large frame (of the large painting) plus 2 ornaments


The Apostolic Penitentiary issued a decree granting plenary indulgences for the Year of St. Joseph, proclaimed by Pope Francis. This special year began December 8th, 2020 and will conclude on December 8th, 2021.

Conditions for the Plenary Indulgences

A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful under the usual conditions which include:

1. Your soul being free of attachment to sin on the day of indulgence.

2. You offer a prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father on the day of your indulgence.

3. You receive Holy Communion on the day of the indulgence, and

4. You receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation within 20 days of the day of indulgence.

And, during the Year of St. Joseph, the above conditions need to be done in addition to one of the following actions:

1. Meditate for at least 30 minutes on the Lord's Prayer, or be a part of a spiritual retreat of at least one day that includes a meditation on St. Joseph.

2. Perform an act of corporal or spiritual work of mercy.

3. Pray the Holy Rosary in families and between engaged couples to, “recreate the same atmosphere of intimate communion, love and prayer that was in the Holy Family.”

4. Through prayer, entrust the activities and work of the day to St. Joseph, such that all who are looking for work find it, and such that all have dignified work.

5. Recite the Litany of St. Joseph for the persecuted Church and for the relief of all Christians who suffer any form of persecution.

6. Recite any legitimately approved prayer or act of piety in honor of St. Joseph, especially on the Feasts of St. Joseph - March 19th or May 1st, or on the 19th of every month, or on every Wednesday, the day dedicated to St. Joseph.

During this year, one plenary indulgence per day may be granted for oneself or for any deceased soul. A plenary indulgence may not be requested for another living person.


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