In March 2011, Corpus Christi Church commissioned renowned art conservator Roman Kujawa to restore its iconic mural above the church altar. This exquisite artwork, which is a signature element of the church interior, is a rendering of a Vatican masterpiece by celebrated, Renaissance painter Raphael Santi. The mural was originally painted in the 1920’s by Marion Rzeznik, in collaboration with Gonippo Raggi, both of whom were considered premier, 20th century artists of ecclesiastical paintings.
Mr. Kujawa received his training in art conservation in his native Krakow, Poland, and has a Masters Degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. For the past twenty years, he has restored art treasures in European museums, palaces, and churches, as well as some of the most valuable works of art in public and private collections. In 1995, he restored the gilded crown molding in the Blue Room of the White House.
Mr. Kujawa has been astonished by the magnificence of both Corpus Christi Church and the mural itself, titled “The Disputation of the Blessed Sacrament” (or more commonly known as the Disputà). When asked why this particular mural is of such importance, he cites Pope John Paul II, who referred to Rafael’s painting as the second greatest religious painting of all time, second only to the Sistine Chapel, for its representation of the “Summa Theologica” of the Catholic faith. Mr. Kujawa notes that, “The Corpus Christi Disputà mural is, without question, one of the most significant pieces of ecclesiastical artwork in the United States, and the mural’s epic subject matter represents an important extension of European civilization in the New World.”
In addition, he believes that, “The artistic caliber of Rzeznik’s painting rivals some of the most famous murals in this country, including those in the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. Treasury Department.”
The mural restoration reverses nearly a century of significant damage from roof leaks, age and interim repairs which proved to do more harm than good. An overhaul of the church’s entire electrical system was also included, to illuminate the Disputà as was originally intended.
Henry Swiatek is a life-long parishioner at Corpus Christi, and has been a passionate advocate for the Disputà’s restoration for the last 10 years. As owner of Swiatek Studios, he is widely respected for his expertise in church renovation, decorative painting, and stained glass restoration. Mr. Swiatek and his son Brett, who is co-owner of Swiatek Studios and is a graduate in Fine Arts from Alfred University, are members of the church’s Building and Bids Committee, and have served as volunteer project coordinators for the mural restoration.
Corpus Christi Church is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The mural project is part of Phase II restoration which includes the replacement of the drainage tile along the church foundation, re-pointing of the basement walls, and installation of new membrane waterproofing along the entire foundation perimeter.
The proposed work is essential to reverse significant deterioration and potentially much more costly remediation to the church’s exterior envelope, threatening the building’s long term structural integrity, and ultimately the brilliant interior decoration which includes the Disputà. Considerable funding is still needed, and the parish is actively seeking donations for the long-term preservation of this community treasure.