MADISON LAKE — People outside the Catholic faith might not know that owning relics is rare.
So when asked if it was unusual for the late Father Syl Brown to have collected a dozen of them in his lifetime, Father Robert Schneider of All Saints Catholic Church in Madison Lake gave pause.
“It’s not common at all,” he said. “I don’t have a single one, and I don’t know a priest who does. … I don’t know of a church that has more than one or two.”
That statement sheds some light on the historical value of the gift Brown bestowed on the church. Schneider and Brown grew very close, and during the time before his death from cancer, Brown told his friend that he wished to leave his collection of relics to All Saints.
All are special, Schneider said. But several are especially impressive, including that of Saint Joseph, a carpenter and foster father of Jesus. He was a descendant from David the King of Israel.
Another is of Saint Elizabeth, the wife of Zachariah, the mother of St. John the Baptist and cousin to Mary.
Brown and Schneider discussed displaying the relics so they wouldn’t “end up in a drawer,” Schneider said. It meant a great deal to Brown to know the relics that were so meaningful to him would be honored after he died.
But Brown couldn’t have imagined the lengths to which people connected to the church would go to honor them.
Margie Mountain, Brown’s sister, and James and Dorothy Cerven came up with a plan and donated the funds to commission oil paintings and have the small relics placed at the bottom of each wooden frame. An anonymous man designed and made the frames to the contour of the church windows and Stations of the Cross. And artists Jerry Schaefer, Patricia Jerde and Dorothy Wolff (the Cervens’ daughter) created the 2-foot by 4-foot works of art.
“People are just overwhelmed at how beautiful they are,” Schneider said. “They are almost Renaissance quality.”
The saints represented, their time periods, their stories and their scenes depicted in the paintings are varied. Saint Joseph’s painting shows him building a boat rudder, representing guidance, with the child Jesus playing in the background.
Saint Elizabeth is shown greeting Mary with Zachariah in the background.
Saint Gertrude — a Benedictine Nun born in 1256 who was an expert in literature, philosophy, scripture and theology — is shown in the painting reading a scroll.
Schneider said having the relics at the church means a lot to him because it provides a connection to the saints.
An unveiling was held in mid-May for the congregation of about 1,000 people, and Bishop John Quinn blessed the relics Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a way of honoring them and saying they’re really special,” Schneider said.
The Cervens, originally from New York, moved to Minnesota seven years ago. Before moving here, James Cerven said he met Brown twice when he came to visit his daughter.
“We became very close, like a family member,” Cerven said. “Anybody knowing him would tell you the same thing.”
That’s a big part of the reason the Cervens wanted to make sure the relics were displayed properly and appreciated by the whole congregation. When he saw the finished paintings, he knew their efforts were more than worthwhile.
“They’re wonderful,” he said.
Mountain and the Cervens also donated a large monument in memory of Brown in All Saints Calvary Cemetery.