St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church

Chicago, IL

The History

An historic beauty on the North side of Chicago, the parish’s main worship site of Saint Mary of the Lake has proudly served its diverse community since its founding in 1901. Architect and ecclesiologist Henry Schlacks designed the church, and its cornerstone was laid in 1913. Upon dedication four years later, the total cost of construction amounted to $127,000.

     Schlack designed the Italian Renaissance-style church by taking inspiration for different sections of the building from three Roman churches. The Basilica of St. Mary Major and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls served as inspiration for the building, while the Basilica of Saint Pudentiana inspired the church’s bell tower. The effect is spectacular, especially in the historic altars, baldachino, shrines, and statuary, which are made of marble and were designed by Italian sculptor Ferdinando Palla. The detail of pure white Carrara marble can be seen in the intricately carved altar and pulpit. Other decoration in the church includes the extensive use of gold leaf, murals, iconography, and stained glass fabricated by the renowned Bavarian Art Institute in Munich, Germany.

The Approach

     St. Mary of the Lake was eager to make thoughtful additions to their historic church. In the project’s conceptual design phase, a digital rendering was created to illustrate the client’s goal to enhance and elevate the sanctuary, while making it feel like the decoration had always been there. They wanted to design well-thought-out and purposeful art that harmonized with the existing architecture and design. The rendering illustrated new panels featuring symbols of the Holy Sacraments stenciled upon rich, red fields with gilded fleurs-de-lis, a symbol representing Mary. The original decoration heavily utilized the use of gold leaf to resemble mosaic panels and this technique was recreated above the side shrines that feature monograms of Mary and Joseph. To create the faux mosaics above the side shrines, custom stencils were designed in-house, while artists freehand-painted trompe l’oeil and mosaic effects on site. After the plan was developed and approved, the scaffold was erected, and artists completed the work on-site to clean, preserve, restore, and enhance the existing artwork and architecture of the Sanctuary.

     The completion of the first phase has created a renewed sense of pride in the parish’s historic worship space and will hopefully inspire the community to consider further restoration efforts to care for this architectural gem for generations to come.


Conrad Schmitt Studios, Inc. was pleased to accept the Institute of Classical Art & Architecture‘s prestigious 2023 Acanthus Award for Restoration & Preservation for our work at St. Mary of the Lake Catholic Church. Our jurors’ comments: “Remarkable effort of preservation. It recovers the beauty and architectural qualities of the original ornamentation which over time had been eroded. It is a purely preservation project, expertly executed with love and care. This project is a promotion of craft, craftsmanship, and the corresponding trades. Every detail was considered and restored back to its original beauty.”




St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jasper, IN After
Finished interior of St. Mary of the Lake.
St. Joseph in Jasper, Indiana completed apse
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