St. Petronilla, Virgin - Feast Day May 31
The patron saint of our parish is St. Petronilla, anglicized to St. Petronille. Her name is the feminine and diminutive of Peter, and she is said to have been a daughter of the Apostle Peter. Although she is missing from the oldest Roman liturgical books, she is seen in a painting of the mid-4th century in the Catacombs of St. Domitilla, where she was buried, and her name appears on lists of the venerated tombs of martyrs in the sixth and seventh centuries. During the time of Pope Paul I (757-767), an ancient sarcophagus containing the remains of St. Petronille was translated from the catacombs to the Basilica of St Peter, the treasury of which still preserves a large metal reliquary with her skull inside it. A chapel dedicated to her is in the back of Basilica of St. Peter. The chapel contains a painting by the painter Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666), known by the nickname “Guercino,” commissioned in 1623. The painting depicts St. Petronille’s burial and Christ welcoming her into heaven, honored as a virgin. This holy virgin continues to shine as a bright star in the church.
The shrine of St. Petronille, located on the south side of the exterior of the church, is a reproduction of a crypt chapel found in the Catacombs of St. Callistus, dating back to the first centuries of the Christian era. All carvings are authentic facsimiles of inscriptions, frescoes and ornamentations found in the catacombs. The terra cotta picture of St. Petronille, our parish patroness is a copy of a fresco of Petronille leading Veneranda into Heaven in the Catacomb of St. Domitilla.
Hence our shrine unites us with the early Christian era, turning our attention back over a span of nearly two thousand years. It speaks across the pages of history, reminding us of our possession of the same faith and the reception of the same sacraments as members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church across the ages.
In the following narration we shall endeavor to interpret the meaning and significance of the various symbols and inscriptions reproduced in our Shrine of St. Petronille.
The Chief Apostles
At the top of the carved slabs of our Shrine are representations of the two chief Apostles, Saints Peter and Paul. Both resided for a time and died in Rome. Paul came to Rome for his trial before Nero in 61 A.D. During the two years awaiting trial Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, sending these Macedonian Christians the greetings of the Christians in Rome, and particularly of those in the house of Caesar. Peter and Paul were prisoners in the Mamertine Prison, which still exists. Tradition holds that both Apostles died on the same day, June 29, 67 A.D. Peter was crucified and buried on Vatican Hill. Paul was beheaded and buried on the Via Ostiense.
Mary, The Mother of God
On the stone inscribed with the words “A. Glabrio Consul M.” is a reproduction of a very ancient picture of the Virgin Mary holding her Divine Son. Before her stands a man holding a volume in one hand and pointing to a star with the other hand. This picture of Our Lady and the Holy Child is found in the apostolic cemetery of Priscilla. It is thought to date back to the end of the first century or early part of the second.
The figure of the man represents a prophet of the Old Testament, foretelling the coming of the Mystic Star, Christ, appointed to enlighten the darkness of the Gentiles. Probably the personage is the prophet Isaiah, who foretold the light which would appear at the birth of the Savior.
In the center of the shrine is a beautiful carving of the Good Shepherd; then a stone sarcophagus resting on lions’ heads and forming a natural altar.
The good shepherd
Usually with the representation of the Good Shepherd appeared a pail of milk, symbolizing the mystical food given by the Shepherd to His flock, namely the Holy Eucharist. The first representation of Christ found in the Catacombs is that of the Good Shepherd which is reproduced in our Shrine.
The sarcophagi in crypt-chapels of the catacombs contained the remains of martyrs. Today the Church legislates that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass be offered on a stone or altar containing the relic of an early martyr, reminding us of the days of the early Christian era when the Eucharist was near the tombs of the martyrs.
On both sides of the central panel of the shrine are carved slabs, representing the covers used to close the burial crypts in the catacombs. On these slabs reference is made to God the Father and the Holy Spirit, while on the sarcophagus mention is made of Jesus Christ and His redemptive work:
“Clement – The Body is here; God took the Soul.”
“Photus – With God the Holy Spirit.”
“Redeemed through the Death of Christ, Dalmatia here rests in peace.”
The Sacrament of Penance or Confession
The Greek name Petros – Peter – seen in our Shrine is found on many tombs in the catacombs. Christians frequently took the name of Peter to honor the Prince of the Apostles and his name often was placed on tombs, as an invocation or prayer for his intercession at the throne of God.
The young man shown carrying the wicker bed represented the Sacrament of Penance. The image recalled the words of Our Lord on the occasion of being accused of blasphemy after He had cured the paralytic: “What is easier to say ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee’; or to say, ‘Arise and walk’?” – Matthew 9:5
The eucharist and baptism
The Greek word for fish is ἰχθύς (transliterated as ichthus). The word ἰχθύς formed an acronym, with each letter of ichthus in succession representing the initial letter of the words Iesous Christos Theou Huios Soter – Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.
The fish likewise represented Christians in general. Hence, on a tombstone in our shrine is seen a man drawing fish from the pool of water, with the words: “He received it.” This indicated baptism – through the waters of baptism, human beings become Christians. When the fish was used alone, it represented Christ and His Holy Name.
A fish swimming and carrying on its back an osier basket containing a vessel of wine and a few loaves of bread was a figure of Christ and the Eucharistic species – represented by the acronym for fish.
This representation found in the Catacombs of St. Callistus is reproduced in our shrine from the gravestone of the boy-martyr St. Tarcisius, who was killed by pagans who tried to rob him of possession of the Holy Eucharist, which he was carrying to Christian prisoners. Pope Damascus wrote the words for this boy-martyr’s tomb: “He did not give the Heavenly Members (Christ in the Holy Eucharist) to the dogs’ fury” (the infuriated boys).
Baptism and Confirmation
The words “Bishop Probianys washed and anointed her” appear on another stone in our shrine. This statement refers to the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. The custom in the early Church was to administer Confirmation immediately after Baptism, and this tradition is still observed today in the Eastern Rites of the Church.
INSCRIPTIONS AND DRAWINGS ARE SYMBOLIC
Most of the inscriptions and figures found in the Catacombs are symbolic references to Holy Scripture or passages of writings of contemporary Christians. The purpose of this method of expression was the protection of the holy mysteries of Christianity from the indiscreet curiosity, slanderous accusations, and blasphemous derision of the pagans. Such symbols would mean nothing to the uninitiated, uninformed pagans, but much to the instructed and catechized Christian. The symbols, as we shall see, are based upon one central idea – bearing witness to the faith and piety of the departed and invoking upon them that peace and happiness which they deserved.
SYMBOLS IN OUR SHRINE
Various symbols depicted in our parish shrine are those found most frequently in the Catacombs:
The anchor –Hope
Doves – Baptism, new life, peace
Flowers, garlands – Salvation and redemption
Birds, butterflies – Resurrection
The three fingers on one hand – the Trinity
The fish – Jesus Christ
The fish carrying on its back an osier basket containing loaves of bread – the Eucharist
A fish drawn from the waters – Baptized Christians
Milk in a pail – the Eucharist
Peacocks – Immortality
The Greek letters of the alphabet Chi (C) and Rho (R) – Jesus Christ
The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet – Alpha (A) and Omega (W) – God, the beginning and the end of all things.
The Catacomb Shrine was conceived and roughly sketched by the Right Reverend Monsignor Eugene J. Luke, pastor and builder of St. Petronille Church. The famous sculptor, Professor Wladyslaw Gawlinski of Chicago, refined the sketches into an architectural and sculptural plan on the basis of which he did the magnificent and intricate sculpturing work. Final editing of this descriptive brochure was the work of Mr. Clarence M. Sullivan, a member of our Parish.
St. Petronille Parish
St. Petronille Parish was founded in 1925. The parish is named after St. Petronilla, martyr of the fourth century. (Petronille is the anglicized spelling of her name.) At the time, the congregation was the only parish in the United States with patronage to St. Petronille and today it remains the only parish church that bears her name.
St. Petronille Parish was the first Catholic church and Catholic school in the village of Glen Ellyn. The first Mass was celebrated by Fr. Walter L. Fasnacht on April 19, 1925, on the third floor of the Glen Ellyn State Bank building located on the northeast corner of Main Street and Crescent Boulevard. On May 9, 1925, less than a month after the first Mass, catechetical instruction of children began in the Hawthorne public school.
A parcel of land with 325 feet of frontage on Prospect Avenue and 200 feet on Hillside Avenue was purchased for the parish later in 1925. The two residences on the property were converted into a convent and a rectory. The first parish structure built on the property was a combination church and school, which was completed in 1926. On February 7, 1926, Mass was celebrated in the partially finished basement and then on April 4, 1926, Mass was finally celebrated on the main floor of the combined new church and school building of St. Petronille Parish. The school opened on the second floor of the building with 126 pupils under the care of the School Sisters of St. Francis. Until 1956, this building served as church, parish hall and parish school. The same building, with the words carved above the entrance “God, Our Country, Education,” exists today as the parish school entrance. Also above the entrance doors is the coat of arms of His Eminence George Cardinal Mundelein, Archbishop of Chicago, with the words “Dominus Adjutor Meus” translated to “The Lord my Helper”.
The School Sisters of St. Francis were the mainstay of the St. Petronille faculty for over 50 years. They vacated the convent in the early 1980’s.
In 1927, more property was purchased, a site measuring 100 by 125 feet.
In 1946, Fr. Eugene Luke, the third pastor of St. Petronille, gave the parish a gift of 5 lots at the corner of Glenwood Avenue and Hillside Avenue containing a residence on Glenwood Avenue. The following year, the parish purchased four corner lots on Glenwood Avenue. Plans were soon announced for a new rectory, a new convent, and a new church.
The Diocese of Joliet was formed in December 1948 to include DuPage, Kendall, Will, Kankakee, Grundy, Ford and Iroquois counties.
In conjunction with the Silver Jubilee of the parish, a groundbreaking ceremony of the new rectory and convent took place on April 30, 1950. In December 1951, the two buildings were dedicated by Bishop Martin D. McNamara, the first Bishop of Joliet, assisted by the now Right Reverend Monsignor Luke. The convent was converted to a library in September 1976 and still exists today as the library and kindergarten classrooms.
By 1954, a capital project of $640,000 began for a new parish church. The size of the church made it one of the largest in DuPage County and the third largest in the Diocese of Joliet at the time. The Georgian-style church, that still exists today, was completed on November 22, 1956, and holds 700 people. Its steeple remains the highest point in Glen Ellyn. The design of the building included a large imported, bronze statue of Christ, the King, gracing the entrance and high-arched windows engulfing the church in sunlight.
In 2000, the parish celebrated its Platinum Jubilee – 75th anniversary. And in 2001, the rectory adjacent to the church building was razed to make way for construction of a new Parish Life Center, which was completed in 2004.
In 2013, a groundbreaking ceremony took place for a much-needed, new rectory on Prospect Avenue. The new rectory was completed in February 2015.
Today St. Petronille School provides a quality education environment for almost 500 students, pre-kindergarten (added in 2020) through 8th grade. Catholic beliefs are integrated with current educational standards all supported with up-to-date technology. Students are provided the opportunity to develop to their full personal, spiritual, intellectual, physical, social, and emotional potential.
St. Petronille Church
St. Petronille Parish’s church building is not just another parish church.
The golden cross on the steeple, towering above every part of any other structure in the village, beckons all people far and near to come – adore and thank, petition and make reparation – to our God. In an article written by Fr. Eugene Hemrick about Monsignor Luke in 1986 for The Chicago Catholic, Fr. Hemrick stated that: “Monsignor Luke confided that it was his dream to build a church that would teach his people about God the moment they saw it from a distance.”
Christ the King above the main entrance beckons a welcome. To the right and left of this bronze statue are stone plaques with the incised words: “Come to Me. In my heart the devout find a haven of rest, the penitent salvation.” “King eternal, universal. King of love and grace, life and holiness, justice and peace.”
In the sanctuary, the altar steps and raised platform are of green Carrara marble. The beautiful altar is of Puebla onyx from Mexico. Behind the altar is the tabernacle, relocated in 2020, supported by four beautifully carved Oaxaca onyx pillars incised with symbolic Messianic types – the Manna and the Pascal Lamb.
The ornamentation on the front of the altar is the Chi-Rho, the first letters of the title “Christ” in Greek. The Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, to the side emphasize that Christ is the center of all time. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8
The carved wood corpus of the crucified Christ is from Italy. “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” appears in three different languages written out in different scripts — Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. The free-standing panel forming a sort of superstructure, on which the large crucifix is mounted, is called the reredos and is made of finished birchwood.
The Sanctuary Light is continually burning before the tabernacle. The Roman Missal in the Catholic Church states: “In accordance with traditional custom, near the tabernacle a special lamp, fueled by oil or wax, should be kept alight to indicate and honor the presence of Christ.”
The Holy Oils: the oil of the sick, the oil of the catechumens and the oil of holy chrism. The bishop consecrates these oils during the annual Chrism Mass during Holy Week. Each has a distinctive purpose during the celebration of the Sacraments of Anointing of the Sick, Baptism and Confirmation.
The side-shrine altars are of Puebla onyx. The reason for the use of onyx in place of the customary marble used for altars is the translucency of onyx. On the shrine altars stand marble statues of St. Joseph to the right of the altar and Mary and Son to the left of the altar. Under each statue, there is a center ornamentation, a lily under St. Joseph and a flaming heart under Mary and Son. The presence of a lily represents the virtue of purity especially attributed to St. Joseph, the laborer and the foster father of Jesus. Originally, on the left was a marble statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This statue is now located in the vestibule of the Mary Chapel. The Mary and Son statue depicts the Virgin Mary with an adolescent Jesus and was installed on February 20, 1985. The statue is an original design created by sculptor David Wanner. In keeping with the original statues, the new statue was sculpted from Carrara marble in Pietrasanta, Italy and was nine months in preparation.
The Ambo carving shows the source of the Divine Commission to teach the eternal and revealed truths. A course of transmission is traced from God in heaven to the Church in Rome (represented by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome), to the Diocese of Joliet (Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus), and finally to Glen Ellyn (St. Petronille Parish). Inscribed with the words of scripture, “I Will Give to Thee the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” Matthew 16:19. Carved by Manuel Gómez Velasco, Guadalajara Jalisco, Mexico
The chandeliers and carved wooden Stations of the Cross are from Mexico. The breathtaking chandeliers are very appropriately named “Light of the World.” Measurements are ten by seventeen feet. Five thousand four hundred thirty-eight crystals and one hundred forty lights are on each fixture.
Originally, baptisms took place in the baptistry, in the area outside of the Mary Chapel. The balcony in the baptistry offered guests an opportunity to witness the baptismal ceremony from above. The Paschal candle represents Christ, the Light of the World. At the opening of the Easter Vigil a “new fire” is lit and blessed.
The church’s pipe organ built by the Schantz Organ Company of Orrville Ohio, was contracted for on November 24, 1975. The organ, located in the choir loft, was installed in our church in October of 1976. Foster Diehl, organist of Chicago’s Cathedral of the Holy Name, served as consultant of the project, and later joined the staff at St. Petronille as Music Director. The organ includes 2,063 pipes playable over two manuals (keyboards) and pedal.
Currently located in the north east corner of the church.
By Cathy Douglass
The Mary chapel was dedicated on November 14, 1956. The triptych in the back of the altar was designed, painted and made in Glen Ellyn. The subjects of the triptych are the marriage of Mary and Joseph, the Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord and Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth.
The Stations of the Cross in the Mary Chapel were designed and sketched in Glen Ellyn and then ordered from Germany. Because the Mary chapel was initially designated primarily to accommodate mothers with infants and preschool age children, every station was designed with youngsters in mind, to tell the story of our Lord’s Passion and death to children. The angel guardian starts out with the story.
Outside St. Petronille Church
St. Petronille Shrine dedicated May 27, 1956
The St. Petronille shrine is a reproduction of a crypt chapel, found in the Catacombs of St. Callistus, dating back to the first centuries of the Christian era. All carvings are authentic facsimiles of inscriptions, frescoes and ornamentations extant in the Catacombs. The terra-cotta picture of St. Petronille, our parish patroness, in whose honor the shrine is dedicated, is a copy of a fresco in the Catacombs of St. Domitilla.
The shrine of St. Petronille was conceived and roughly sketched by the Right Reverend Monsignor Luke, pastor and builder of St. Petronille Church. The famous sculptor Professor Wladyslaw Gawlinski of Chicago refined the sketches into an architectural and sculptural plan and performed the magnificent and intricate work of sculpting the finished ensemble.
Stone plaques on the side of the church
Stone plaques on the exterior above the windows of the nave declare eternal truths, which serve also as invocations to Our Blessed Savior.
Jesus Rich in Mercy
Jesus Our Way and Life
Jesus Our Redeemer
Jesus Victim for Sin
Jesus Gate of Heaven
Jesus Son of Mary
Jesus Our God
Jesus Lover of Us
Jesus Good Shepherd
Jesus True Light
Outdoor Statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary dedicated October 2007
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Shrine
Found outside of the school’s main doors. Originally created in Mexico. Recreated in June 2017 with the efforts of Jack Meinhart for his Eagle Scout Project.
St. Joseph Statue outside of kindergarten doors
Other ArtifactsThe Crucifix wood carving
Located above the doors in the Parish Life Center. Jesus on the crucifix with Melchizedek on the left and Abraham and Isaac on the right. Originally located in the found in the center of the convent. Designed by Sister M. Ambrosina, OSF. Carved by Manuel Gómez V., Guadalajara Jalisco, Mexico
The Holy Family Dinner wood carving
Located in the lobby of the Parish Life Center, the carving was originally located in the rectory. Carved by Manuel Gómez V., Guadalajara Jal. Mexico