A plain old Columbus building with a soup kitchen in the basement houses the largest diversified collection of Catholic art in the country, according to the Vatican.
The Jubilee Museum which started as a small hobby collection is now a resource for Central Ohio churches.
It’s a couple floors above the Holy Family Soup Kitchen in Franklinton.
“Most people when they come in, or hear of a church museum, they’re expecting to see 19 pictures of dead pastors on the wall and a shovel from the groundbreaking,” said Father Kevin Lutz who founded the museum.
Instead, visitors find two dozen themed rooms filled with artifacts from Catholic history – there’s a room for priestly vestments, music, and the Requiem mass, which prays for the dead.
An Altar Found In A Bar
Father Lutz finds his treasures in all kinds of places.
“Over the years, I’ve gotten four altars out of bars. Two of those altars are now back in churches,” Lutz said. “The third one is going to be back in a church in about six months, and the fourth one is still sitting here looking and hoping to be adopted.”
One such altar is at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Sunbury which was remodeled and expanded a few years ago.
The parish’s pastor Father David Sizemore says the altar was from a church Missouri that closed in the 1970s. It’s oak with gold leaf decorations. He found the altar at a bar in St. Louis.
“From the tabernacle, they were selling cigars and wine on that layer on the altar,” Sizemore said.
Lutz offered the bar owner any money necessary to buy it on the spot. He got the altar for $4,500.
“He paid for a piece that cost today, that costs about a quarter million dollars to build,” Lutz said.
At St. John Neuman’s Fr. Sizemore wanted some beautiful adornments, but knew his church couldn’t afford to get them new. So he reached out to the museum.
Museum Draws More Than Catholics
Fr. Lutz says more than half of the Catholic churches in the area and some Protestant ones have something from the museum.
“Sometimes it can be as large as a pipe organ, sometimes it can be as small as the little set of bells on the altar,” Lutz said.
The museum’s director, Shawn Kenney, says the museum doesn’t only focus on Catholicism.
“We have a bible room, a papal room, actually a synagogue room,” Kenney said.
It turns out, most of its visitors are not Catholic.
“For about a year and a half we asked everybody who came through the door, are you Catholic, are you Lutheran, are you Methodist, are you just no religion all? And about 70 percent were not Catholic,” Kenney said.
Two full-time staff and some volunteers keep it running. They offer daily tours and thousands of people come through every year.
Lutz got the idea for the museum in 1998, when the bishop of Columbus at the time, James Griffin, asked parishes to do something special to celebrate the year 2000, which the Catholic Church called The Great Jubilee.
“People used to say my house looked like a museum, and when I got transferred here I had this big building so I made my house empty, put everything here and started the museum,” Lutz said.
At first, there were four rooms – now there are 24. As the museum’s visitor count grew, churches that were shutting down or people who owned sacred objects knew to call if they had items they could donate.
Keeping church artifacts in a special replace or returned to their original use is what Lutz desires, because they can speak to the soul.
“People are often moved by art,” he said. “People go to great cities and go into huge churches, and sometimes they’ll even go into a simple modest country church that has hardly any adornments, but there’s a certain presence that you feel there."
A presence he’s committed to helping people feel one visitor at a time.
The Jubilee Museum was featured on WOSU TV’s Broad & High in December 2015.