Tarnov Heritage Museum is labor of love

From religious statuary and vestments to antique home appliances and wedding dresses – the Tarnov Heritage Museum at St. Michael Parish in Tarnov preserves the faith, cultural and ethnic history of the area.

And for parishioners Judy Hanzel and Mary Jane Rosenthal, maintaining the museum is about more than the artifacts – it’s a labor of love, one they hope to continue, even if their parish consolidates with St. Francis Parish in Humphrey as proposed in a recent archdiocesan study of 31 rural parishes.

Their two decades of work is reflected in a growing collection of memorabilia housed in the parish’s former boarding school, built in the early 1900s. After sitting idle since its closing in 1961, a group of parishioners transformed the building into the museum, which opened in 2000.

Notable artifacts include the baptismal font from the original 1880 church, a large Nativity set purchased at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition, a tabernacle, stained glass window and Stations of the Cross from the former school’s chapel, plus statues, banners, vestments, and numerous other items from St. Michael.



The museum helps celebrate the faith and dedication of the people, many of Polish descent, who have shaped the parish community, Rosenthal said. "It helps people realize the sacrifices our pioneers made to build this beautiful complex.

"I got involved because I’ve always had an interest in history," she said, "and I wanted to preserve our history for future generations."

"It’s a unique place, and somebody needed to take care of it," Hanzel said. "We had this big, empty building, and this stuff – religious items and things from the school – what do we do with it?"

So, after the entire parish complex – church, school, rectory, cemetery and outbuildings – was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, five parishioners formed the St. Michael’s Historical Society and began to convert the school building into a museum, Rosenthal said.

The society, which now has about 150 members, operates the museum, paying rent to the parish, as well as utilities, insurance and other expenses, she said. The parish continues to use the school basement as a social hall.

In addition to historic items from the parish, two floors of the building showcase artifacts, photographs and documents highlighting the life of multiple generations of Catholics in the area.



One room includes scale models of five parish churches in the area that closed during the 1960s and 1970s – St. Anthony of Padua in Burrows Township, St. John Nepomucene in Joliet Township, Sacred Heart in Cornlea, St. Bernard in St. Bernard Township and St. Mary of the Angels in Grand Prairie Township.

Former classrooms and hallways hold displays on domestic life decades ago, including antique washing machines, stoves and other kitchen items, wedding dresses, military uniforms, toy farm equipment, dolls and other artifacts, plus genealogy records dating to the 1880s.

Another room is set up as a classroom as it might have appeared decades ago, including a mannequin decked out in the habit of the Franciscan sisters who taught at the school.

And the museum, which is primarily supported by donations and fundraisers, is always looking for more items, Hanzel said.



The women’s commitment to the church extends beyond maintaining the museum, and over the years has included teaching religious education, belonging to the St. Anne Sodality and serving as sacristans. And by spending countless hours since the 1990s, the two women keep the museum going, doing everything from repair work to creating and maintaining the displays.

"Judy and I spend many hours here," Rosenthal said. "We don’t consider it a chore. It’s a gift to be able to do this."

"We’ve repainted probably 99 percent of the building, and if something needs fixing, we do it," Hanzel said. "If we can’t, we find somebody to do it. It’s a unique place and we’re trying to keep it alive."

That includes the former rectory, now called Michael House, which can be rented for vacations, reunions or other gatherings and can sleep up to a dozen people.

People from across the country, including both coasts, have visited, Hanzel said. "There’s so much history here. We’ve got something here worth coming to see."

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