There are museums all across America that celebrate various events, items, and collections. But none of them can hold a candle to one museum in Beloit, Wisconsin, that is home to more than 11,000 angels.
More than a decade ago, Joyce and Lowell Berg decided they wanted to find a home for their tremendous collection of angels that they wanted to share with the public. After collaborating with former parishioners of St. Paul's Catholic Church in Beloit, the group set about looking for a building.
St. Paul's Catholic Church, first chartered by the Diocese of Milwaukee, was always unique among Roman Catholic parishes because it operated without parish boundaries. It was the first church in the Beloit area to welcome people of other faiths to participate in church events and programs. The parish focused on the basic principles of people wanting to live the American dream. St. Paul's main interest was education in immigrant communities. So the parish made generous donations to the Beloit Catholic High School. The church also built the Newman Center, intended to serve the spiritual and intellectual needs of the faculty and students of Beloit College.
In 1988, after the death of the St. Paul's priest, Father Joseph DeStefano, the Diocese of Madison closed the parish and sold it to Beloit College to be used as a storage facility. When the city began to develop its riverfront area as part of a renaissance project, the college sold the church to the city as part of a planned Heritage Park development. But the city was unable to find a good use for the church, so they proposed demolishing it along with several other buildings located along the riverfront. Former parishioners and the Beloit Historic Preservation Commission were outraged so the city charged them with finding a proper usage for the historic building. When they learned that the Bergs were looking for a home for their angels, they knew that divine intervention had brought them together.
Built in 1914, the church was originally used as a mission serving Italian immigrants in the Beloit area. It is a brown brick building constructed in Romanesque style, typically seen in small villages in Italy. The building features a peaked roof, a bell tower with a parapet, a Roman arch, and round stained-glass windows placed high in the towers of the building. When the city approved the building for use as the Angel Museum, more than 15,000 hours of work were put in by service organizations and private individuals in order to renovate the building before its opening in 1998. Each year nearly 10,000 hours are donated by volunteers who operate the museum, which has a restaurant and gift shop.
The Angel Museum is the only museum of its kind located in America, and may be the only angel museum in the world. Angels crafted by hundreds of artists are on display, giving their creators the opportunity to share with the world their personal expressions of nobility, joy, and peace. The museum features more than 12,000 angel artifacts, made out of more than 100 different materials from more than 50 countries all around the world. Oprah Winfrey has donated more than 600 black angels to the museum, and other angel collectors have also donated their special collections. In 2001, the Guinness Book of World Records verified the Berg Angel Collection as being the largest angel collection in the world.
When Joyce Berg was asked why she wanted to house her collection in an Angel Museum, her simple reply was, "I was to see a place where goodness prevails.". Since its opening, the Angel Museum has shared its goodness with more than 170,000 guests from the United States and 50 other countries.