A gallery of Catholic art and religious relics has big plans—and a few problems.

Inside a tired-looking, 107-year-old brick building, the Jubilee Museum and Catholic Cultural Center is at a crossroads. Governed by the Catholic Diocese of Columbus, it operates above the Holy Family Soup Kitchen on Grubb Street in Franklinton, with only a tiny, unassuming sign pointing the way to parking. The museum claims it has been recognized by the Vatican as having the largest collection of diversified Catholic art in the United States, yet it remains unknown to many Central Ohioans.

Executive director Shawn Kenney wants to raise its profile, converting it from an overlooked trove into a top-tier tourist destination and event space. While the outside is worn, “People walk inside and go ‘Whoa!’” when they see the bounty within, Kenney says.

Original maple floors lead the way to room after room of relics and artifacts, from altars, Bibles and vestments to dolls, stained glass and Victrolas. In 2018, visitors could marvel at a temporary display of the Vatican re-created with a half-million Legos. There are coins dating to the time of Christ, a land-grant document for Ohio’s first Catholic settler and a chalice featuring a large amethyst once owned by Mary, Queen of Scots.

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Founded by the Rev. Kevin Lutz in 1998 (just ahead of the 2000 Jubilee, a holy year in Catholicism, hence its name), it didn’t start out so big. Lutz collected items as a hobby and assembled a modest display. Two decades later, donations from individuals, schools and churches keep rolling in. Warehouses hold the surplus.

Kenney speaks ebulliently about ideas for growth that could include adding high-tech attractions and constructing a second building. The Jubilee owns an adjacent lot where a more welcoming structure could connect to the original museum, significantly expanding the space.

But there are concerns to address first. The Jubilee Museum closed in August to repair an aging, leaky roof. Kenney says no artifacts were damaged; the closure was proactive. Meanwhile, Lutz retired in September from St. Mary parish in German Village. The next day, the diocese announced an investigation into allegations that he sexually abused a minor in the 1980s. Lutz had not been involved with daily museum operations, and Kenney says the investigation is unrelated to the temporary closing.

Later in September, a statement posted on the Jubilee website said: “We are undergoing a strategic planning and procedural review,” and asked visitors to check back for updates on the closing. Board of trustees chairman Travis Ricketts wouldn’t comment on a timetable for expansion plans, saying it’s too early to cite specifics, though he did express excitement about being part of the ongoing revitalization of Franklinton.

Kenney says the board might launch a capital campaign by early 2020. He sees the Jubilee evolving into something along the lines of a national Catholic museum, with a profile more like two of its neighbors, COSI and the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.

But as of early October, it was awaiting safety approval by a historic building inspector, Kenney says, and though leaders were hoping to re-open later in the month, a date hadn’t been announced. In the meantime, the Jubilee’s busiest season—Christmastime—is nearing, when hundreds of Nativity scenes are displayed alongside the largest collection of Fontanini figurines in the country, with 2,900 pieces telling Christ’s life story. It’s a sight to behold, so long as the doors are open.

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