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New arts center brings beauty and truth to urban Chicago

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Lawrence and Katie Joy Daufenbach

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 07/21/22

When the old theater next to their church went up for lease, a young couple decided to restore it as a home for beauty and faith.

One of the first things that Lawrence and Katie Joy Daufenbach bonded over, before they were even dating, was St. John Paul II’s Letter to Artists

In it, St. John Paul II writes, “In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art.”

The two felt irresistibly drawn to the intersection of faith and beauty. As the years passed, they fell in love, married and started a family. Today they live on the north side of Chicago with their sons, ages 3 and 1.

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But they were always looking for “ways that beauty can lift the soul and draw us closer to God,” Katie Joy said. It was central to their individual faith journeys and their vocation as a married couple.

So when the old theater next door to their parish, St. Alphonsus Church, went up for lease, an idea hatched in their minds. What if they could restore the theater to its roots as a home for beauty and faith? 

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The Athenaeum Theater did have Catholic roots. Redemptorist Fathers built it in 1911 to serve as an artistic and cultural home for the parish and larger community.

“We felt inspired to return it to its original roots and do our part to re-engage the culture and re-establish Catholic participation in the arts,” said Katie Joy, “and ultimately evangelize and shape the world through beauty.”

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They were well-suited to the project. Lawrence and Katie Joy Daufenbach both have backgrounds in arts and business. 

Katie Joy studied Theater at Northwestern University, served as a FOCUS missionary after college, and worked in marketing and branding until leaving to start this new venture. 

Lawrence is a cinematographer by training and an entrepreneur at heart. He started his own camera company right out of college and continues to serve on a number of local industry boards. 

“Through the work of the Athenaeum Center for Thought and Culture, we hope to help people encounter truth and goodness through beauty,” they said.

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It’s exciting to see the work of this dynamic and inspiring young couple. Recently, I had the chance to catch up with the Daufenbachs about their work to get the Athenaeum Theater off the ground as a Catholic cultural center. Here’s our conversation.

What was it like working on this together as a couple?

We feel tremendously blessed to have this opportunity to work together on something so important. 

It’s been beautiful to see how the Holy Spirit has been moving in our lives from the very beginning, shaping us and preparing us for each other in both our “big V” Vocation (marriage) and “little v” vocation, this mission. It has felt very Holy Spirit-led, which has helped us weather the bumps and challenges along the way. 

We also have two small children so it’s a constant juggle! We’re very blessed to have family nearby who help us with childcare and make this all possible.

What do you want people to know about The Athenaeum Center?

You are welcome here! 

I think many people may shrug and say, “Oh, I’m not an artist,” or “I’m not creative.” But we are all called to participate in the work of creation in some capacity. 

So I’d challenge you to think more broadly about how the Lord is calling you to participate in His creative work and how you can help bring more beauty into the world in your own unique way. 

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