The Shrine is privileged to be the home for the largest collection of dolls dressed in traditional habits of men and women religious communities in the United States. The inspirational collection has been the sole work of Wally and Sally Rogalski.
Starting in 1945 as a young girl, Sally began to dress dolls in traditional habits. Throughout the years Sally wanted to "preserve a bit of the history of the Catholic Church". As Sally would dress the dolls, her husband Wally supported her work and assisted in constructing and setting up displays that depicted the work and different ministries of the men's and women's communities. For many years, the dolls were kept in their home in Saginaw, Michigan. In 1964 the Rogalski's donated 230 dolls to the Shrine with the only instruction, "that no admission charge would ever be asked, so that people, rich and poor alike, would be able to see them". Through correspondence and interviews with members of many religious orders, Sally was able to provide authentic dress. She even sent some of her dolls to religious communities who volunteered to furnish the habit and dress the doll. The collection has increased to over 525 dolls and 20 mannequins. Even after Wally's death in 1995 Sally continues to visit the Shrine several times a year and adds to this wonderful and priceless collection.
The collection of 525 dolls and 20 mannequins represent Diocesan clergy and more than 217 religious orders of priests, sisters, and brothers of North and South America.
The dolls are kept in glass display cases in several showrooms at the Shrine. Thousands of visitors view the display yearly.
In 1988 Sally and Wally received a blessing and citation from Pope John Paul II for their work "in helping to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life through their doll collection".
Wearing religious habits is a tradition that dates back to the monastic and missionary practices of the early church.
In early Christian orders, habits were the street dress of the day of Europe, where many orders began. They became uniform for men and women religious.
For example, St. Francis adopted the dress of the poor tied with a cord. The Daughters of Charity wore the peasant outfitters of the women of the day, complete with the "white wings". The Sisters of Charity of Elizabeth Seton wore the dress of the widows of their era. Mother Theresa's Sisters of Charity adapted the sari, the dress of Indian women, and made it their uniform.
Since the 1960's and Vatican II, most religious communities ceased wearing a specific habit, choosing instead to wear simple clothing and a distinctive cross or pin of their specific order or congregation.