A New Direction in Church Design

One day fifteen years ago, I happened to be channel surfing past the Eternal Word Television Network when I was greeted by a momentary flash of heavenly beauty across the screen. Quickly flipping back, I realized that it was a Mass being celebrated in an unusually majestic church with an extensively gilded and marbled interior.

Having never seen this church before, I distinctly remember asking myself why today’s churches can’t still be built to glorify God the way this beautiful “old” work of art had been. Within minutes, however, I felt as though a joke too good to be true had been played on me—what I was witnessing was in fact the Mass of Consecration for this magnificent and brand new church.

That church is the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama, which was commissioned by Mother Angelica and is now a longstanding familiar sight to viewers of EWTN. That day back in 1999 marked a turning point in my understanding of the direction of Catholic sacred architecture in the post-conciliar period.

Up to then, I had been conditioned to believe that such blatantly Catholic forms and furnishings were but a stale hangover from the Church’s distant “triumphalist” past, and that my attraction to them was some sort of perverse personal weakness that indicated an obstinate, unenlightened resistance to “the spirit” unleashed in the 1960s. Yet, as I slowly took in what was there before me on the television screen, at the threshold of the new millennium, I felt an unexpected sense of both joy and vindication. To my young mind at least, it was as though I was witnessing a visual clarion call challenging the prevailing mentality of modernism that had successfully held sway in the Church for some thirty years.

Now, let us fast forward to 2014. Relatively speaking, it is still somewhat of a rarity to see a new ecclesiastical project of such delicate care and quality. However, it is not nearly as rare as it was at the turn of the century, and considering various ongoing deterrents both within and outside of the Church, that alone is significant.

It is true that a certain indiscriminate preference for the contemporary remains firmly ensconced in the average American parish. Yet there has also quietly developed a parallel phenomenon: a deliberate and measured return to tradition, born of a deep desire to reestablish continuity and stability in Catholic life. Given the wide appeal it enjoys among younger priests and committed laity—the Church of tomorrow—I dare say it has gained a life of its own. A brief survey of just some of the many projects from the past several years serves to illustrate this point, and is a feast for the eyes and soul in the process.

Parish Life
In 2003, a small church in Houston, Texas was consecrated for the parish of Our Lady of Walsingham, designed by the very old and established firm of Cram & Ferguson Architects. This unique Marian title, based on the English apparition and pilgrimage site of the same name, is specifically evoked in the building’s neo-Gothic style, which draws heavily on the vernacular architecture found in the village of Walsingham, Norfolk, England. It therefore becomes a strong visual tie to its namesake.

St. Raymond of Peñafort Church, located in Springfield, Virginia, was consecrated in 2006. Designed by Bass Architects, Chartered as the first permanent home for a young parish founded in 1997, its fortress-like Romanesque stone façade and stout brick towers are prominently visible from the bustling Fairfax County Parkway, and therefore seen daily by thousands of passersby. It incorporates intricate stained glass and various antique furnishings.

5Another larger project by Cram & Ferguson is St. John Neumann Church in Farragut, Tennessee, consecrated in 2009. Romanesque through and through, its vaulted interior contains large, newly completed apse and dome murals in a naturalistic style. With the parish having outgrown its previous building after just a couple decades, the size and permanence of this new church guarantees that it will adequately serve and inspire for generations to come.

St. Benedict’s Chapel is located in Chesapeake, Virginia, and was consecrated in 2011. Designed by Franck & Lohsen Architects for a parish operated by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), it is possibly the first parish church in the United States built specifically for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, or Traditional Latin Mass, since before Vatican II. The elegant yet humble design clearly presents itself as a Catholic church, while also incorporating elements of the architecture typical to the local region.

9Franck & Lohsen also designed the stately St. John the Apostle Church a few hours north in Leesburg, Virginia, which was consecrated in 2012. This old parish had long outgrown its small nineteenth-century wooden church, and needed one large enough to accommodate the continuing population boom in Loudoun County. The new design employs various traditional details, with material choices and other elements reflective of the historic town, as well as reminiscent of the old church. The liturgical and devotional furnishings were rescued from a closed church in New Jersey, at which Venerable Fulton Sheen was the homilist for its consecration in 1929.

One of the newest functioning parish churches in the United States is St. Paul the Apostle Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina, designed by Duncan G. Stroik Architect, LLC, and consecrated in 2013. The heavy brick exterior, evoking the familiarity of earlier American immigrant churches, makes for a commanding and permanent presence from the outside. Inside, one is uplifted by a nobly simple, bright, and spacious classical serenity. The altar is given special prominence by its location under a colorful baldacchino, or altar canopy.

Also consecrated in 2013 is St. Catherine of Siena Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina, designed by O’Brien & Keane Architecture. This large church is reminiscent of the Romanesque architecture found throughout Tuscany, which St. Catherine herself would certainly have known. A boldly contrasted triforium arcade below the clerestory provides an additional element to draw the eye’s focus to the altar and tabernacle. Numerous shrines with larger-than-life wooden polychrome statues, custom made in Italy, line the side aisles.

15Currently under construction is St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken, South Carolina, designed by McCrery Architects. The design is predominantly influenced by Renaissance architecture, and consists of a church that sits back from the street, behind an entry courtyard incorporating formal gardens and flanked by twin ancillary buildings with colonnades. This establishes a peaceful transitional zone between the outside world and the Holy of holies, and gives one a sense of being drawn in toward the façade.

Our Lady of Grace Church in Maricopa, Arizona, designed by Liturgical Environs, PC, has begun construction as well. This Gothic style design, which incorporates shallow pointed arches and a hammer beam ceiling, is the focal point in the development of a large parish campus. The church is intentionally designed with future expansion in mind, which will seamlessly allow for it to triple in size as the parish grows.

Religious Life
Various religious orders are experiencing a rise in vocations and are quite young in their overall composition. As a result, the United States has seen several new monasteries planned, begun, or completed in recent years to accommodate the anticipated continued growth. The Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, who care for the aforementioned Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament on the grounds of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Alabama, are no exception.

16Another notable example is the Monastery at the New Mount Carmel, planned for the Carmelite Monks of Wyoming (producers of Mystic Monk Coffee) and designed by McCrery Architects. This sprawling Gothic Revival complex will include a chapel at its core, hermitages housing up to thirty monks, a refectory, guest and retreat quarters, and other spaces that will enable the monks to live faithfully according to their rule and flourish as a growing and thriving community for generations. The land is situated in a remote and peaceful mountain setting.

Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek Abbey, a Benedictine monastery founded in 1999 and situated in the Ozarks of Oklahoma, is a similar scenario. Designed by Thomas Gordon Smith Architects, it blends Romanesque and Renaissance elements, and it continues to be built in phases. The overall program is constructed piece by piece according to the highest priority, and the monks have the happy problem of not being able to build fast enough to keep up with their community’s steady growth.

Campus Life
On college campuses, perhaps in the category of “not your average Newman chapel,” the story continues. The Chapel of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, designed by Duncan G. Stroik and consecrated in 2009, is the focal point of the quadrangle at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. The design is true to its locale in the mission lands of Southern California, but also clearly tied to a sacred tradition that goes even further back. The result is a stunning edifice that would hold its own alongside the finest European churches.

Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity InteriorAlso in the Golden State is Our Savior Church and USC Caruso Catholic Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects with Perkowitz + Ruth Architects, and liturgical furnishings by Liturgical Environs. Consecrated in 2012, the project consists of a church and adjacent student center in an Italianate Romanesque style. Some defining features are the rusticated travertine exterior, expansive stained glass windows, and open piazza tying the two buildings together.

The Diocesan See
We are even seeing signs that a rediscovery of tradition has begun to filter up to the highest levels. While new cathedral construction is not nearly as common as the other building types discussed, it is especially significant. As the mother church of the diocese, a cathedral is often seen as prototypical; an indication of the general philosophy a bishop would like to see adopted by the parishes under his auspices.

22The Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina has commissioned a new cathedral under the patronage of the Holy Name of Jesus, to replace the current cathedral, which has become inadequate to serve the rapidly growing Catholic population in the region. The design, currently in development by O’Brien & Keane, is of a style similar to that of the aforementioned St. Catherine of Siena in the same diocese, but on a larger and grander scale. Expected to take about two years to complete, renderings show that it will incorporate high vaulted ceilings, arcaded side aisles, and a substantial dome.

Across the globe, the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Fatima in Karaganda, Kazakhstan has arisen from the ashes of the former Soviet Union. Consecrated in 2012, it stands as a brand new witness to the triumph of Christian hope and perseverance over communist oppression. By the use of Gothic Revival, an expression of an earlier style that originated out of a purely Christian religious and social setting—as opposed to something postmodern that would only serve to reinforce the instability and uncertainty introduced by the oppressors—order is restored from chaos, and hope to the future. It is no accident that, in a town that housed concentration camps for people of faith within recent memory, the cathedral is dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, who implored all of her children to pray daily for the conversion of Russia.

Despite the diversity of hands involved in these works, they are all steeped in timeless Catholic tradition and unmistakably state-of-the-art buildings: a true illustration of a hermeneutic of continuity. And while the focus here has been only on new construction, the increasing prevalence of traditional renovations—or re-renovations, to be more precise—merits its own attention, and will be the subject of a forthcoming essay in Crisis.

Lest delusion set in, the ratio of new traditional churches to posh amphitheater spaces still being built is grossly disproportionate. Nevertheless, after the epic social and liturgical upheavals of the last century, it is a wonder that any sort of traditional resurgence is happening at all, and these projects seem to be only increasing in number and scale with each passing year. Just a decade ago, attempting to write this piece would have proven difficult; twenty years ago, impossible.

This should give cause for optimism to those faithful who yearn for the vitality that flows from firm Catholic identity and its enduring visible expression. After all, as the saying attributed to Chesterton puts it, “Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances we know to be desperate.” Such wisdom is surely not lost on the many pastors, parishes, religious communities, architects and others helping to cultivate this budding sacred renaissance in the midst of a disintegrating culture that is too often hostile to faith.

Michael Tamara


Michael Tamara is an architect who lives in Alexandria, Virginia. He holds a BA in architectural studies and art history from Hobart College in Geneva, New York, and an M. Arch I from Syracuse University. He studied in both Rome and Florence.

  • john

    Lovely! Let’s not forget the beautiful renovations that are finally coming due in less stunning 1970s and 1980s buildings. In my parish in the well-shepherded diocese of Colorado Springs, the pastor recently rescued the tabernacle from its corner niche (where the 1980s architects who designed this “in the round” prayer barn had placed it) to the center of the altar. A beautiful, large crucifix also hangs prominently above the altar (where once a set of speakers hung suspended). Praise God! There is hope for beauty in our Church!

    • Steve

      It wasn’t …”the 1980’s architects” but the movement of Vatican II that put the tabernacle and the location of the “Word” both at the side of the altar in order to center on the liturgy… Priest facing people, remember…. Also, large above altar crucifixes were made popular by the same Vatican II.
      Please be careful, we see what we see don’t we. Spirituality is the object, or ought to be, isn’t it. Architecture is the most reflective of social manifestations and so many have so much to say about what is done. Is there or can there be a successful architecture reflective of today rather than the mid centuries?

  • Del Rayva

    I live not too far from St. Raymond of Penafort; it is beautiful. (Not my home parish, but I’ve caught a late Mass there now and again.) Unfortunately, on Holy Days, I’m often hitting a 1960’s parish near my office, which is best described as “So ugly, it could only be a Catholic church.”

    • Barbaracvm

      Closest church to where I live looks like a warehouse. I walk into the building and I honestly do not know if it is Catholic. The holy water fount is so low to the ground you have lean over. Not a good thing for someone on crutches or arthritic. The entire church area just does not have a Catholic look. This church is fairly recent; it was built in the 1980’s

  • me, myself & I r all here

    See Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Limerick, Penna (archdiocese of phila)……fr paul brandt oversaw the edifying structure……..beautiful & majestic!
    In addition, Immaculate Conception Church, Douglassville, Pa…… Msgr. Nevin Klinger oversaw the project, a work of beauty!
    St. Peter the Fisherman, Lake Harmony, Pa….. Msgr. Joseph Dooley oversaw the building of this award winning Church!

    Don’t forget the Churches that have been restored: Holy Ghost, Bethlehem, Pa (the ceiling has the night sky of THE bethlehem), St. Casimir Church, Shenandoah, St. Elizabeth Church, Whitehall, Pa.
    Lots of great work done by so many priests/people of God dedicated to beauty, liturgy & life!

  • Carlos

    It’s great to see these new structures celebrate the beauty of our Catholic culture.

    *** Quick correction notice: Under ‘Campus Life’ California is referred to as the Sunshine State. It should be the Golden State. Florida is the Sunshine State.

  • FrankW

    As a parishioner of St. Paul the Apostle parish in Spartanburg, I absolutely love our new Church. It was a LONG time coming, but well worth the wait.

  • Fred

    One thing I hear a lot from critics of Catholicism is the waste of money spent on beautiful cathedrals as worldly things that could be better spent on helping the disadvantaged as well as opening the door to pride and vanity. Critics of course can find fault in anything that displeases them. While I can understand some of that mentality, especially reflecting on the abuses that occurred in ancient times of slave labor, I believe that a beautiful church is inspiring and inviting and makes people want to come and see the magnificent creations dedicated to our worship of Christ. I understand that a church is ultimately a building and that functionally much less grandeur suffices, but when I enter one that looks little more than a multi-purpose room it can be deflating, especially when it’s not a reflection of the community. Truthfully, if I could enter a cinder block thatched roof building in a 3rd world country and find parishioners alive with the Holy Spirit I’d feel the same magnificence in the people. We should feel blessed when we are able to create these structures to marvel at and adore.

    • fredx2

      The point is that it is possible to do both – have well constructed, meaningful churches and also help the poor. The fact that the Catholic church is the largest charitable organization in the world proves that.

    • Metro

      Also, a lush and decorated Churches, breathtaking Cathedrals are the palaces of the poor – where any poor person can be elevated in his soul by the beauty there, which speaks volumes about God’s kingdom.
      Poor people see enough ugliness in life, I know. Enough sterile concrete state and federal bureaucratic box buildings, dirty and broken apartments, bareness, shabbiness. Why should the rich only enjoy the historic, the sublime and lovely, where it is locked away, and I cannot go?
      Lush beauty and ornament speak to the soul of the “every man”- bare and sterile modern zen boxes are an effete intellectual amusement for the exclusive – and smell more of the “academic” elite than the “smell of the sheep”.

      • St JD George


  • Paul

    It’s ironic that the Romans used to vilify the Gothic style believing it’s “barbaric”. I can’t remember anywhere in the New Testament where early church leaders stipulated a style in church building or architecture ?
    Reviving Romanesque or Gothic has nothing to do with Catholic culture. These styles are about another age – when labor was cheap – and there is nothing timeless about them (unlike Jesus’ teachings). Some of the examples in the article are the epitome of opulence & grandiosity.

    • ForChristAlone

      “the epitome of opulence & grandiosity.” Exactly what God deserves – nothing but the best.

    • John Albertson

      What about the Neo-Classicism of the Renaissance and the Beaux Arts of the nineteenth century? Or the pre-Raphaelites? Not opulence and grandiosity. Rather, it is art and culture, which Christianity has promoted to the greatest heights and what the Scholastic saints called the ancillary virtue of Magnificence beyond Munificence. . Romanesque and Gothic architecture are the fruits of Christian civilization. You may be able to use electronic machinery and “state of the art” inventions but your comments are identical to those of the barbarians condemned by such great saints as Augustine and Albert the Great. It is the custom of barbarians when confronted with the facts of culture to refuse discussion, and just to bang down a wall.

    • fredx2

      That’s funny. I don’t remember anybody claiming that a certain style was stipulated in the Gospels. Why would you get that idea?
      And it is about having a culture – not dismissing it, and not trying to destroy a culture of beauty that served us well for centuries. Only a Klingon would like the brutal forms that are forced upon the laity in so many parishes. They are designed to kill the soul.
      These reviving styles were not based on cheap labor, they were based on beauty. If you see opulence and grandiosity whenever you are presented with beauty, that is a “in the eye of the beholder” thing.
      And yes, they are timeless. They bring the parishioner to a different level, a place of reverence. Much better than being bored to tears by straight, vicious angles and blank spaces.

  • BillinJax

    As Catholics we are often criticized for “excesses” in our church structures and “the pomp and ceremony” we display within them by those who somehow feel it is wasteful and unnecessary for the faithful wishing to praise God. To me, the catch here is that you can approach God in prayer, thanksgiving, petition, or contrition any time any place but when you understand your God is the creator of the wonderful universe we have in the heavens and the beautiful earth made just for us and you wish to honor and adore Him by the work of your own hands in praise of His majesty, these magnificent “houses of God” not only give glowing evidence of that but on entry entice and humble us to a deeper reverence as we prepare to actually “worship” Him and His kingship.on earth.

    • WSquared

      …does anyone honestly think that we approach Christ the Marshmallow with contrite hearts?

      No, didn’t think so. No wonder our Confession lines are minimal.

      But it’s not like Catholics who are more casual about their faith completely swear off Confession: the lines outside the Confessional get bigger every Lent, probably because ’tis the season and all that. Probably time to bring back meatless Fridays: Friday is still a penitential day in the Church, and penance– even if you “pick yer own”– is not “optional.” The problem with “pick yer own penance” is that it fast became “penance, shmenance!” It’s not necessary to go to Confession every week, but it’s definitely not a bad thing, and at least once a month is good practice.

      Ugly parishes are yet another instance of dumbing the Catholic faith– and the Church– down to our level (we are then suggesting that we save ourselves. When Pope Francis issued that shot across the bow against “Pelagianism,” I suspect that he knew that it cuts in at least two directions simultaneously). The last time I checked, however, we go to Mass in order to be conformed to Christ by Christ, and not to the pastor or the congregation. Does the architecture and the way the liturgy of the Church is celebrated, therefore, reflect what the Church teaches about Who Jesus Christ is, or not?

  • John Albertson

    Most refreshing and encouraging – especially as this phenomenon is widespread and often not in urban areas. And to think that in the “center of the universe” the Archdiocese of New York is wreckovating and closing beautiful churches. There is no accounting for taste, but this is symptomatic of something worse: spiritual depression.

  • Jen

    Great article! I would also like to add the work in progress of the new Newman Center, St. Thomas Aquinas Church for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Here is a link for a virtual tour. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=jnDjBP6SBLs

    • Jamie

      Thanks, Jen! As a UNL alum, I perused this article hoping to find mention of this beautiful building.

  • MountainAngel

    All I can say is “THANK GOD”.

  • Jim O’Neill

    John, I enjoyed your article and especially the links to church sites, what wonderful places that give glory to God by their magnificence. I have attached a link to a parish in Bowie, MD that rebuilt their church after a fire. I have found that being in churches that are beautiful are instant & special reminders that we the Lord is truly present there and help to put us in the right frame of mind to praise and pray to Him who made us.


  • Jerry Rhino

    Oftentimes some will say catholics should not pay for cathedral type churches, but instead give the money to the poor. My protestant boss told me that once. I said, “If that be the case, your wife could sell her engagement/wedding rings and give the money to the poor.” He never said another word about it.

    • Fred

      Thanks for the chuckle, and the idea. I’ll credit you when I get to use it next.

    • Catholic pilgrim

      That’s very funny but so true. We Catholics should have absolutely no problem in doing both, we’ve done it before (& in many, many places) & can do it again. We have BOTH tended the poor (who bear the face of Christ) AND built great Cathedrals to house Christ who is totally & mysteriously present in the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, poor people have teamed up together & built beautiful parish churches for the Lord (in this very country, with the poor Catholic immigrant masses). When open, poor/homeless people are always welcome to seek sanctuary from this (at times) crazy, ugly & bitter world in magnificently built Catholic Cathedrals & churches. The Church shares her beautiful Sanctuaries with the poor & (as far as I’m aware) she has never denied access to people at the doors of cathedrals/churches based on social class. The Church has received Ultimate beauty in Christ our Lord, it’s Her joyful obligation to return that beauty She has graciously received from Christ & share it with the World in the forms of excellent architecture, art, music, and acts of charity.

      • Catherine Alexander

        Even the author Anne Rice has defended the beauty of Catholic churches, pointing out that even poor people (perhaps, especially) deserve to exposed to this beauty.

      • WSquared

        Also, charity isn’t just expressed as monetary aid to the poor, even as it must include it– Charity (Caritas) is also expressed through the Truth about God and Man. Caritas is a love that is reasonable; it is a rightly ordered act of the will. Charity, in other words, should be a holistic love affair with God and neighbor lived with integrity.

        At the end of Mass, we are then sent forth renewed by the Eucharist; we are sent forth to witness to the world what we receive at Mass. So it should surprise none of us that issues such as “beautiful churches and the poor” also affect liturgy and the music we often hear at Mass, and vice versa: just what are we receiving at Mass that we are then communicating outward, then? If what we’re incoherent in this regard, then we should not be surprised that our witness– including how we think about the poor– is also incoherent.

        Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi. All three are required, or the whole thing falls down. At Mass, we are shown– and we enter into– how living it all becomes possible.

    • WSquared

      There’s another way of putting the above to fellow Catholics who think along those lines (interestingly enough, they almost invariably tend to be the kind who think that living a complacent, middle-class existence and going to weekly (if that) Mass at a plush but ugly parish is “enough”: “Pope Francis said something about us being a Church of the Poor. Okay, so let’s start with YOU. Sell your ______/ stop spending money on [insert name of unnecessary gadget or gewgaw or snack item here], and give the money to the poor. THEN I’ll take what you say about the poor seriously.” A beautiful church and beautiful liturgy (which can be done without excess or overblown extravangance, because this is about form, function, and wise stewardship of materials and moneys at hand, and not mere price tag) will always be more necessary than organic pet food, regular manicures, and cable TV. For one, what are we willing to sacrifice in order to love God and the things of Heaven above all things?

      One priest used that line about “the Catholic Church’s gold” with Ven. Fulton Sheen. His response: “how much did you steal, Father?” The priest revealed that he’d been pinching money from the collection basket. The overall point? Karl Keating in Catholicism and Fundamentalism observed that when people raise this old chestnut of an objection, it’s often an excuse for something else. Yammering on about “the poor,” all while calling an elaborate altar
      “hypocrisy” while calling a glittering shopping mall “progress,” is an
      example of false piety, just running in the opposite direction of what
      people often take it to mean (i.e. traditionalists who love beautiful
      liturgy don’t care about the poor). I think there’s a realization, deep down, that a beautiful church and beautiful liturgy challenges our suburban consumerism and any lifestyle built on it, precisely because beauty is about good stewardship and good style is about proportion and careful attention to detail, all of which is ordered to someone other than ourselves: a beautiful church and beautiful liturgy are ultimately about loving the things of Heaven, present as we are at the Heavenly liturgy every Mass– if, by the churches we build and how we celebrate the Church’s liturgy, we send the message that the things of Heaven are ugly, unchallenging, and of little consequence, why would anyone want to go there?

  • teo

    This article disheartens me. Our parish just finished a new church…drywall, sterile, in the round. I really had no idea that anything but the ‘in the round’ style was possible/permissible. We got what we got…. for the next 80 years……..if I could just convince the priest to put a crucifix in the sanctuary.

    • Fred

      Don’t be diheartened Teo, the church is truly defined by the people of the parish and you can make that beautiful. When you want to be inspired by architecture you can visit to see cathedrals elsewhere. And who knows, someday maybe your parish will grow and expand and need a new building before you know it.

    • Barbaracvm

      Our priest brought the tabernacle back to the center of the alter. It is a church in the round. Now if we could get the alter rail back.

    • Faustina11

      You could go to another church. We drive half an hour to the beautiful Basilica of the National Shrine of St Therese of the Little Flower instead of 10 to an uninspiring church. Also, for those who love St Therese, the Basilica is badly in need of repair and doesn’t have the money as it is in a poor neighborhood.

    • Steve

      Surely there must be a crucifix in near or over the altar…that’s a demand of the Church

  • Kurt Hammond

    Don’t forget the UNL St. Thomas Aquinas Church project, it’ll be grand: http://www.huskercatholic.org/great_problem/image_photo_gallery.html

  • Tony

    Check out the disaster-initiated restoration of Saint Thomas Aquinas Church, in Archbald PA. I’ve written about it here.

  • Tony

    Requirements for sacred architecture:

    1. It should be beautiful. There are many ways in which a church can be beautiful; but what is ugly, profane, clumsy, and merely functional should be straight out. The church should not be animated by the Spirit of the Dots in a Drop Ceiling Tile.

    2. It should look like a church — a place qualitatively different from all other places. It should not look like a hall, an office, a gymnasium, an auditorium, or a barn.

    3. It should direct the eye forward to the Sacrament, and the heart upward to God.

    4. It should be a harmonious whole. Every element should take its place in a coordinated act of worship.

    5. Austerity is permissible; minimalism, or trivializing the divine, is not. If you have Stations of the Cross (and you should), they should be “readable” by someone in the pews, and not tacked on the blank wall as afterthoughts.

    6. The most prominent features in the interior should not be rivets.

    7. There should be a sanctuary.

    8. Nothing slipshod, nothing cutesy, nothing chic or ephemeral, nothing cheap-looking.

    • Catholic pilgrim

      And the Altar of the Lord should not be a glass table thing but an actual Altar symbolically built like a rock foundation. Tabernacle (the Holy of Holies) must be front & center. Altar rails should be placed too; it’s embarrassing to live in a town where the Lutheran, Episcopalian & even Presbyterian buildings have/use altar rails (when they don’t even have the Blessed Sacrament) yet the local Catholic parish does not even have altar rails.

      • Faustina11

        My tongue must have been so firmly implanted in my cheek that my meaning was garbled! I completely agree with you.

    • Faustina11

      And the band shouldn’t be playing where the altar and tabernacle should be located!

      • WSquared

        There should not be a “band,” period. Mass is not a show, and musicians or “music ministry” is not about performance.

        Moreover, contemporary pop music at Mass using secular styles of
        composition is ultimately not edifying– because it is incoherent within
        that particular setting. That incoherence is all the more apparent where you have a beautiful church, but “the usual” when it comes to celebrating Mass. But we all have to start somewhere– whether it’s a beautiful church, but no beautiful liturgy (yet), or beautifully celebrated liturgy, but no beautiful church (yet).

        As a brief example of what I mean, there is
        this “Bigger Than You, and yet so very intimate” quality, that we can
        perceive in Gregorian chant, which precisely reflects what we believe
        about the Eucharist and God’s transcendence– the fact that materials used to build traditional churches allow for resonance to produce echoes adds to that sound of transcendence, whereas wall-to-wall carpet just drowns it out. We’d be hard pressed to hear that in songs at Mass composed in a secular pop-music style, even if
        “the words” are “from Scripture” or even “theologically correct”:
        since when is the Word Made Flesh only ever about “the words”? There is
        room for contemporary pop music in the Church. But I
        think we can legitimately question if Mass is “that” place. How we
        answer that question is contingent on whether we take “Church” to mean
        the Mystical Body of Christ, or the four walls of our parish church.
        Moreover, I have a proposition for Catholic composers of contemporary Christian pop music: consider what kind of pop music you would write to engage people outside of Mass if you were nonetheless rooted in Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony at Mass. What kind of impact would that understanding have on you as a composer?

        For the record, my listening tastes span at least six centuries or more,
        including pop and rock music, to say nothing of jazz and bluegrass.
        But I also know that not everything I listen to or like is appropriate
        at Mass (really, can we not sacrifice What We Like/Our Kind of Music in favor of what the Church gives us for one measly hour a week?!). Not even all music that people readily identify as “classical”
        or “traditional” or “old” is appropriate at Mass, and they were not appropriate at Mass even at the time at which they were written.

    • WSquared

      9. No wall-to-wall carpet.

  • James C. Elliott

    May I point the author to our just finished St. Peter’s Anglican in Tallahassee, Florida?

  • jcbathtub

    It was went on in those beautifull churches that is sorely needed.

  • Faithful

    This parish was recently built and dedicated in 2010: http://stsaaj.org/virtual-tour

  • Liz

    I’m so blessed to have benefited from the beauty of Thomas Aquinas College’s gorgeous chapel and campus for four years! God is good!

  • John Albertson

    I’m all for this and would like to have an explanation from bishops and architects of the 1960’s-70’s’- 80’s – of what in their minds they thought they were doing. If they are dead, notes of complaint should be left on their tombstones. At the same time, I hope we do not become aesthetically atrophied. After all, each great style of architecture was an organic development. For instance, the academically pure Episcopal “National Cathedral” in Washington, DC is certainly superior to the vulgar Nation Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, but it is spiritually dead, because it is self-consciously re-iterative and alienated from the Faith which inspired its architectural form. In the same sense. classical or neo-classical forms should be open to innovation as a “hermeneutic of continuity” – not repudiating the past but building upon on it- “beauty ever ancient ever new.” Otherwise, the Catholic inspiration for art will be replaced by embalming it. There must also be classical constraint against vulgarity. The astringency of classical forms should save us from bad taste. The new EWTN chapel in Alabama certainly has fine substantial elements but it is so garish in its gilding and details that it might be the work of Tammy Faye Baker had she converted. And the Gothic extravagansa proposed for New Mount Carmel,Wyoming (totally contradictory to its environment” is a Never Never Land fantasy.: more Walt Disney than Chartres. Classicism, because of its idiomatic reserve and purity of form, can be duplicated better than Gothic, which takes centuries to embellish and patina. Otherwise, it become the house of Cinderella instead of God. The truly evangelical Catholic must challenge and transform the future, and not fear it and hide in a ghetto.

  • frdlongenecker

    I would like to include in this article information about the Romanesque church we are building in Greenville, SC. This church is designed by Andrew Gould of New World Byzantine, built by architect Christian LeBlanc with designs by Matthew Alderman. A splendid set of stained glass windows have been salvaged from St Mary Morning Star in Pittsfield MA. Situated right on I-85 the lower church will include the Southeast Shrine to the Divine Mercy.

  • hombre111

    They are beautiful churches, similar to several brand new churches in my diocese. Within, some of them blatantly deny the reality of the Church as the people of God proclaimed by the Vatican Council, and their very architecture rejects the notion of community. As in days of yore, the priest is a distant figure at a faraway altar, disconnected from the people at the back who are disconnected from each other. I have celebrated Mass over and over again in such churches and I notice one common trait: The people who are closest to the life of the Church are closest to the front. As you get further and further toward the back, enthusiasm for God and parish wane. No matter how good the sermon or how inspiring the music, these pews are usually empty before Mass is even over.

    I truly admire the four monumental churches in my diocese which resemble some of the pictures in this article. Two of them managed to maintain the soaring ceiling while arranging pews in a way that forms a semi-circle around the altar. All of them are facing hard reality. Three of them mired their people in debt that is not being paid back. Thanks to their high ceilings, they are unbelievably expensive to light, heat, or air condition. The price in one parish is fifty thousand dollars a year.

    • Sam Schmitt

      You’ve outlined well the philosophy that has given us the bland, uninspiring, cheap and even ugly churches of the past 40 years.

      • hombre111

        I didn’t say the building shouldn’t be beautiful and inspiring. But as the pastor who has had to convince his people with sometimes limited incomes pay off the multi-million dollar loan and then pay the heat and light bills for a building built by a pastor who wanted to create his own monument, I had to make up my mind about what helps, or hurts,

    • Athelstane

      All true. But modernist pillboxes cost just as much as Romanesque edifices (Gothic will likely cost you more, I concede). And new churches are being being built every week in America. Why shouldn’t they look like…Catholic churches, when it can be done on the same budget?

      Ask Fr. Longenecker up above how much his new church is costing the parish, and how they are paying for it. You might be pleasantly surprised.

      • hombre111

        I don’t know if the cost is the same, or not. High ceilings make a very expensive church when it comes to light and heating. Three of the four multi-million churches constructed recently in this style in my diocese also have this problem: There is no administration facility, and there are no classrooms and only small meeting rooms. The parishioners of all three churches have to pay off the cost of their worship space (in one case, a cost of twelve million for a parish of 1000 families), and then they have to raise the new multi-millions for these essential parish facilities. A parish without these facilities is in serious pastoral trouble until they arrive. And then the program is even more complicated when they hope to build a school. That is one of the reasons why you cannot think of monumental beauty first. There is a larger picture and God help the parishes who have to face it.

  • Wallace Hamilton

    I live in upstate NY which is overflowing with beautiful churches built 100 years ago with fine craftsmanship and great love. Over the years they have been disfigured, abused, abandoned and even torn down. Pieces sold off at flea markets and desecrated in a million ways. Now, too late for some, people have begun to recognize the beauty that cannot be replaced. A church in Buffalo, St Gerard’s, built by German immigrants, was being considered by a southern diocese for dismantling and shipment South to be reconstructed. A better fate than standing empty and decaying. There is a song by Joanie Mitchell that sums it up for me. It goes something like this, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot!”

  • mitch64

    Good article! I am so sick of the suburban bad 70s, 80s and 90s churches we have that look like a space ship landed in an empty lot.

  • Monica’s Daughter

    I hope and pray that before I die I can assist at a traditional Latin Mass in a beautiful church such as one of these featured in this article. How fortunate those who do now.

  • HasBen33

    Just like to say that it makes me happy that we are starting to see churches built in more grand style now a days and renovate the older ones to make them more edifying. Growing up I went to a small church that was an metal shed with stained glass windows. I know part of it was money, but it made me sad not to have a church building I was proud of. Now i’ve moved to a community where they’ve just renovated their 100 year old church and it is so amazing.

  • Metro

    People also need to realize that closed and decommissioned Churches can be bought and MOVED for as much or less than new construction cost – saving all that old world craftsmanship which cannot be replaced. There are many examples – here’s one I could find quickly: http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/deaconsbench/2010/09/a-city-church-moves-to-the-suburbs-brick-by-brick.html
    More suburban parishes should “rescue” these wonderful architectural gems.