Spanish Sacred Architecture in the Americas During the Past Twenty-Five Years: The United States

by Duncan G. Stroik, appearing in Volume 44

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 2023 | The newly constructed Blessed Stanley Rother Shrine was dedicated on February 17, 2023. Designed by Franck and Lohsen Architects, the $50 million shrine honors the first American-born martyr, Blessed Stanley Rother. The dedication of the shrine was celebrated by Archbishop Paul Coakley from the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and 2,000 people were in attendance. The church was built in the Spanish Baroque style as an allusion to the architecture of the parish Rother served in Guatemala: Saint James the Apostle in Santiago, Atitlán. The first pastor of the shrine, Rev. Don Wolf, is a cousin of Blessed Stanley Rother.


Corpus Christi, Texas, 2003 | Our Lady of Corpus Christi Retreat Center Chapel was dedicated in 2003 as a place where people could come from far and wide to adore the Lord. It was designed in the Spanish Mission style to speak to the tradition of architecture in southern Texas while also reflecting the missionary nature of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT). The golden stars on the blue dome represent Our Lady of Guadalupe. The interior features a grand retablo by Talleres de Arte Granda.


San Juan Capistrano, California, 1987 | The current Basilica of San Juan Capistrano was built in 1986 by architect John Bartlett with the assistance of art historian and artist Dr. Norman Neuerburg, an expert on the California Missions. It is built next to the site of the Mission San Juan Capistrano founded in 1776 by Saint Junípero Serra. The new basilica church, dedicated in 1987, is much larger than the original, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812. The Spanish Mission style was used for the new basilica. The retablo was completed by Talleres de Arte Granda in 2006.


Dallas, Texas, 1999 | The Parish Church of Santa Clara was completed in 1999 by VAI architects and seats 1,000 people, serving a large Hispanic population. The architects traveled throughout Mexico to study the Spanish Mission style extensively before designing the church, which features yellow stucco walls and a bell tower foregrounded by a 19,000-square-foot plaza.


Miami, Florida, 2022 | Belen Chapel was dedicated on May 1, 2022. Serving Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, the 14,000-square-foot chapel was designed by architect Jorge Hernandez, an alumnus of the school. The design reflects the Spanish character of the Jesuits who fled Cuba and established Belen Jesuit in Miami and also took precedent from German concert halls. The $10 million chapel was funded primarily by alumni of the school and features paintings of ten Jesuit saints from the Americas by Spanish painter Raúl Berzosa. Among them is Saint Roque González, who was born in Paraguay in 1576 and entered the Society of Jesus in 1609. He worked as a missionary in what is now Brazil and was martyred there in 1628.



Long Beach, California, 2011 | Holy Innocents Parish Church began a major renovation of their sanctuary in 2011, just four years after the church had almost been sold by the archdiocese. The church had undergone a remodeling during the 1970s which erased any trace of the original sanctuary design of 1923. However, with the work of Harrison Design Architects, the parish underwent a complete renovation process which included a new reredos, altar rail, statues, paintings, and a new baptismal font. Improvements have been made to the church’s exterior as well, returning it to its proper character of Spanish Mission revival. With the momentum of the renovation, the parish has experienced tremendous growth and is looking to expand their school campus, located a mile from the original church.


Colorado Springs, Colorado, 2018 | In May 2018, Sacred Heart Church completed a $2.5 million renovation and restoration project. This consisted in re-stuccoing the exterior walls and adding a new altar and reredos to better reflect the character of the original 1922 design by Scottish-born architect Thomas MacLaren. The bulk of the renovation was carried out by Nunn Construction while the new pews and altar were made by Geoffrey Keating of Keating Woodworks. The floors were refinished and a new tabernacle, chandeliers, and processional cross were added.


Tampa, Florida, 2018 | The new 900-seat, $11 million Chapel of the Holy Cross at Jesuit High School in Tampa, Florida, is located at the center of the school’s campus. The exterior  and interior of the chapel have iconography related to the Jesuits. Niches on the front façade have marble statues of Saint Ignatius and Saint Francis Xavier, and side shrines in the interior are dedicated to Jesuit martyrs, including Blessed Miguel Pro, martyred in Mexico City in 1927 during the Cristero War. The Baroque-inspired high altar is made of Arabescato and Rosso Francia marbles framing a painting of Saint Ignatius’ vision of Christ at La Storta. A gilded sunburst with the “IHS” monogram crowns the reredos.


Miami, Florida, 1996 | San Juan Bautista Mission was designed by DPZ CoDesign and dedicated in 1996 by Archbishop John Clement Favalora. The church was built in the Spanish Mission style with a Caribbean character as well. It was built after the nearby Corpus Christi Parish was divided by a new highway in the 1960s. It serves as a place of reprieve for the neighborhood of Wynwood and allows parishioners to walk to Mass rather than drive to the main parish church. The mission features a courtyard with a fountain and statue of Saint John the Baptist. The church features large clerestory windows which fill the nave with light.


Saint Augustine, Florida, 2015 | In 2015, Saint Augustine Cathedral completed a $4 million renovation which included new pews and marble flooring in the sanctuary. A new pipe organ had been installed fourteen years prior. The renovation was carried out by Baker Liturgical Art, a Connecticut-based company. In 2022, Saint Augustine Cathedral was named an official stop on the Camino de Santiago, a historic pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain to venerate the relics of the apostle Saint James. A statue of Saint James was commissioned that is inspired by a statue of the apostle at Santiago de Compostela. The new painted carved cedar statue is currently located in the sanctuary of Saint Augustine Cathedral but will be moved to a shrine in the west courtyard of the cathedral once the shrine is constructed.


Tucson, Arizona, 2022 | Built by Spanish Franciscans, “The White Dove of the Desert” has watched over Southwest Arizona for almost 240 years. Originally established as a mission for the native tribes, San Xavier del Bac still serves as a parish church for the Tohono O’odham nation. The most recent preservation efforts include a $1 million project to resurface the adobe walls after they had previously been improperly preserved with cement plaster. Preservation of the dome on the western tower has been a priority as well with the project being completed in the spring of 2022. Additional work has taken place on the interior of the church, especially the grand retablo. The efforts are primarily driven by the Patronato San Xavier del Bac, a non-profit organization formed in 1978 for the purpose of the mission’s restoration. The lead architect for the project, Bob Vint, has guided restoration work on San Xavier del Bac since 1989.


Scottsdale, Arizona, 2016 | Established in 1995, the parish of Saint Bernadette in Scottsdale used a multi-purpose building for Mass until its first permanent church was completed in 2016. In 2021, Conrad Schmitt Studios added decorative paint and stained-glass windows to the interior and a new pipe organ was installed. The new ceiling murals depict scenes from the life of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a mural in the apse shows Mary as the Immaculate Conception surrounded by American saints. The thirty-four new stained-glass windows contain images of saints and a series of titles of Mary from the Litany of Loreto.


Bullhead City, Arizona, 2011 | A new 1,000-seat-church for the parish of Saint Margaret Mary in Bullhead City, Arizona, was built on a bluff and dedicated in 2011. The parish looked to the Southwestern Mission style of the Mojave desert as a model, while striving to create a church that “looks Catholic inside and out.” After aquiring approval from the local city council to exceed the height limit of the then-current zoning ordinance, the church was completed with its bell tower and became the tallest building in Bullhead City.


Santa Paula, California, 2009 | The Chapel of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity at Thomas Aquinas College was designed in a timeless classical style with influence from the tradition of Spanish and California Mission architecture. The arcaded quadrangle with corner posas, the bell tower, the red terra cotta tile roof, and the strong architectural emphasis around the central entrance are all characteristics of this style. Dedicated to Our Lady, the chapel is crowned by a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary above the pediment, and statues of Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas are located on either side of the main entrance. The interior of the cruciform chapel has a barrel-vaulted nave and a simple color scheme. The main axis culminates in a raised sanctuary and a gilded baldacchino above the freestanding altar.