Denis R. McNamara is Associate Director and Associate Professor at the Liturgical Institute of Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago. He is the author of Heavenly City: The Architectural Tradition of Catholic Chicago and Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy.
Articles by Denis McNamara
As unlikely as it seems, a mystical vision experienced by Saint Francis of Assisi eight centuries ago recently found a parallel in a twentieth-century Chicago church associated for decades with anxiety and terror.
Sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, the otherwise obscure hill known as the Temple Mount has been the object of worship, warfare, and encounters with God. It has also seen complex building programs, from Solomon’s Temple to temples dedicated to Jupiter to the golden Dome of the Rock.
In 2001, the newly-founded Liturgical Institute at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois, hosted a conference entitled “Building the Church for 2010: Continuity and Renewal in Catholic Liturgical Architecture.”1 Invited speakers addressed the topics of renewal and tradition in church design, and the firm of Franck, Lohsen, McCrery presented the “Church for 2010,” a hypothetical church design using New Classical architecture.
When the early Christians were finally able to build their churches in public, they chose the high-style architectural classicism of the Roman Empire. Almost every Christian culture, from the Constantinian era forward to the mid-twentieth century, has used some version of classicism to build its churches. After many decades in the shadows, classicism is appearing once again in civic and ecclesiastical architecture.
Though broadcast live on Catholic television, the March 2010 consecration of the Chapel of Saints Peter and Paul at the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, NE passed rather quietly in the architectural and ecclesiastical news.
When I give presentations in parishes or teach in the classroom, I am often asked many intelligent questions by students, building committee members, architects, pastors, and parishioners. These questions have given me great insight into the needs and desires of the People of God. The questions that follow are among those most frequently asked, and shorter summary answers are provided here for the reader’s convenience.
The debate generated by the recent release of images of the initial proposal for Ave Maria’s new chapel cuts to the heart of larger discussions which have been circling the Catholic architectural debate for almost 50 years now. Can glass and steel be used for a Catholic church?
Despite the prevailing belief that architectural modernism was the only available option for the modern church, the early twentieth century provides considerable evidence of representational, historically-connected and often beautiful architectural designs responsive to the same principles canonized in the documents of Vatican II.
Swiss-born architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (1887-1965), better known as “Le Corbusier,” maintained an almost cult-like hold upon the architectural profession of the twentieth century. It was nonetheless a priest, Fr. Marie-Alain Couturier, O.P. (1897-1954), who cleared the way for Le Corbusier to design the Monastery of Sainte-Marie-de-La-Tourette (1957-60) for the Dominican community at Eveux-sur-L’Abresle outside Lyon, in France.