Sunday, May 20, 2007

Duncan Stroik on Church Architecture

On Friday, May 18th, 2007, Duncan Stroik, Professor of Architecture at Notre Dame University, and a practicing ecclesiastical architect, gave a presentation to the new Saint Gianna Parish, in Lake Saint Louis, Missouri. The parish is in the early stages of thinking about a new church.

Here are some notes from his presentation:

A design of a Catholic institution "should be thought of in a Catholic way... the way we project ourselves to the public... we want to be a part of Christ drawing all men to Himself... it is not about a private club.... this is to all men, all people."

"...a marble baldachino is not cheap... beautiful stained glass windows are not cheap, and they are actually very hard to find today, hard to make..." Archbishop Burke has reserved the furnishings and windows of the now-closed Saint Philip Neri Church for the use of this new parish, saving them between one and two million dollars.

" Catholics, we are catholic — we are universal — we are not limited... we can also look at the greatest masterpieces of all time, and — surprise, surprise — when you talk about religious architecture, when you talk about the history of architecture, there is a large chunk of it that is Catholic buildings. Now we don't think about that today: Catholics aren't known today for building beautiful buildings; but if you look at the 2,000 years of architecture since the time of Christ, a lot of the best stuff was done in the service of the Church, in service of God, and they're Catholic.... so we want to learn from the best.... We shouldn't settle for second best."

"They all say they want a church that looks like a church."

"We are committed to the tradition of architecture, the tradition of building, quality that I do believe goes hand-in-hand with theology, and the Church's idea of what we are here to say... they are built to last because we are here to stay."

"...the church building has many names... but one of the most important ones, that we have to return to, that we have lost, is that it is the house of God..."

" needs to express itself as the Church Universal, that it is just not us in this place, but it's beyond, and we are worshiping with angels and saints, and we are worshiping with past and future, and it should express itself that way, the Body of Christ..."

A cruciform church "inscribes in it Christ... the perfect architecture to reflect the Perfect Man..."

"...these are sacramental elements, the material elements of altar and tabernacle need to express their reality...."

" should think about an altar like buying a nice car... these things are not cheap, but this is an's the highlight of the Mass... you don't go cheap on an altar... First things first."

"...from the earliest times, we celebrated Mass over the graves of the Saints... that's what good Catholicism is all about... this richenss and being part of this community, so relics are very important, and so it's very important that the altar if possible has relics it it..."

"...tabernacles, if they are the little temple, the little home where we reserve Christ present in the Eucharist, if that's true, we believe that, then they have to be prominent... It should be worthy..."

Nowadays, the baptismal font "is too prominent", and needs its own place, a baptistery: it's a one-time sacrament.

"I'm a big fan of trying to hire Catholic artists today to do original art."

"Natural light is a big one. Not only does it move us, but historically there is a sense that light in a sacred building is spiritual light, and God of course is the light and the truth and the way... the light is supposed to be transformed; it's not normal light that should to come into the church, and of course stained glass is a part of that."

"...the importance of the church for weddings and funerals, that's a real test if the church is pretty good... the proof of the pudding for a Catholic building is, do the brides want to get married there?"

The importance of the front door: "...the gateway, entrance, the door, they all terms for Christ too, the Gate of Heaven..."

Stroik likes making a comprehensive iconography list, which usually takes up several pages; the church "is one work of art," a "sermon in stone."

"God's middle name is beauty, and we want to reflect that.... whatever you do unto the Lord, work at it with all of your heart and strength."

Stroik recommends putting in a choir loft, which is inexpensive, useful, and has good acoustics. But if budgets are tight, he recommends not buying an organ, stained glass windows, and tower: this would save millions (a third or more of the total cost of the church), and they can be easily added later.


  1. I believe several of your Church photos were included in the presentation that night

  2. Thanks for posting those notes. I've heard fine things about Mr. Stroik from acquaintances connected with Notre Dame, so it was interesting to learn a little more about his philosophy.