Monday, July 30, 2012

Our Lady of Grace, Maricopa Arizona

Good news! the City of Maricopa City Council recently gave unanimous approval to the site plans for Phase 1 and 2 of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church.

 Phase 1 will incorporate the 500 seat church, administration / social hall building, and required parking, along with the basic roads, grading and drainage, utilities and sewer, and landscaping. 

Phase 2 will expand the church to 1500 seats and provide additional meeting rooms, social hall, rectory and social outreach services.
Corner view of Phase 1 church (right) and Administration / Social Hall (left)

More information is available on both InMaricopa and Arizona Builder's Exchange websites.

In the near future I will post about the church itself, and the larger Planned Area Development that will support the school, residences for single family, multi family, workforce and elderly housing, along with retail, office and other community projects.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Something Beautiful for God

We have been working for several years with Caritas in Veritate International, (CiVI) which is allied with the mission of the Holy Father through the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum" for relief efforts in Haiti.  An integral part of that work has been the further alliance of CiVI with the Scalabrini Fathers (The Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo), an Italian Congregation which has been deeply involved in charitable relief work in Haiti for the past two decades. 

Among our efforts have been to develop prototype designs for whole villages to house and provide economic growth for the hundreds of thousands displaced by the January 2010 earthquake and housing types that can be built economically and with local materials.

These "Caritas Villages" are planned with the principles of Catholic Social Doctrine in mind: notably the ideas of solidarity, subsidiarity, and the "universal destination of goods" ordered toward the common good of the community.  They are intended to be self sufficient regarding food, water, hygiene, power and economic development, with a center for local trade, farmer's market, light industry, church, grade school and high school, health clinics, centers for leadership formation and for abused women and children, sports fields, community gardens, and approximately 500 families living in small clusters of relationship. 

Unfortunately due to the politics of landownership in Haiti (some 1% of the population owns virtually 100% of the land, with everyone else being either renters or squatters), and despite the support of the Vatican, the Papal Nuncio to Haiti, and the Bishops of Haiti, we have as yet been unable to move ahead on the village concept which is still desperately needed to restore normal life for the homeless living in the horrific tent cities.

In the interim, CiVI is continuing to work with the Scalabrini Fathers on a variety of other projects. The Scalabrini are housed on a large tract of land in the Croix-des-Bouquet suburb of Port-au-Prince that accommodates the community's housing, a grade school, a high school, medical clinics, and agricultural industry (see the yellow on the image below).  The facility suffered virtually no damage in the 2010 earthquake (thanks to the excellent seismic design of thin concrete frame and slab construction designed by Italian engineers and architects), and so also houses the Haitian Episcopal Conference and the national Seminary.

With the cooperation of the Scalabrini Fathers under the leadership of Fr. Giuseppe Durante, CiVI is working to develop small scale "micro-communities" of 10 to 20 families in enclosed housing projects, each with small businesses for economic development and self sufficiency of the residents.

The Scalabrini and CiVI are slowly and strategically acquiring properties adjacent to and in the vicinity of the Scalabrini property in order to create these small communities (based on the Haitian model of "lakou" --a grass roots model of housing for extended families that provides for common living and defense).

Yet in keeping with Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Caritas in Veritate, the work of CiVI is not merely economic relief or social justice understood politically, but rather an integration of the Church's evangelical mission of proclaiming Christ's love and mercy to all with her social doctrine of how society ought to be ordered for true human flourishing and integral human development:
On the one hand, charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples. It strives to build the earthly city according to law and justice. On the other hand, charity transcends justice and completes it in the logic of giving and forgiving. The earthly city is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion. Charity always manifests God's love in human relationships as well, it gives theological and salvific value to all commitment for justice in the world. --  Caritas in Veritate, para. 6
This need is particularly acute in Haiti.  There is little social cohesion with a marriage rate of only about 2%: this means most children are not raised by both of their parents, women have multiple children with multiple men, and most of the fathers are absent from their children's lives. The inequities in landownership prevent families from developing stability and economic wealth. The Church's inactivity and failures in her missionary activity gave impetus to the nativistic "vodou" religion which developed from the African tribal practices dating back to the days of slavery.  The tent cities for the displaced populations are truly horrific -- now decaying and often in tatters 2 1/2 years after the earthquake -- and are places of violence, rape, child sexual abuse, and ongoing hopelessness.

Hence, the vision of the Holy Father which is embraced in the projects of CiVI:
Awareness of God's undying love sustains us in our laborious and stimulating work for justice and the development of peoples, amid successes and failures, in the ceaseless pursuit of a just ordering of human affairs. God's love calls us to move beyond the limited and the ephemeral, it gives us the courage to continue seeking and working for the benefit of all, even if this cannot be achieved immediately and if what we are able to achieve, alongside political authorities and those working in the field of economics, is always less than we might wish. God gives us the strength to fight and to suffer for love of the common good, because he is our All, our greatest hope. - Caritas in Veritate, para. 78
In keeping with Pope Benedict's closing exhortation, that "Development requires attention to the spiritual life, a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance upon God's providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace", one of the first works of Pontifical Council 'Cor Unum', the Scalabrini Fathers,  and CiVI will be to provide a new parish church and center for Catholic formation in the Croix-des-Bouquets neighborhood.  (The local parish was virtually destroyed in the earthquake, yet still used for Mass despite it's obviously unsafe condition.)

Under the patronage of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, we have designed a humble yet dignified church to seat about 500 people, to be built out of reinforced concrete and masonry, with steel frame trusses and roof. 

The simple white washed stucco exterior, with the triple blue bands, is a subtle acknowledgement to the sari and headdress of Mother Teresa, who worked so tirelessly to service the poorest of the poor "in charity and in truth". 

The deep overhangs are climate responsive to break the sweltering heat and the torrential rains. The sides of the nave open out to the patio with large top hinged doors that provide additional shade and rain protection while allowing for maximum cross ventilation in the tropical climate, and can be securely fastened down for security and in the event of hurricanes.

If you are interested in donating to help build "something beautiful for God", please contact us at:

Charity and Truth International
2121 South Rural Road
Tempe, AZ 85282 USA

t. 480-344-5213

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Catholic Photographer

While touring Guardian Angels Cathedral in Las Vegas, I noticed another man earnestly photographing the church.  I approached him and struck up a conversation, asking him what he thought of the building, and of his general interest in sacred architecture.

It was thus providential that I met Mr.  Bob Mullen , a freelance photographer from Vernon CT, who also happened to be visiting Las Vegas.

Bob told me a wonderful story of how at a career juncture in his life, he took a 40 day pilgrimage driving across the United States and back, each day visiting another cathedral church for prayer, Mass, contemplation, and photography.   We spoke at length about our common faith, our respective life's journeys, of the richness of Catholic culture and world view, and of our love for church architecture and sacred art. 

The recognition of a friendship and brotherhood in Christ was immediate, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have met Bob.  A deep soul with an eye for beauty.

Please visit his website at to see his art.  You can see the way in which he captured Guardian Angels Cathedral at this link.

The Church of St George Jetson

 One of GK Chesterton's better quips is that the Catholic Church is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.   Sadly, this is not a lesson readily appreciated by architects.  

 Exterior, Guardian Angels Cathedral, Las Vegas NV (1961-1963)

 A couple of weeks ago I was prowling around the Guardian Angels Cathedral in Las Vegas, especially interested in the fabled stained glass there depicting the casinos which helped sponsor the building project (not unlike the Chandlers' or Fishmongers' Guilds once patronized the building of medieval churches). It really is a charming window in a way, discretely tucked away in the south east window to the right of the altar behind a large fiberglass resin cast angel presumably acquired from the Design Toscano catalog, in an area cordoned off with signs advertising that entry into the sanctuary was prohibited. 

As I was photographing the window, the church guard approached me to advise me that I was not to take pictures in the sanctuary.  I explained the purpose of my visit was to photograph the church, and inquired how might I get permission to take pictures in the sanctuary?  He had no idea, as if no one had ever asked such a thing before, so I asked if I might speak to the rector of the Cathedral, and I was directed to the chancery office across the parking lot. Unfortunately, neither the rector nor the Vicar General nor the Bishop were in town to grant me permission, so the receptionist made a series of calls to this department and that, being shuffled from one office to another, until she finally found someone of authority to speak with me.

Ten minutes later, a laymen approached me and asked what I needed.  I introduced myself, explained that I was an architect and writer specializing in Catholic church design, and asked if I might take a few photos from the sanctuary area.

"No.  No photography is permitted in the cathedral."

"Errr... No photography? At all?  I've never heard of no one being allowed to photograph inside a church."

"That is our policy."

Again, I explained that I was interested in the architectural and liturgical study of the building, and that church buildings are typically photographed. From whom might I get permission?

"No one.  That is our policy."

"May I inquire as to why that is your policy?"

"That is our policy.  The purpose of the cathedral is not to be photographed". 

Realizing that his logic was as unassailable as his position was invincible, I thanked him for his time and returned to the Cathedral. The guard again approached me and asked if I got permission to photograph from the sanctuary.

"No, I didn't."

"Well, just stay out of the sanctuary and take whatever pictures you want".

Since I hold that the principle of subsidiarity is one of the bedrock teachings of the Church which speaks to how governance of temporal goods are to be ordered for the good of all society, I appreciated how those in appointed authority at a lower level and who have a competent grasp of the local specific needs of the community are able to make prudential judgments that can be obeyed without moral concern:  sort of like prosecutorial discretion or the nice policeman letting you off with a warning rather than a ticket. I thanked him and resumed my photography, assuring him that I would respect the boundaries of the sanctuary.

Here, therefore, is that forbidden image showing the casinos which supported the building of the church. (A forbidden image is one that is judged inappropriate to the faith, such as depictions of the Trinity as one body with three heads. Given the various injunctions against profane imagery in churches, from St Charles Borromeo's Instructions to Pope Pius X's Tra le Sollecitudini, this image may arguably rise to the same level of anathema as a certain statue of the Blessed Virgin wearing priestly vestments which is also discretely tucked away in a darkened side chapel of a major church somewhere in the western United States),

 Stained Glass Window, Guardian Angels Cathedral, Las Vegas NV

Guardian Angels Church was designed in the early 1960s by Paul Revere Williams, a fashionable, African American, Los Angeles-based architect who designed homes for the glitterati: Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Lon Chaney, Bert "The Cowardly Lion" Lahr, Barbara Stanwyck, Johnnie Weissmuller of "Tarzan" fame, and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.

The church itself was originally designed as a parish church and only later raised to a Cathedral.  The land was donated by Morris "Mr. Las Vegas" Dalitz, a Jewish businessman with rather unsavory connections to organized crime who owned the nearby Desert Inn casino. Dalitz was approached by Fr Richard Crowley, a Viatorian who was the parish priest of the recently condemned and dismantled St. Viator parish.  Fr. Corwley persuaded Moe Dalitz to support the project to serve the Catholic service workers at Dalitz's casinos.  Dalitz engaged Paul Revere Williams to design the church, having worked with him already on the Royal Nevada hotel.

  Theme Building, LAX Airport, Los Angeles, CA

Williams, incidentally, is also credited as a lead designer on the Space Aged "Theme Building" as LAX from his tenure at Pereira & Luckman. He was very much an architect of his era -- and his buildings reflect the Atomic age aesthetics of the day: Sputnik, rocket fins,  and of course the Jetsons. 

The Atomic Age! So much hope for the future of humanity! What could be a more important iconic statement of fashion than the catenary curve of high power lines crossing the nation, elliptical arcs of rocketry, or the the conventional if erroneous depiction of the orbit of the electron around the nucleus in the atom?  Surely *this* was an architecture that would speak to "modern man" in "forms relevant to his times" that the dusty old Gothic could do no more! The spirit of the age dictated the architecture by directing the sub-conscience, from the LAX theme building to the contemporaneous St Maria Goretti in Scottsdale Arizona, affectionately known as "Our Lady of the Golden Arches".

 St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church, Scottsdale AZ

The architect of Guardian Angels was a good stylist, and obviously a keen observer of fashionable architectural publications.  He followed quickly on Walter Netsch's widely published designs for the new Cadet's Chapel of the US Air Force Academy (started in 1959, completed 1962) with the repeating arrangement of Convair F-102 Delta Dagger Interceptor military jets pointing to the heavens -- which seems to be some sort of a Cold War trope for beating swords into plowshares.

Cadet's Chapel, US Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs CO, 
by Walter Netsch Jr of Skidmore Owings and Merrill, Chicago (1959-1962).

F-102 Delta Dagger Interceptor, by Convair, 1954-1958.

Guardian Angels is a sort of poor cousin to the grand Cadet's Chapel, much more modest in scale and scope and materials, but an interesting period piece none the less.

While stylistically being a child of its age, Guardian Angels was built right before the Second Vatican Council, and has none of the liturgical innovations such as fan shaped seating or white washed interiors that soon became the fashion.  Rather it is a simple and somewhat elegant hall church with a strong sense of rhythm, proportion, and integration of architectural form, liturgical appointments and sacred art.

The interior is a simple A-frame space, which is provided abundant light by the monumental triangular windows which depict scenes from the Stations of the Cross.  The windows are rather dark and dense, both in material and content, and admirably cut the harsh glare of the desert sun to create a luminous interior which is easy on the eyes.  

The stained glass was designed by the Los Angeles artist Isabel Piczek, and despite its severe and spartan, mechanical approach to the human figure, is actually quite high quality and imbued with pathos and strong personality, and is entirely at home in this building. The scenes are readily understandable, and great attention has been given to the composition, content, and gestures and facial expressions of the various scenes.

The rear wall mural, by the artist's sister Edith Piczek, seems oddly prophetic.  The souls in ascension with Christ at the Resurrection are strangely evocative of the harlequined acrobats flying through the air nightly at any number of the Cirque du Soliel shows which are available up and down the Strip.

The baptismal font, Guardian Angels Cathedral, Las Vegas NV

Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Guardian Angels Cathedral, Las Vegas, NV

The church is definitely a period piece, and a reasonably good piece of Atomic Age architecture.  Its sense of datedness however, raises the question of how far architects should go in trying to "speak to the age" short of that degrading slavery of being children of their age. There is enough in this building that it is recognizably a Catholic church, even if it is not a commendable model for replication.  A-frame architecture seems just too mechanical to carry the weight of something intended to speak of the transcendent, despite the allusion to the upward thrust of jet aircraft piercing the heavens in our attempt to connect with God.