Monday, May 22, 2017

What Defines Beauty?

This post title is simplistic, and probably overused. However, it may be the most concise way to frame some thoughts that were shared with me and my extensions of those thoughts recently. A few weeks ago, several friends and I made the trek to Chicago to attend the Transfigured conference. This conference, put on by the Liturgical Institute, aimed to share the beauty of the Catholic Liturgy, or form of worship. Sounds like a thick topic, right? It's easy to think so. However, the conference talks offered an engaging look at how the Liturgy and its many parts are arranged to offer "a foretaste of Heaven on Earth.[1]"

St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, Chicago, Illinois, host parish of the Transfigured conference.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos in this post are from St. Alphonsus.

One of the speakers piqued my interest as soon as I heard the conference announcement. Dr. Denis McNamara is the author of an informative and tasteful trio of books. A personal favorite, Heavenly City: The Architectural Tradition of Catholic Chicago has effectively become my Chicago Catholic church tour guide. Dr. McNamara's conference talk, Beauty, Liturgy, & Heaven, served to share that "beauty" as we see it in sacred spaces doesn't exist merely for our pleasure or simply because someone could afford it. Rather, he suggests, beauty plays an important role of attracting people into an act of faith. 

Dr. McNamara at Transfigured, Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago.

Early in his talk, Dr. McNamara suggested that in order to make a faith compelling, it needs to be attractive. This easily applies to most things that we choose to engage in throughout our lives. However, what does it take for something, like a worship space, to be truly "beautiful?" Visual appeal matters, but making the function of a place clear is important as well. To have a beautiful church in part, means that the space needs to clearly function as a place of divine worship and invite participation in the sacraments. There should be no confusion as to the role of the church building or its major components.

Detail: Baptismal font featuring the baptism of Jesus. 
This common detail reveals the function of the font while also enhancing its aesthetic appeal.

"Attention to function and artsy appeal sounds nice, but why should we care?...Designing churches to look like the Vatican is a waste of money!" - Hypothetical Questioner

Certainly not all churches should look like the cathedrals. However, while it isn't practical to make every church large and ornate, Dr. McNamara advocates for the craft of well designed churches. These places by their design reveal truths about the Catholic and Christian faith. By making clear the Christian belief of life after death and heavenly award that can come through faith, a beautiful worship space serves to attract people closer to the Mass, the sacraments, and God himself...and bringing that foretaste of Heaven to Earth.

Redemptorist priests in prayer surrounding Jesus, thus engaging with Heaven.
The Redemptorists served St. Alphonsus for decades after its founding.

In addition to the need to share truths with church goers and visitors, the beauty of a church helps draw an emotional response that can also inspire faithful action. This can occur simply through well executed artwork. In some parishes a special characteristic about the local faithful, such as a common ethnic background, can contribute to emotionally driven beauty. Chicago and Milwaukee's ethnic Polish parishes, which I've covered in the blog several times, are strong examples of this. The opportunity to conjure an emotional response to a life of faith is yet another strong reason to care for beautiful places of worship.

Polish devotional altar featuring Our Lady of Częstochowa, Holy Trinity Parish, Chicago.

Dr. McNamara introduced a number of variants stemming from the core concepts of function and attraction. In one of my expansions on his ideas, beauty can reach beyond artistic attractiveness. Elegant simplicity can also serve to inspire the hearts of the faithful and curious outsiders. A friend of mine likes to refer me to the modest, but very intentionally designed worship spaces maintained by the Sisters of Mary, Morning Star. I have yet to visit their chapels, but from my friend's descriptions and photos, you can tell that every object they display has a clear functional role in Mass and prayer. Some would even argue that designs such as these make worship a better focused experience compared to their elaborate counterparts. Clear function alone, can draw us to the beauty of the faith.

Chapel of the Sisters of Mary, Morning Star, Ghent, Minnesota.
Photo courtesy of Laura Angle.

With Catholic churches and religious architecture as a whole, there are endless examples of beauty to appreciate. Furthermore, there are many examples that allow us as curious human beings to discover beauty in ways that are not always conventional or expected. I hope to dive more deeply into examples of beauty and share my observations in both sacred and secular perspectives. Maybe you can find a little "taste of Heaven on Earth" through these posts...Better yet, you can go and seek this taste for yourself wherever you are!

Sanctuary detail.

I think that I am long overdue for a conventional "church tour" blog post. Stay tuned!

Additional Sources:

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Little Church Madness!

First off, since it is Easter Wednesday night as I type this, happy Easter! Today's post is a brief one, but unique in the grand scheme of my blog posts to date. Over the month of March and coinciding with college basketball's March Madness playoff tournament, I had the opportunity to contribute photos to a fun tournament, known as Church Madness.

The nave and spectacular high altar at St. Francis de Sales Oratory, St. Louis, Missouri.
2017 Church Madness Winner. Photo taken in September 2013.

Church Madness is a tournament of unique merit. It pits 64 of the most beautiful churches in the United States in a vote-based tournament to select the "Most Beautiful Church in America." Hosted by Patrick Murray of the superb Art & Liturgy blog, his effort does a phenomenal job of sharing the beauty of sacred places across the United States with his readers. What's more? Patrick works for Granada Liturgical Arts who designs and produces a lot of materials that make churches physically beautiful, from tabernacles to priestly vestments. Check out Patrick's blog and Granada!

An oldie, but a goodie: Basilica of the Assumption, Baltimore, Maryland.
Oldest cathedral in the United States. Photo taken in December 2010.

How did I get involved in the Madness? As you may know, Roamin' Catholic Churches posts pretty regularly on Instagram (check out the side bar to the right, or see this link for some of these photos: Through this, I was able to connect with Patrick and round up some of the photos I've take in the past few years to contribute to the tournament.

Extraordinary form, extraordinary sanctuary: St. Stanislaus Oratory, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Photo taken in September 2016.

In a couple cases this winter, I was able to hit the road and visit a couple churches to take photos to offer to Church Madness. As time allows, I have enough photos from two Church Madness participants to do specialized posts just to focus on them.

St. John Catholic Newman Center, Champaign, Illinois

This baldacchino top only begins to articulate the beauty found in Champaign, Illinois.
Photo taken in February 2017.

St. John the Evangelist, Indianapolis, Indiana

Church and state: This neo-Gothic hunk of a church is only three blocks from Indiana's state capitol.
Photo taken in February 2017.

Many thanks go to Tyler Strom and Megan Fish for their tips, and in Megan's case, tour to help facilitate my visits and photo-taking!

You can check out the rest of my photos used for Church Madness on Flickr through the slideshow below.

Church Madness 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Holy Week & Some Reflection

Sanctuary, St. Luke Catholic Church, Plain, Wisconsin - Palm Sunday Vigil 2016. 

Another Lenten season is almost complete. This Lent, perhaps more than most, is forcing a pause for thought as I consider where this site, my other projects, my faith, and my life are all headed. Today's post focuses on how I think Roamin' Catholic Churches might be shaken up.

About three years ago, I wrote the About page for this site. In it are the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed aspirations of a 26 year old, excited to tell the world of the pretty buildings and perhaps some special communities within the Catholic Church. As someone originally drawn to church buildings for their aesthetic beauty, it was not a major goal to let whatever personal faith that I may have run directly through the blog. Roamin' Catholic Churches was planned to be a near-equivalent of an American Institute of Architects primer. The idea of any spiritual stirring for the reader was some sort of "bonus," independent of any writing or photography that I do. 

Similarly, I was hardly keen on letting my faith spill directly into my social life or really at all away from Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This lifestyle choice made it acutely difficult in the rare moments where I tried to share my Catholic faith with those close to me. Cradle Catholic problems, anyone?

Sanctuary, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Baraboo, Wisconsin - Palm Sunday Vigil 2016. 

Of course, life will tell you that any spiritual inspiration can't be forced on to a person, whether a close friend or a blog reader. At the same time, it's hard to shake the influence of said inspiration. The last few years have given me a host of friends and influences, Catholic and more secular, that are leading me to think about the purpose of the blog and my life differently. Many times, this comes from friends outside the church asking questions about the blog or Catholicism in general because they know I run this site. Other times it comes from me asking my friends for their perspective on all things spiritual and secular. These scenarios, almost always extemporaneous in nature, give me more reason to be excited about Catholicism as a culture and a practice! On one of my church photography road trips, I was compelled to ask one of my closer spiritual friends, "how could I better introduce a faith-focused slant into the blog?" Roamin' Catholic Churches as strictly an architectural resource most likely won't fulfill everything the site can be.

To try to keep this post somewhat short, it is fair to say that I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that my life and the blog can and should exhibit more qualities of the Catholic faith. This isn't to say that I or the blog are going to get super preachy, as I am still leery of looking like I am on some moralistic high ground. What I am jazzed to try and share with you more clearly are the church buildings and communities serving as witnesses to the Catholic faith and its beliefs. At the same time, I hope that I can offer some of my personal faith story where it's appropriate in these blog posts. I can't promise that it will suddenly make this blog terrific, but I think that the blog can become a little more fruitful for us all by better discussing the Catholic faith. Your comments are welcome!

We'll see where this flows and where inspiration goes.

Have a great Holy Week! Now I better make some more blog posts!

Sanctuary, St. Norbert Catholic Church, Roxbury, Wisconsin - Palm Sunday Vigil 2016. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sunday!! - Re-dedication Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Boyd

Don't worry, the pews will be back in order before the Bishop arrives!

My baptismal church, St. Joseph Catholic Church in Boyd, Wisconsin is reopening its doors for a Mass of Dedication of a Church Already in Use (yes, that's what they officially call it) on Sunday, March 19th at 11 a.m.

The church has been closed since last fall for an extensive renovation project. Since I can't make the drive for the Mass, I requested and gratefully received a tour of the church earlier in March.

St. Rose of Lima

In 2012, St. Joseph, St. Rose of Lima Church in Cadott, and Holy Family Church in Stanley merged to form All Saints Parish. The Boyd church site is the most historic and largest of the three. To represent unity among all three church sites, new medallions were painted representing the patrons of the Cadott and Stanley churches. All three church sites will continue to have weekend Mass.

Many of the historic elements of the church are being preserved, like the high altar.

Guardian Angel window

Surprisingly for a church nearing 90 years old, there were few structural concerns that needed attention. However, not all of the decorative improvements could be made in this project. The stained glass windows will need to be cleaned and reinforced in the future. Even without a window cleaning, I couldn't help but notice how the new color palate of the church walls brought out the color of the windows, even on the cloudy day that I visited.

Angels float on the precipice above the Sanctuary.

Presentation of the Christ Child

Repainted organ pipes

Such a refreshingly new, but historic-feeling look!

According to Father Felix, the decorative renovation is meant to roughly follow the original design of the church dating from the 1920s. I am planning on visiting the church again after it opens to the public to share more details on the changes in this magnificent building.

Got to have a little fun, right?

In December 2013, just as I was starting the blog, I took photos at St. Joseph's, which you can see here: 

St. Joseph Church, All Saints Catholic Parish
719 E. Patten St.  Boyd, WI 54726

Thanks again to Father Felix for taking time out of his schedule to give a tour of the church while still in construction mode and for offering a few of my text notes!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Christmas and a Blogging Update

Nativity creche at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota

Per the usual I'm afraid, it's been awhile since my last wave of blog posts. Another Christmas season has come and gone, and additional ideas for my church photography hobby are starting to manifest themselves. To celebrate a wonderful holiday season, scroll on and see a few of the churches that I visited over December 2016. Some of these places will be featured in full blog posts later. As always, stay tuned!

It seemed that all of my camera equipment either broke or slowed down in 2016 (taking church photos without a tripod is not as easy as you think!). To alleviate this problem, I finally purchased a DSLR camera (a refurbished Canon EOS Rebel T6, if you are curious) in December. The morning after ordering the camera however, I found myself in Mundelein, Illinois to buy some lamps and lucked into a beautiful "first snow" shoot at Mundelein Seminary. Thankfully, my old Nikon was up to the task for the day!

Left: Exterior of St. Peter Catholic Church, Ashton, Wisconsin
Right: Detail, Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at St. Peter Catholic Church, Ashton, Wisconsin

The Canon Rebel arrived at my apartment in time for a holy hour at one of rural Madison's gorgeous churches. As you can tell above, a new camera promises no magic. I have a lot to learn as I move beyond my point-and-shoot cameras of years' past!

Sanctuary: St. Louis Catholic Church, St. Paul, Minnesota

On the third day of Christmas, I took my mother and sister for a day of exploration and yes, shopping, in St. Paul, Minnesota. While the Twin Cities may not be known for their Catholic heritage like other Midwestern cities are (Chicago or St. Louis, for example), there are plenty of magnificent churches to see!

St. Thomas More Catholic Church (formerly St. Luke), St. Paul, Minnesota

Nativity Creche: St. Thomas More Catholic Church (formerly St. Luke), St. Paul, Minnesota

Outdoor Nativity Scene: Cathedral of St. Paul, St. Paul, Minnesota

St. Agnes Catholic Church, St. Paul, Minnesota

Ss. Cyril & Methodius, Lemont, Illinois

Even a concert was cause for more church spelunking. After spending a night rocking out to the Polkaholics (try not to laugh when you see that!) and The Dyes in Chicago, a friend of mine led me to Ss. Cyril & Methodius for my first so-called "Suburban Polish Parish" visit! Read back in the blog archives for stories of my urban and rural Polish parish visits if you feel so inclined.

St. Joan of Arc Chapel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Finally, to cap off a December of church chasing, I picked up another pal to introduce her to Milwaukee's churches large and small...

Detail, Nativity Stained Glass Window: St. Michael Catholic Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Sanctuary: Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Nativity Creche Detail: Old St. Mary's Catholic Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Happy New Year and I look forward to sharing more photos with you soon!