Friday, November 30, 2007

The Domestic Church: To "Santa" or not to "Santa"...


...that is the question. In fact, it's a question Molly and I have been wrestling with for the last 5 years, ever since our Clara came into the world. It's an interesting question, should Santa have a big place in our Christmas celebrations? Is there "magic" in Christmas for children without Santa? Is Christmas properly focused on it's subject (Christ) with Santa? I grew up with Santa, and so did Molly, and we turned out alright (I think?), so is it a big deal either way? What to do...

For the last 5 years, we've kind of done a "focus on Christ in Christmas, but still do Santa for some fun" strategy. It hasn't worked that well. We have been very successful in getting the kids to focus on Christ, even to the point that when Santa gets mentioned (usually by an extended family member) the kids kind of give a "Oh yeah, I forgot about that guy" type of reaction. We have Santa fill their Christmas stockings, but the presents under the tree are from us and not Santa. The kids don't really watch Santa Christmas cartoons either (they do have a cartoon on the life of St. Nicholas). We have celebrated the feast of St. Nicolas on the 6th of December as well, and we've sort of half-heartedly tried to claim that the Santa who comes on Christmas is really St. Nicholas (which of course is the person on which the idea of Santa is based). Santa has seemed almost a useless appendage recently, not central to our celebration of Christmas, and sort of a confusing figure for the kids. It's even more confusing when you factor in that the kids received a 5-foot tall animatronic Santa from their Grandpa one year, complete with robotic swaying and hand motions as he sings, "Oh the weather outside is frightful..." and belly laughs "Ho ho ho!" :-) Kids get really confused when you say Santa filled their stocking, and they're trying to figure out how a robot ambled off his pedestal and accomplished that feat.

This year, we've finally had some clarity and certainty in what we will do going forward. We're not doing Santa.

Before I explain this decision, I would just note that I do think this is a family by family decision. There's no one way of doing things that would fit every family. I certainly would never, never judge another family for doing Santa (again, I grew up with Santa). I do think that if a family does Santa, great care should be taken that he is not the focus of Christmas. For us, the inordinate focus on Santa that has developed in our culture is one of the main reasons we aren't doing Santa. When I'm at work, and an engineer I work with who is from India and is Hindu tells me that his family celebrates "Christmas" by putting up a "holiday tree" and exchanging gifts and having Santa Claus come, it's very clear that a separate, parallel, secular holiday has been set up in direct competition with the real Christmas (in effect, in competition with Christ). The secular assault on Christmas, such as banning the phrase "merry Christmas" and calling Christmas trees "holiday trees" is readily apparent, and we won't allow that tide to play any influence in our family. Santa himself has been a part of that separate secular holiday for a long time, and we really don't want to celebrate two parallel holidays (we have found that it doesn't work to celebrate both). The secular holiday of "Christmas" takes attention away from Christ, and the excessive materialism that goes with it is a whole other issue.

So, Christmas will be truly that in our family. As far as maintaining the "magic" of Christmas for children, the other day Clara said to me, "I'm so excited for Christmas to come because it's Jesus' birthday!" Christmas is very magical for our kids, and it's this type of magic that should be maintained. We will still have all of the garland and Christmas decorations, an advent wreath, and a Christmas tree, and some modest gifts, because these are all Christian symbols of Christ's birth. And when we move into our new home, we'll be able to have a manger scene in our chapel and decorate the chapel with the liturgical symbols of advent. And, lest I forget, we celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas on the 6th of December as we always have, giving us a chance to explain his holy life and fill the kids' shoes with candy for them to find in the morning (which is the tradition of the feast of St. Nicholas).

We hope going forward that our kids will always know that Christ is the center of Christmas, and will look forward to Christmas specifically for that reason.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Just for the record, a couple things we'll change...


Partly just to let you know, and partly just to document these so that we don't forget, here are some small items that we'd like to change about the final design.

First, we're going to have to have a way to get out the lawn mower, snow blower, and other outdoor implements of human torture... I mean labor... out of the garage. We specifically wanted only a two car garage door, because we hate large facades of nothing but garage doors. We have a three-car garage now, with double-car garage door and a single-car garage door, and the only reason we open the single door is just to get out the mower and other stuff. So why have that huge door? You could do the same thing with a much smaller roll-up door that was off to the side. So, we asked my brother for a garage that had a double-car door, and then some extra space on the side for the outdoor implements. But the small door isn't in the design yet, and I think it would go best on the North side of the garage:
My brother had originally shown the garage above with two single-car garage doors, but this would actually be a double-car garage door with both car spots toward the South of the garage, and the space shown above between the car spots would be on the North with access from that smaller door.

A second modification is the addition of a boys bathroom upstairs. The way it was depicted, there was a bathroom adjacent to the girls' room, but this is going to get pretty crowded. We would leave that bathroom as is, and add another that is smaller and just has a toilet and a stand-up shower. Probably some room would be sacrificed from the girls' room, or some combination of both the boys' and girls' rooms. My brother though this wouldn't be a problem.

One thing I think will need to change about the chapel (though I'm unsure until we get into the specific design) is the layout of the windows. I love the verticality the shape of the windows will add to the chapel, I'm just wondering about wallspace for art and other devotionals. Right now the windows seem to take up almost all of both walls. And I'm not sure if they'd need to be laid out like they are since we wouldn't want a clear glass outlook onto the surroundings anyway. Filtered light is much preferred in the chapel, or standard glass light that comes from above where the most you would see is sky but wouldn't be looking out on the surroundings. They'll be enough places to look on the surroundings elsewhere in the home, and the chapel is meant to be more interior and reflective.

Lastly, Molly would like a walk-in pantry, or at least a bigger pantry near the kitchen for food storage and easy access. Currently, there is only a smaller pantry in the kitchen, but some small space could be sacrificed from the mud room to provide extra area for a pantry. Again, my brother thought this wouldn't be a problem.

There is still a small question in our mind about whether the stairway, as it sits all the way on the South end of the home, will be easy enough access for all the traffic going up and down. For example, when kids are playing in their rooms, and Molly is in the kitchen, she'd have to walk quite a distance to monitor them. Potentially another stairway to the upper floor could be added in the basement stairwell by the garage. But, the more I think about it, I'm not sure I'd want to do this, because it wold take even more room away from the bedrooms upstairs, and having the stairway go directly into a bedroom seems odd. Still, something to look into.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Alternate floor plans...


As promised in my presentation of Scheme D, I'm including some pics of alternate ground floor and upper floor plans that my brother created for discussion. Here's an alternate ground floor plan that we didn't end up going with (and my brother didn't like it either, click to enlarge):
If you compare to the preferred ground floor plan option in the previous post on Scheme D, this one is different in that the dining area is actually contained in the kitchen, the "sitting room" is placed next to the entry and would be a guest sitting area, and the school room is over by the chapel. For starters, the school room really can't be that far away from the kitchen or it will not be used as intended. The kitchen is where most things happen for Molly and the kids on any given day, and so the school room needs to have some proximity to the kitchen or it won't be used. Secondly, since we wouldn't have a formal dining area, having the only dining area directly in the kitchen isn't great for the times when we would like to have a more formal family gathering. There's some interesting seating added to the kitchen on the East side in this scheme, but in the end the arrangement previously presented just works and flows much better.

Here's another alternate ground floor plan, which is identical to the original, preferred plan presented with Scheme D except with the addition of basement space under part of the footprint of the home (click to enlarge):
This is actually what we are going to try to go with, pending on cost and an analysis on whether the basement would be prudent given the adjacent wetland. We'd really like to have the accessible storage of an unfinished basement, and that would also provide a good spot for the home's mechanical equipment to go, and a place for the family to go in severe weather. In fact, since this is a permanent choice (i.e. there's no going back after the home is built, you don't "add" a basement later) we'll really try to make sure this happens, even if it means we have to wait on finishing the outer patio areas or covered walkway.

Here are the alternate upper floor layouts that my brother put together (click to enlarge):
And here was the original layout from last post, for comparison (click to enlarge):
The differences in the alternate layouts regard the master bedroom and the guest bedroom/nursery. In the alternate layout on the left, connection between the master bedroom and the nursery is moved to the South wall of the home and is a more defined hallway, while sacrificing closet space in the master bedroom. We didn't like this since the connection to the nursery was fine in the original layout (through the bathroom) and we really wanted the closet space). In the alternate layout on the right, the closets in the master bedroom are moved to the East wall of the home, creating two separate closets and even more closet space. We also didn't like this because it eliminated windows on the East side where the sunrise would light the room in the morning.

As always, any other ideas or feedback are welcome!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

At last... the final conceptual scheme!

This will be the mother of all posts, definitely the longest I'll ever do on this blog. It's finally here! Hot off the presses as of two days ago (Sunday), the final conceptual scheme (Scheme D) of the future home of the Koop family has arrived, and it's definitely worth the wait. I say that this is the "final" scheme because it really is just that. My brother delivered on a design that basically resolves any main issues we had with previous schemes (e.g. kitchen located far from the garage, bedroom and laundry arrangements), adds orthogonality to the design to reduce cost, and combines the best elements of Scheme C (our previously chosen favorite) with those of Scheme A and even some of Scheme B. Even better, I think there are some striking new conceptual additions that make Scheme D a slam dunk for us. So, where to begin? I'll probably just go through my brother's presentation to us, as it makes the most sense in that order.

Just as a pictorial reminder, here are the previous three conceptual schemes overlaid on to the elevation of our land (click to enlarge):
Just for reference, upward is East in the pic above. Most times upward is North when I show the site plans.

Here are a comparison of Scheme A and C in regard to their overall concept and how the main views to the wetlands, depicted by the blue triangles, were integrated (click to enlarge):

Using the image below, my brother noted that though he spent a lot of time integrating views of the wetland into the schemes, upon reflection he felt there was some views of the wooded areas that were being ignored, and these views are also valuable. His new direction was to integrate views of both the wetlands and the wooded areas, and to lay out the home to follow the red line denoting the separation between wooded area (on the left) and wetland (on the right). Essentially, the home would follow this natural boundary. (click to enlarge)

So, my brother spent some time generating a new concept sketch for Scheme D that encompasses the overall idea of the home as it follows this natural boundary:
So there you have it, that's Scheme D, hope you like it! Okay, if the above pic is not self-explanatory enough, I suppose we can get into the details.

Here's the site plan of Scheme D from above, with upwards being North (click to enlarge):
One detail in regard to the site plan that I'd like to point out is that there is a boardwalk leading out to the small grove of trees to the East, where we'd like to put a playset for the kids. It would be a cool play area and the trees would hide the playset. We also have a covenant in our neighborhood that states that any playset must be located behind the home to be hidden from the street view, and so this design accomplishes that and allows the home to still be located all the up against the wetland without having to make room for a back yard area.
An example of how a boardwalk might look...
Ours would actually traverse a narrow strip of buildable (i.e. not wetland) out to the grove of trees, which is also solid land, so we wouldn't need to get permission from the city to build the boardwalk. Still, it would likely be surrounded by tall grasses in the Summer like the above pic. I was toying with the idea of a boardwalk since far before my brother proposed it in this design, and was thinking that it would go into the wetland (needing permission from the city) and would potentially also have the stations of the cross. But I like this plan to start out and we can evaluate if we would like to extend the boardwalk into the wetland at a later date.

Alright, now for more important details, the actual ground floor plan (click to enlarge):
This is where this scheme really presents itself as a great design for our family. The kitchen is right by the garage, and a large mud room is now a piece of the design. Another development, which was actually a point of feedback from some of our readers with our previous schemes, is that we no longer have separate informal and formal dining areas. There is only one dining area, but separated from the kitchen by a partial wall so that it can be used for formal dining when necessary. This definitely saves some space, and is definitely a better solution. There's also still going to be a breakfast-type barstool area in the island in the kitchen, so this can still be used for dining in the kitchen.

Also, one can see some of the best elements of schemes A and C in this design. For instance, there is a view straight through the home and out to the wetland as one approaches the front entrance, like in Scheme C. The chapel requires a journey through the home to get to and is in a secluded area, which I liked best about Scheme A. The orthogonality of Scheme A is also evident here, which will definitely save us some money. And I love the extensive outer patio areas!

But, certainly the aspect of the ground floor plan that I like the most is the theology of the home layout. As I already noted, the chapel requires a defined movement through the home to get to, and is secluded to promote a sense of prayer. But, that movement through the home is very specifically thought out in the following way (click to enlarge)...

So the sitting room/library serves an important theological purpose in leading to the chapel.

Okay, now for the upper floor layout (click to enlarge)...
Here again, all of our feedback was taken into account brilliantly. First, there's a laundry room upstairs and all of the bedrooms are on the same level, which we desired to be close to the kids. But, our bedroom is still secluded somewhat by using a small hallway to lead to the bedroom, and by placing it on a separate "wing". This design also promotes the sacramentality of the master bedroom, as Sara Freund spoke of in her thesis, and gives the feeling that the master bedroom is a special and sacred place in the home. Another point of feedback that was implemented is that the boys' and girls' bedrooms are now laid out in a more reconfigurable manner. There are no small walls separating beds, which would prevent configuring the room as needed for the number of boys and girls we have. And check out the exterior walkway, definitely a new addition to the concept of the home. It's hard to picture how this is integrated into the home, so I'll leave that discussion to the exterior of the home. Suffice it to say, we have some new lines of attack available when checking up on kids when they are supposed to be asleep (but aren't).

There are also alternate ground floor and upper floor plans that my brother also presented, which I think I'll leave for another post. The one's I have presented above are my brother's primary choices and the one's we liked the best as well.

So let's get into the exterior of the home, starting with sketches that my brother did, developing the materiality on the exterior. This is looking Northwest from the street (click to enlarge):
It's hard to see, but the front face of the garage area is brick, connecting through to the lower part of the front of the home via the small wall containing the landscaping area in the front. So the lower half of the front of the home is brick, which then continues to cover the South face of the main volume. The exterior of the Southern "wing" of the home would be all wood. One thing to note here is that the upper floor completely overlaps the ground floor, as with Scheme B, which should save money in roof costs and exterior surface area.

Here's a sketch of the back of the home, looking Southeast (click to enlarge):
Here you can see the exterior of the chapel, as well as some of the windows on the home. Most notably, my floor-to-ceiling windows are still in there (!), though in a more limited fashion (hopefully making it possible for us to include those, as they are certainly expensive). Notably missing from the sketch is the exterior covered walkway that I've been alluding to. My brother did some renderings which represent a more finished view of the home, which is next.

Here's some exterior renderings that my brother did, starting with a top view of the site (click to enlarge):
You can already see how the home follows the natural boundary between the woods and wetlands and how it will take advantage of this aspect of the site. The windows on the South of the home (family room) will offer a view of the woods, which is a new addition to the concept. Also, I believe the home position itself is further back from the street (further East, to the right) than any of the other schemes, and I like that because it means more privacy from the street.

Here's a diagonal view looking Southeast (click to enlarge):
This is the first view of what I think is the most major addition to this scheme as compared to schemes A-C, the exterior covered walkway (which also serves as the upper floor exterior walkway on top). Here's some more renderings for better views, and note that one items not yet depicted is a hand-rail on the upper floor exterior walkway (click to enlarge)...
I can't tell you how excited I am about this addition to the concept, as it adds a distinctive feature of the home while also adding yet another very Catholic aspect to the design. This exterior covered walkway echoes what I posted about some weeks ago, the monastic cloister.
I love this echo in design. Family life truly can be monastic, both in terms of a regular order of our days, regular times of prayer, moderation in all things, etc., and this will be a cool design aspect that will be a physical sign of this reality. And we may be able to incorporate a cloister garden next to this covered walkway, or at least flowers that are typical of those gardens.

So that's it (for now). We do have a few minor tweaks we discussed with my brother that he will add in any future revision, but we can discuss those in another post. I was shocked at the lack of changes that will be needed, the design is really a home run for us. It's all a little overwhelming for Molly and I, as previously we reviewed concepts with my brother not really knowing what our final home design would look like, and in that sense the home still seemed a figment of our imagination and not something tangible. Now, we have that final picture, and it's certainly been a realization for both of us that this is basically what our home will look like. In the same breath I think we can say "yikes!" and "praise the Lord!" We have a lot of work ahead of us.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Pope comments on family's primary role in children's education and faith formation...

Awesome comments from Pope Benedict XVI yesterday during his weekly Wednesday public audience. The Pope has been reflecting on the contributions of St. Jerome to the Christian faith, especially in regard to Holy Scripture. St. Jerome also had lots to say about the family's primacy in forming their children. St. Jerome highlights the fact that it is our job as parents to teach the faith to our children (i.e. it is not primarily the Church's job... dropping children off at weekly CCD classes at the parish and expecting that to be their sole formation in the faith doesn't cut it).

Here is the Pope's address yesterday:

Pontiff Extols Jerome's Biblical Insights

Comments on the Scholar's Many Lessons

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 14, 2007 ( St. Jerome left the Church many valuable lessons for everything from raising children to the importance of reading the Bible daily, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope said this today to the 25,000 people who had gathered in St. Peter's Square for the general audience. He drew heavily from the letters of the biblical exegete St. Jerome (347-419/420) to illustrate the many counsels the scholar gave.

The Holy Father said that in Jerome's writings, he "underlined the joy and importance of familiarizing oneself with the biblical texts." He cited one of the epistles of the scholar: "Don't you feel, here on earth, that you are already in the kingdom of heaven, just by living in these texts, meditating on them, and not seeking anything else?"

Jerome saw the Bible as the "catalyst and source of Christian life for all situations and for everyone," said the Holy Father. He further quoted teh biblical scholar, "The study and meditation of Scripture makes man wise and at peace."

"Certainly, to penetrate more deeply the word of God, a constant and increasing practice is necessary," said the Pope. He quoted Jerome who advised in a letter, "Read the divine Scriptures with much regularity; let the Holy Book never be laid down by your hands."

"Love sacred Scripture and wisdom shall love you; love it tenderly, and it will protect you; honor it and you shall receive its caresses," Jerome had written to a spiritual daughter. "Love the science of Scripture, and you shall not love the vices of the flesh," added the exegete.

In communion

Benedict XVI said that a basic principle used by Jerome to understand Scripture was to read it in the light of the Church's teachings: "Alone we are not able to read Scripture. We find too many closed doors and we are easily mistaken. The Bible was written by the people of God, for the people of God, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Only in communion with the people of God can we truly enter the core of the truth that God intends to convey us."

The Pope said that for Jerome, "an authentic interpretation of the Bible always had to be in harmony with the faith of the Catholic Church. The book itself is the voice of the people of God in pilgrimage, and only in the faith of these people we find the right frame of mind to understand sacred Scripture."

The Pontiff said that Jerome thus warned, "Stay firmly attached to the traditional doctrine that has been taught to you, so that you can preach according to the right doctrine and refute those who contradict it."

Jerome also wrote of the importance of not only understanding Scripture, but also living it, said the Holy Father. He quoted Jerome who said, "Even when mastering a wonderful doctrine, he who is condemned by his own conscience will be shamed."

Benedict XVI also discussed Jerome's teaching on Christian asceticism: "He reminds us that a courageous engagement toward perfection requires a constant alertness, frequent mortifications, even if with moderation and caution, an assiduous intellectual or manual work to avoid idleness."

The Pope said that Jerome taught that above all is "obedience to God. ... That is the most outstanding and the sole virtue."


"Finally, we have to mention Jerome's contribution to Christian pedagogy," said the Holy Father.

[Here's a copy of the Pope's full comments on this, my highlights are in bold - Brendan]
Above all, he urges parents to create an environment of serenity and joy around the children, to encourage them to study and work, also through praise and emulation (cf. Epp. 107,4 and 128,1), to encourage them to overcome difficulties, to nurture in them good habits and protect them from bad ones because -- here he quotes a phrase that Publilius Syrus had heard as a schoolboy -- "you will barely succeed to correct those things that you are getting used to do" (Ep. 107,8).

Parents are the primary educators for children, their first life teachers. Addressing himself to the mother of a girl and then turning to the father, Jerome warns, with much clarity, as if to express a fundamental requirement of every human creature who comes into existence: "May she find in you her teacher, and may her inexperienced childhood look at you with wonder. May she never see, neither in you nor in her father, any actions that, if imitated, could lead her to sin. Remember that ... you can educate her more with the example than with the word" (Ep. 107,9).

Among Jerome's main intuitions as a pedagogue we must underline the importance attributed to a healthy and complete education from infancy, as well as the special responsibility acknowledged as belonging to parents, the urgency of a serious moral and religious education, and the need of study for a more complete human formation.
Jerome was also a proponent for the education of women, said the Pope: "A vital aspect retained by the author but disregarded in ancient times is the promotion of the woman, to whom he acknowledges the right to a complete education: human, academic, religious, professional."

"We actually see today that the true condition to any progress, peace, reconciliation and exclusion of violence" said the Holy Father, "is the education of the person in its entirety and the education in responsibility before God and before man. Sacred Scripture offers us the guidance of education and of true humanism."

St. Jerome. Caravaggio, c. 1606.
St. Jerome, pray for us!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Review of new home architecture


Well, this coming Sunday is the day when we meet with my brother to go over the revised home concept. So, there'll be nothing to post on that front until at least next week. In the mean time, I came across an article the New York Times highlighting some home designs of "larger" families (read: 3 or 4 kids, which is a shockingly large family to the secular world). I thought I would provide some commentary on a couple of the designs just for fun. They're both modern designs, but as I've said before on this blog when it comes to one's home I think there are lots of design options, including a modern feel.

Here's the first home: "With Patience, a Family of 6 Builds Up"

It is a family of 6 that lives in London and actually obtained the airspace rights over a building right in the city, on top of which they built their home. Definitely a unique situation. Here's some pics...
I think that for where they built their home, the structure is pleasing to the eye in that it makes good use of proportion and continues the footprint of the building upward. The vegetation that they have on the outer parts of the structure makes a good impression in that it looks like the home has "grown" on top of the building, and it softens the industrial feel of the rest of the building (as well as departs from the beige of the building).

Also for me, if there's three things I love in a well-designed building, it's light, light, and more light. Their home has so much light, it totally alters the mood inside and makes it bright and pleasant. This is one reason I still find myself attached to the idea of floor-to-ceiling windows. The family does note that for a while they felt like they were living in a fishbowl, but they got used to it.

A couple other pics...
This is their media room with, as they call it, a "conversation pit." This is a little weird for me. Those pillows are going to be a nightmare to continually have to place in their spot. In our family, the pillows would have all of 5 minutes before they were strewn all over that room. And I think it's odd to say, "hey, I'd like to have a conversation, let's go sit in the 'conversation pit'". Interesting idea though.

I had to show this last one, of the exterior walkways that surround the home. The mom says, "The children run around the terraces like they're in a hamster cage." Now this is madness. Again, look at the first pic above. This house IS ON TOP OF A BUILDING! Hmmm, do I really want my kids running around a terrace, inches from falling stories to their certain death? I think not. I had a vision of Aidan climbing over that fence there and shuddered.

All in all, I give this design a thumbs up. I like it, and I think it would be fun to live there.

Here's the second home, which is actually an addition to an existing home: "A Crowded Family Enters the Space Age"

It's a family of five (why that's a "crowded family" I'll never know) that added on to their home with a very different style addition. Here's some pics...
Alright, so I like the fact that again this home has a lot of light, and is very transparent. And I like the cantilevered stairway. But that's probably about it. The design is not to my taste in most respects. I'd rather not live in a space ship. But the real deal is the minimalism (which I would note was not the case with the last home in the truest sense of the term). No family lives like this, and I don't know any that would want to. See the area in front of the TV downstairs? There's two simple chairs, that's it. Do they live like that on a daily basis? I guarantee you no. If you have to run around arranging things in your home to enhance the minimalism just for a photo shoot, and then afterward you go back to the way you really live, then it's a fake design. No one walks into a perpetually empty room and says, "Oh, I see two solitary chairs over there, how about I go sit in one, and you can sit in the other, and we can talk to each other?" Families want to be comfortable, first, and then they'd like to have enough seating to have a family conversation, and they'd like a room that didn't totally ruin the "design intent" if it got a little messy.

All in all, I give this second design a thumbs down.

That's my family home architecture review for the week!

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Importance of Beauty in Church Architecture


Here's a wonderful interview with architect Duncan Stroik (whom I've spoken about here, here, and here), previously published by the National Catholic Register. Definitely worth a read (whether for church or chapel design).

The Evidential Power of Architectural Beauty

A Conversation With Duncan Stroik

BY Joseph Pronechen

January 28- February 3, 2007 Issue | Posted 1/23/07 at 9:00 AM

Over the last decade, Duncan Stroik has become a premier architect of sacred edifices and a leader in the new renaissance of church architecture.

His ecclesiastical projects, completed or under way, span the country. Among his designs now taking shape is the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis. In Santa Paula, Calif., his plans for Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel at Thomas Aquinas College are being hailed as a model for others to follow.

He also helped design the curriculum in classical architecture at the University of Notre Dame, where he is a professor. The New York Times called the program “the Athens of the new movement.”

Stroik’s architectural firm is not far from the Notre Dame campus in South Bend, Ind. It’s online at, and it was from there that he spoke with Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen.

What do you see as the general state of church architecture today?

Today we’re at an interesting time because, in general, many laity, pastors and even some architects are tired of ‘business as usual’ for the last 40 years. The ideas of modernism that seemed to be exciting and novel are no longer so fascinating. For many, the emperor has no clothes, and we realize that. I see more and more parishes trying to build traditional churches, and I see architects trying to design them. That’s a good thing. The reality is, we’re still far away from being at a high level of design that our forebears knew, but we’re coming out of the dark ages architecturally and artistically. But it’s a difficult thing to come out of and may take some time.

I believe that spiritual renewal is accompanied by an architectural and artistic renewal. The renewal of Catholic architecture is very important because our churches do teach. They speak to people and create a place where we worship God. You could think of the church building as a prayer — a prayer we build. What do our churches speak to us of? Do they speak that the universal Church is beautiful and permanent and inspiring — or that the universal Church is temporary and shoddy and casual?

What does traditional design have that modern design tends to lack?

Since our churches do speak to people, over time they’re one of the major ways we form Christian children, young adults, and adults. Churches can speak to them through iconography — a beautiful crucifix, images of the saints that tell us the saints are around us. The building helps us to pray.

Another way to look at it is the church building is the place that from earliest times we have dedicated to the reception of the sacraments. A sacramental church should be noble and beautiful and worthy of the seven sacraments, of these mysteries, these gifts from God.

Where some prefer an “uncluttered” worship environment, you talk a lot about designing for “beauty.” Why is that goal important?

Certainly when we’re talking about the house of God and building a temple to him, we try to give our best and give him the most beautiful possible because he’s worthy of that. It’s a response to his gifts to us.

Beauty speaks to people, to children, to the poor and to those who haven’t been catechized. Beauty can touch people in a deep and profound way at all times of the day and in all seasons.

How do you design Catholic churches to be architectural catechisms like they traditionally were?

There’s the universal elements — the altar, crucifix, Stations of the Cross — and the particular. In the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Wisconsin, we have more than 25 stained-glass windows, and we set them up to be the life of the Virgin. With the help of Archbishop (Raymond) Burke, we came up with a number of things to layer on top of that. The windows are placed above the titles in Latin of Our Lady from the Litany of Loreto. Each relates to the window above. Below them are statues of saints.

Each level can be read on its own, but it can be read as a relation to the others. For example, the stained-glass window of the Incarnation shows the Madonna and Child. Below, from the Litany of Loreto, is Mater Purissima. And below that is the statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

There has been debate about tabernacle placement. What is your opinion on that issue?

Two answers. First, in America, we have our tradition. In 400 years since Catholics came to the New World, tabernacles were prominent in the apse and part of the focus of the church. Second, in the Catholic tradition, there’s an evolution of the theology and worship of the Eucharist outside of Mass. By the time of the early Middle Ages and Renaissance, the tabernacle became more prominent and placed in the center. You look at all traditions of architecture, all different cultures and faiths: They put the important elements in the center of the building. In the king’s reception hall you put the throne. In the Congress building you put the podium for the speaker. In the Baptist church you put the pulpit.

So what’s important in the Catholic Church? It’s natural we put those things that are important — the altar, the tabernacle — in the center, as the focus of the church. As well as other things — the crucifix. If we truly believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharistic species reserved in the tabernacle, we will put that in the greatest place of prominence in the church. That is in the apse, on the central axis. That, to me, is the general obvious solution. It doesn’t mean there aren’t occasions to do other things, but it’s the natural solution from our tradition if you think Christ is important.

How can churches on a more limited budget incorporate architectural beauty?

Today you can apply the same principles you’d apply in something grand in a smaller church or chapel. We’re working on St. Paul the Apostle Church in (Spartanburg), S.C. It’s a beautiful Romanesque church on a downtown site and it’s meant to be inspiring and beautiful on a fairly reasonable budget.

Another nice project is St. Therese Chapel.

It was a very functional daily Mass chapel for a large parish in Houston. The pastor wanted to improve it and make it inspiring, but without spending a lot of money. Working within the existing walls, we were able to transform the chapel. The parishioners say they now feel like they’re walking into heaven.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Domestic Church: Encouraging Vocations


Vocations are the lifeblood of the Church. The Church needs people to consistently respond to God's call to the vocation to the priesthood or religious life to flourish and fulfill its mission on earth to spread the Gospel and to be a conduit of God's grace for the salvation of souls. But, it's no secret that people willing to respond to this unique calling don't simply fall out of the sky, but require an environment suitable to fostering vocations. Even more importantly, someone who is willing to simply suggest that a young man would consider the vocation to the priesthood, or that a young man or woman consider the vocation to the religious life, is ultimately required.

There was a period in the second half of the last century where mothers and fathers often abandoned such conversations and encouragement with their own children, with some parents viewing vocations as a waste of potential, or not stopping to consider that it is they who are the primary teachers of their children in the faith and it is they who needed to openly encourage discernment of vocations in their children. This lack of encouragement in families, among other factors, played a large role in decreasing numbers of men entering the seminary to study for the priesthood, and decreasing numbers of women religious in formation. Thankfully, we are in the midst of, as John Paul II predicted, the "new springtime" of the Church, and this trend is being abruptly reversed (at least in the United States). Here is a great article (entitled "Filled to Overflowing") on the "problem" at the minor seminary in my own Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis; they can barely house all of the young men who have enrolled to discern the priesthood! Likewise, vocations to the religious life are increasing in some very faithful communities who practice the Faith with zeal, such as the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist in Michigan (they're having a hard time keeping up with housing for all of their new postulants as well). This trend needs to be magnified, and the time is now for Catholic families to reclaim their role as the primary incubators of vocations, and that means parents need to step up.

Molly and I would love to see many vocations come out of our family. Ultimately that's up to God's calling for any one of our children, but we will make darn sure that any potential calling has a chance to reach one of our children with clarity. Through homeschooling and home educating in the Faith, explicit discussions of the beauty of the priesthood and religious life (and their necessity) will be frequent, just as discussions of the beauty of the sacrament of marriage (a vocation in itself) and the necessity of Godly marriages and families will be frequent. But this is really the tip of the iceberg of what really needs to be done. I found a site, randomly, which is maintained by the diocese of St. Petersburg, FL, and it is the BEST page on encouraging vocations in the family that I have ever seen. Every dicoese should have a page just like this on their website. It has a whole list of pointers on how vocations can be encouraged in family life.

Check it out here, and let's start fostering vocations in our families!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Some more interesting and similar home architecture


Just a quick post to link to a new home in Minnesota that was selected as the Minneapolis Star Tribune AIA home of the month for November. The architect (Brian Anderson of SALA Architects) is described as having designed a "cluster of buildings", which is similar to our concepts. The design aesthetic is similar as well.

Here's the link to the slideshow.

Here's the link to the article.

I hope to post soon on our re-designed concept(s) for our home.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In...


We recently celebrated the Feast of All Saints. For the entire month of October, our family has been preparing for this special feast by studying the lives of several saints. It has been quite inspiring and often humorous to hear the kids retell various stories of these beloved Christians, now in heaven.

Clara's patron is, of course, Saint Clare of Assisi. We thought it would be a good idea for her to learn more about this amazing woman of God who loved the poor and gave all she had to serve them. We commissioned Brendan's sister, Allison, who currently works in the costume shop for the theater department of Catholic University, to make a Clara-sized St. Clare costume for her to don on the eve of the feast day. (Our parish has a gigantic All Saints' Party to replace Halloween festivities.) It was, of course, appropriate to also learn about the life of Saint Francis and find a costume for Aidan to wear so the two of them could be a team just like Francis and Clare. I found a wonderful website that features costumes for biblical and saintly characters (a BIG relief since I can't sew a stitch!) The Franciscan costume is perfect as Aidan could be Francis this year and in future years other children could wear it for other saints of the Franciscan order, namely Maximilian Kolbe!

We found lots of children's literature about Clare and Francis and I was quite impressed with what the kids picked up. Aidan, being a typical boy, loved to retell the story of the wolf of Gubbio and often yelled, "and the wolf had BIG TEETH!" The duo memorized a short poem written by Saint Francis:
"God came to my door and asked for charity and I fell on my knees and cried, 'Beloved, what may I give?' 'Just love," he said. 'Just love.'"

When the packages arrived on our doorstep the two of them put on their costumes and immediately started reenacting some of the stories they knew. Eleanor was to be a ladybug at the All Saints' party, so she, too, got into character and followed the kids around, barely able to move her head from side to side in her bulky costume. Not wanting to be left out, she would often run up to me and shout "I a wadybug!"

As I was preparing dinner early this week, Max was yelping in his saucer. Suddenly, his cries stopped and I looked to see what had happened. There were Clare and Francis, both hands laid on Max's head and a prayer of healing being uttered from their lips. (Not that Max was anything more than annoyed, but they knew that Clare and Francis had the gift of healing the sick.) Clare then turned and said, "C'mon, Saint Francis. Let's go back to Assisi." What a stitch!

The Eve of All Saints' finally arrived and after losing the girls in the procession into Mass we experienced once again the powerful prayers of those Christians who have gone before us. I always get a little teary during the Litany of the Saints. After Mass, we enjoyed hot dogs (Brendan, especially, as hot dogs are in his top three favorite meals, yuck) and popcorn with the others gathered for the festivities. We played a few games and took a hayride around the church grounds. On the way out, we collected our "one bag of candy per kid." I think next year I'll make our own family rule of "one bag of candy per family" as we have enough miniature candy bars to last us through the year.

I hope our readers will enjoy the photos!

Here we have Saint Clare of Assisi

Aidan would make a lovely Franciscan

And the famous duo: Francis and Clare

And here's our little ladybug

And here's the family (notice the ladybug dodging out of the photo)
Max was a little skunk and just a riot!
And no, that's not some scary mask. Brendan grew a goatee.