St. Louis Catholic Church Miami
The unassuming building hides among the homes that line the street where my former High School is located, Palmetto Senior High. You’d never know such a church exists until you happen upon it driving down 120th street. Since many years there are tall sentinel palm trees that line the streets adjacent to the church grounds. This most peculiar “space ship” looking church would gather thousands upon thousands of parishoners over the years.
This would become home for many, and later a place of education for students. An aspiration that was the brainchild of one Rev. Father James Fetscher. The leader of a rag tag bunch of men who knew their faith and led us through life with their wisdom, faith and love. Many of us came to know God here, and many young people came to know the love and forgiveness and most importantly the “acceptance” of Jesus, no matter who we were or what road we traveled.
The landscaping around the Church and school site lends to the natural beauty of the plants and trees and also accents the neighborhood and this oasis of spiritual life is an amazing retreat away from the world outside not far away.
We would walk up the street from the High school and have lunch on the grounds every day during the school year. The proximity of sacred space to the profane world of life and school lent to the fostering of a spiritual life and practice. As long as one kept their minds and hearts on the life of Jesus once could not go wrong.
Looking from the West end of the courtyard and the (then) Religious Education and Youth Ministry offices this is the courtyard of St. Louis Catholic church. I spent many a day and night sitting in this courtyard with my friends, with ministry leaders and fellow parishioner’s who attended mass in this amazing church. The architecture is unlike any church many had ever seen. It’s modern lines and circular and dome themes are prevalent all over the church campus.
There is a noticed departure from sharp lines and corners, the builders of this space, moved away from the “square – box” method of church building when the new sanctuary was built. All the outdoor accents and seating have curved edges which invites people to sit and linger. To gather and converse. To the right of the photo you see a raised seating area, where many of us met to travel around the city on ministry projects and retreats all over the world.
We celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Church outside in this square when I was a teen ager. Imagine the congregation being seated in the square and the celebration of Holy Eucharist in the open air, it was quite an amazing time in our church history.
The Great Doors – each door with its own religious themes replaces wooden doors over the years. Under the most amazing domed reception area outside the main sanctuary and chapel and Blessed Sacrament Chapel which is open twenty four hours a day with someone always praying before the Blessed Sacrament.
Inside these doors sits a baptismal fount / fountain which gurgles with the flow of blessed water for the worshipers in the church as they come to mass. A very holy “oasis” amid the architectural masterpiece that is the main sanctuary of St. Louis.
A very special anecdote: The battle of the aspersorium (L), aspergill (Eng). When the four horsemen where together on the altar, Fr’s Fetscher, Kish, McGowan and Fr. Radloff, on certain holy days when the blessing of the people with holy water would take place, it was a battle of the men to see who would drown the other in Holy Water. As each High Holy Mass was celebrated, the ‘main’ celebrant would usually change. So each would have his turn in dowsing the other with massive amounts of Holy water from the aspergill. It was a hoot to sit on the altar and watch this little ‘in house’ competition progress over the years.
This is the main sanctuary. The most amazing Holy Space ever to be built. Built in the spirit of the Roman Amphitheater style, there is not one bad sight line in the entire space. With the sanctuary in the “round” and banked as the amphitheaters of antiquity, the worshipers are witness to the theatrics of the Holy Mass.
To the right and left of the brick altar area are large blank walls, as I began to attend church here, there was the move from hand held lectionaries-missals and song books to a more multi-media savvy congregation. With hands free worship there wasn’t the need to take the focus away from the action going on – on the altar or within the sacred space.
All of the spoken words, prayers, responses and music and as well, audio visual accompaniment for the mass are projected onto the walls (left and right) of the altar. This audio visual lends to the complete participation of everyone in the worship space. No one is preoccupied with looking down into some book or missal. All eyes are front and center, participating in the rites of Holy Mass and the celebration of Eucharist.
Lighting is a very important component to worship in this space. As you notice in this photograph, light is concentrated on the altar itself, and the congregation is darkened to bring lighted accent to the location of celebration, the ‘focal point’ of the Eucharist, the altar and the main celebrant. Over to the far right of the altar, located off screen is the band pit where the light controls are located. As mass progresses from start to finish, the lighting in the entire sanctuary moves. Lighting is the indicator of movement, and in this space with the wood accents and white walls, light and shadow play off each other as mass is presented each weekend.
Tucked in between the levels of the aisles, are the entrance doors, for entry and exit and also to the left of the altar stones in the funerary doors which allow access for the caskets of the deceased to be brought into the sanctuary for blessed rites of Christian burial. The immense size of the main sanctuary lends to fantastical processions on high holy days and the procession of ministers on any given Sunday.
A wedding procession of a bride through the space to meet her husband at the central point directly in front of the altar bricks is just an amazing vision. Circular lines of the space lend to the flowing of people and ministers throughout the space. There are no sharp corners or the interruption of the flow of people and holiness.
The lighting moves from the main sanctuary to the celebratory area, where the celebrant, lectors and the cantor take their places during mass. Above and behind the main altar you notice the gold colored wall which houses a projection room above and behind the altar space. This back lit screen also adds audio visual accompaniment to the mass.
On any given Sunday you will see the liturgical theme of the day, the liturgical color of the Christian Liturgical season and also progressive slide shows during High Holy Days and celebrations. The ‘Easter Vigil’ is the highest liturgical celebration in this space. Mass on Holy Saturday is the most cosmic and most amazing presentation of high mass theatrical worship I have ever witnessed. The sacred space decorated with the most beautiful of trees, flowers and religious items is just amazing.
If you notice high above the altar upwards towards the ceiling, a notch, following with straight architectural lines of the building, there is yet another space for liturgical decoration. You see the yellow fabric behind the very large cross that hangs behind and above the altar. At the uppermost area of the sanctuary is the highest point of access in the sacred space.
During Advent and the Christmas season, you will see Christmas trees there, high above the altar, as they are also decorated aside the altar proper on the ground level. As you must ponder, with the wide open spaces here in the main sanctuary the eyes are drawn to multiple locations in the sanctuary, as there is much to see. It is a veritable feast for the eyes on any given Sunday.
As the ceiling is formed in wood in circular patterns the cement architecture is in round forms as it encircles the whole of the uppermost sanctuary ceiling. As one looks up at the spectacle of the most beautiful wood form, during the Christmas holidays, you might find an angel hanging over the sacred space, trumpet in hand, announcing the coming of the Christ child. She is a most beautiful angel.
The cross that you see hanging above the altar once stood on the altar during lent. There were years when the passion play was performed on Good Friday, and one of our members, we used to say, “he looked like Jesus,” would play his part. And one would swear that with the lighting technology and the meaning of the mass, that he was actually crucified on that very cross. I remember sitting in my pew weeping for Jesus on that most Holy of days.
The architecture of the sacred space, the interplay of light and shadow and the music of the season and the additional choirs and congregants inside the space made worshiping God and the celebration of the Eucharist an amazing weekly mass event. There has never been another Catholic Church, that I have ever seen built nor operated as this unique church has for so many decades.
To the right of the altar space is the lectern for the cantor or music minister and farther to the right you will see the seating area for the elderly and the handicapped. They are situated right close to the altar which is very important to those who come to hear the word and celebrate in the Eucharist. There is also a cry room, which is located to the upper far left of the frame. There is an old anecdote of the Rev Fr. Fetscher.
On any given Sunday, the good father would be preaching, as he walked around the sanctuary, a child would begin to wail, as the acoustics of the room lends to the reverberation of sound throughout the domed wooden structure, like a divining rod, the good father’s hand would rise as he continued to speak to the congregation, until he zeroed in to the exact location of the wailing child, as the parents attempted to quiet them or move as quickly as possible to the cry room, or out of the church completely, so as not to interrupt the train of the good father’s thought on the topic he was preaching on at the moment.
What is lacking in this new architecture is the lack of ‘old church’ visuals. The absence of statues, a tabernacle and candles as we would see in any given sanctuary in Montreal, in the Gothic and cathedral style church in this historical city of faith. The tabernacle was located in the chapel, then as I see in the photographs to follow, it must have been relocated into the Blessed Sacrament Chapel located in another area of the building.
You will see candles in use during mass and also during Advent. But there are no standing candles in open space within the sanctuary. Fire and soot from candles burning does not lend to the wood building of the sanctuary and the clean lines of the white washed walls.
I have served on this altar as an altar boy, a seminarian, lector and Eucharistic minister. It is a most beautiful vision to stand upon the altar and look out at the massive community of worshipers there to celebrate Holy Eucharist.
The Chapel of St. Louis Catholic Church. These are the stained glass windows that bank the rear wall of the chapel and looks out to the parking lot and new covenant school. Each of the windows has origins in biblical scripture. I want to say that, if memory serves, but don’t quote me on this, but these are images from the book of Revelation.
Somewhere in my mind is a memory of this being mentioned to me at some point of time. In the chapel is where morning masses are held along with the recitation of the Holy Rosary. Funerals are also held in the space, there have been musical accompaniment in this space. This is the space where we buried my paternal grandparents, when Roger and Paul were still music ministers at the Church.
This is the Sacred Space altar and lectern in the chapel. This chapel is also situated in ‘the round.’ the theme of circular space is repeated in all the main buildings in this specific building housing the main sanctuary, chapel and sacristy. There is a logical progression of ever changing architecture on the site moving from the primary sanctuary location which housed religious education, to this sanctuary space which is themed in the circular domed spaces.
As I look at this photo, observing the interplay of light and shadow, you have three elements. The light above the crucifix, the shadow on the walls to either side, and the light that streams in the windows in front of the altar space looking on. With circular space and the accent of internal lighting and the addition of natural light in the chapel and in the hallways of the building, the ‘drama of the spaces’ is made even deeper.
Different from the box – cathedral type church spaces we have here in Montreal, streaming light travels in one direction and towards the floor in our churches. With more rounded buildings such as these, light bends across, down and around the spaces, which brings movement and action to a quiet and sedate space. You do not see modern ‘churches in the round’ in a city steeped in architectural history.
As on kneels before Christ on the cross – you can imagine that – He is there, in the flesh, as you look upon his face, more than once, I imagine in my minds eye, that he is there alive, and beckons us to see Him in his most powerful state, that liminal space between life and death, where we are called to pray and believe that He will rise again on the third day. The crucifix sculpture is one of the most striking images of Christ I have ever seen.
The tabernacle was once located behind the altar beneath the most beautiful crucifix I have ever seen. This most lifelike representation of Christ on the Cross is amazingly detailed in size and scope. To the left of the crucifix is a painting of the Blessed Mother and child. In this sacred space you will find more conventional ‘church’ representations of religious artifacts. It is a most beautiful room to sit and pray, by ones self and ‘in community.’
When I was seeing Fr. Jeff for spiritual direction, some years ago, I would meet the daily group of people who attended the morning mass and we would recite the scriptural rosary every morning. It was an amazing way to star ones day, as the sun rose out of the east, the light would filter in the stained glass windows and illuminate the chapel, those seated in the chapel and as the light changed and light and shadow played off each other to lend such dramatic mood to the sacred space.
So this concludes a tour of my home parish of St. Louis Catholic Church in Miami Florida. I will be adding some more spiritual stories from this place to my ‘pages’ in the coming weeks as I compile my spiritual stories for my next publishing project.