Performing Beauty: Liturgy, Theology, and Aesthetics

Greg Miller
4 min readApr 12, 2021
St. Francis de Sales, Lake Zurich, Original Church Building, now demolished

Unit 6: A Liturgical Theology of Dwelling

Choose a church building that you love (or even hate). Analyze the building using the images in Richard Kieckhefer’s Theology in Stone. Based on your reading from this course, what would you change about the building if you were hired as an architect?

I must first confess that I am an avid admirer of, and perhaps even fanatically drawn to, Gothic and Neo-Gothic style churches. When in Europe I always have a few churches that I make a point of stopping at to admire the architecture. I am also drawn to minimalism and simple contemporary designs, e.g., Christ Church Lutheran, Minneapolis (page 123). I recognize that being captivated by these very different styles is very odd. Perhaps this will reduce the impact of my critique of the church I attend in Lake Zurich, IL, St. Francis de Sales Catholic Parish (shown below).

St. Francis de Sales, Lake Zurich

As you can see from the outside St. Francis de Sales is a modern communal, suburban Catholic church. When you approach the church you almost expect to run into Mike and Carol Brady and family. The church is even more Brady-like on the inside (shown below).

To be fair, the church is very nice and the design lends itself for beautiful decoration during various liturgical seasons. My main problems with the church are the entry and exit and the centering focus. As Keickhefer quotes various writers, (page 23) “we need to give far more thought to the possibilities of liturgical movement” and, churches require places “for doing, not just seeing: for moving, not just sitting.” Unfortunately, St. Francis de Sales is currently designed for seeing and sitting.

As congregants enter the church they must pass either to the right of left of the baptistery. This seems odd given the font is used very rarely, and typically only in private settings. I would redesign the entrance moving the font to an outside courtyard on the east side of the church in the garden. This would open the entry area up for greeting. I would also remove the section of chairs circled in red (above) to give entrants an opportunity to center their focus on the chancel.

Staying with the centering, I would move the altarpiece from the left and behind the pulpit to a higher position and to the left of the altar. The natural flow of space and light takes your eyes to this area of the church as soon as you enter. I find myself fighting to keep my focus away from the natural flow during the mass. I realize that this would move the altarpiece away from the absolute center of the ambo, but I would prefer to gaze naturally upon the cross (even without a corpus) than brown bricks and paneling.

The final major change I would make to this church is to move the choir, which is now placed to the left (as you view them) of the altar, up to the loft which is over the entrance. This would create a place for art, or perhaps the baptismal font, if the courtyard option isn’t appealing. I find the choir beautiful to listen to, but looking at them is a bit of a distraction. I don’t think they’re meant to be seen anyway, only heard.

I’m afraid I have no great ideas that would make this church awe inspiring. Comfortable and not distracting would suffice. It would be a blessing to be able to attend some of the more beautiful churches from the past. I consider the words of Bulgakov when describing the Hagia Sophia (page 116); “the building overwhelms the beholder and dissolves the ego, wrenching the soul out of its ordinary consciousness.”

It’s hard to imagine the architect, Jaeger Nickola, was attempting to dissolve the ego when he created St. Francis de Sales.