St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Salina, Kansas
October 04, 2007
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St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish, Salina, Kansas, was established in 1981. After worshiping for 19 years in a second-hand metal commercial building, parishioners decided to add on a permanent church and remodel the existing building into a hall and classroom facility.
A building committee was formed, an architect was hired, and what turned out to be a seven year process began. It took five years to raise enough money to begin construction, so the architect, Don Marrs, took his time designing it. He and Fr. Frank Coady, the liturgical consultant and priest supervisor for the parish, had worked together before and both were comfortable letting designs build gradually. This allowed plenty of time for process. The committee invited all the parish groups to list the needs they saw: for the church, classrooms, parish hall, and meeting rooms. They also mailed printed questionnaires to every parishioner, seeking suggestions.
The survey revealed two major concerns among the parishioners: 1) they wanted to have a building that looked like a church; and 2) they did not want to lose the closeness and warmth that they had enjoyed in the existing church, which was arranged in a nearly semi-circular pattern of pews within a rectangular building.
The design concept began with a cruciform shape because it was a good way to get the altar out in the midst of the assembly without seeming like theater-in-the-round. With half of the seating in the nave and the other half in the transepts, the proximity to the altar which the people wanted was accomplished.
At the first two open parish meetings, there was general support concerning the arrangement of the building, but some dissatisfaction was expressed over the look of the exterior. A breakthrough came when a clerestory was added, which gave the building a more traditional “church” look, and also added more natural light.
Once the basic shape of the building was decided, the committee looked for an architectural style. The liturgical consultant suggested Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style because it seemed so appropriate for the Kansas landscape and because it could blend well with the existing building. Some parishioners found it hard to imagine a church built in a style that was intended primarily for homes. However, after a couple of tries, the architect was able to present a design that met with strong approval.
A theme that could tie together the various elements of the building began to develop. Borrowing from Wright’s extensive use of the Japanese lantern motif, the architect designed a lantern over the altar, similar to St. Peter’s dome, but square instead of round. Two smaller lanterns were added, one over the font and another over the Blessed Sacrament chapel. These lanterns formed baldachins over three ritual and sacramental foci of the building, providing visual emphasis over these areas both inside and outside.
All the furnishings were designed and built locally. While several artists were employed, many of the furnishings were built by parishioners, keeping costs down.
The altar, ambo, and stations are made of Kansas limestone, the same material used to trim the Roman brick exterior of the church. The interior is trimmed in oak, including a light soffit that surrounds the entire worship space much like Wright’s interiors. Aside from a few oak tables, the furnishings are all of steel and aluminum, powder coated a bronze color that matches the exterior metal tower that rises above the altar lantern.
After construction began, the building committee continued to meet every few months, but the details of the building were mostly the work of the architect and liturgical consultant. The committee functioned in the later stages the same as it did in the early period: as a sounding board for the parish. They kept the parish and finance councils informed of the progress and projected costs and helped the liturgical consultant educate the parishioners about the rationale and function of the design as it developed. In turn, they kept the architect and consultant informed about the people’s reactions and concerns.
This process worked well. At one point, the finance council instructed the architect to cut $500,000 from the project. That cost some seating and aisle space, and diminished the size of the interior and exterior gathering areas, but it kept the project feasible. Because the lines of communication were so open, this happened at a time when it was fairly easy to do and no bad feelings resulted.
The church, which seats 500, was completed at a cost of $2.4 million. It was dedicated January 28, 2007. The old church has since been remodeled into a new parish hall.
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