By Raj Dayal
A Wisconsin Catholic Community includes memorials of its past on a campus forged for permanence.
Holy Family Catholic Community in Fond du Lac, WI, has the remarkable distinction of being a house of worship that was created by the merger of six other Catholic parishes. This merger was decided in 1998 and the parishes became one church in 2007. Bringing together several parishes brought on the need to include a large fellowship hall, worship space and offices. The 53,000-square-foot church is designed to accommodate 1,250 people.
“The church’s leadership desired an image of unity that would embrace the six parishes,” says John Holz, project designer, Plunkett Raysich Architects. “The design is expressed architecturally in the wood and steel structure where six beams, representing the merged churches, span from the baptistery to the altar.” The beams from front to back of the space are made out of steel columns that are inlaid with wood and then the wood is used to span the columns, which creates the effect of arches.
The church faces the Niagara Escarpment, a 650-mile geological formation with enpoints in Wisconsin and New York. Local quarried stone from the escarpment (cliff formation) is used to form the base of the church and the bell tower.
Symbol of former churches
The stone is also used to form six octagonal pavilions that symbolize the former churches. Three of the rooms serve as a memorial to the churches of St. Joseph, St. Louis and St. Patrick filled with artifacts and artwork. The baptistery is the tallest of the octagonal spaces and is the entry into the church. These octagons link the colonnades of the church.
The design team incorporated elements from the six churches. “One of the biggest challenges was creating a new church that all six congregations would embrace,” Holz says. “Not all of the parishes came to this process with open arms. In doing this new church we certainly had to acknowledge the sadness of the congregants that were not ready to let go of their worship homes.”
The design incorporates elements from the six churches to further emphasize that Holy Family is one church of many. “We reused stained glass and the pipe organ from the downtown St. Joseph parish,” Holz says. “This is to let people know that the church is truly a blend of the parishes and honors their memory. This is not done in a kitschy museum-style; these elements were thoughtfully integrated into the design.”
The design material that stands out is the wood. “Wood is very important in this church. It is a humble workable material that is warm and tactile,” says Holz. “The giant wood beams are welcoming and are a nice complement to the stone, metal and glass.” The elements combine to form a functional and aesthetic volume.
The lighting concept used in the church includes clerestory windows and a high gable glass. “We definitely wanted the light to enter from the top of the space. The light filters down and has an ethereal effect,” Holz says.
There is a colonnaded area between the church’s courtyard and fellowship hall. This includes an east facing glass wall that opens to a view of a rolling hill. “We wanted to let the movement of the sun across the site inform part of the design,” Holz says. “There is a distinct architectural vernacular; however, it is neither an old-fashioned or modern aesthetic.
Because of the uniqueness of the of the church merger, the design team had to create a church that would not only be timeless, but also embrace the different parish communities and ethnic groups represented in Fond du Lac. According to Holz, there are about 45,000 residents in Fond du Lac, and about one-third of them are Catholic — a very high percentage.
“The church is a good neighbor to its residential community,” Holz says. “The materials and familiar forms are respectful to the design aesthetic of the neighborhood.” While the size of the church is a very big statement on the landscape, the landmark structure uses materials that suggest permanence. “It is truly a call to worship for the entire city of Fond Du Lac,” Holz says.
- Architect: Plunkett Raysich Architects, Milwaukee, WI
- Project designer: John Holz
- General contractor: C.D. Smith Construction Inc., Fond du Lac, WI
- Project completion: November 2007
- Project cost: $14 million
- Pastor moderator: Patrick Heppe