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Quonset hut worship leads to local church's majesty
By Kathleen Ostrander

Back in the 1940s, the congregation of the Church of the Little Flower set up temporary quarters in a Quonset hut because building materials were in short supply and that was what was available.

The intimacy of the setting coupled with the bonds of faith it inspired prompted them to seek the same type of setting for a permanent house of worship. The cornerstone of the church on Stevenson Drive was laid Oct. 7, 1962, and the first Mass was offered in the facility on June 30, 1963.

The Little Flower refers to St. Therese of Lisieux, who entered the Carmelite convent in 1888 at the age of 15. Her spirituality inspired the country as well as the world. She was canonized within 10 years of her death in 1897, and in 1946 there was no question that the new parish on the south side of Springfield would use the Church of the Little Flower as its spiritual base.

Those who enter the church are immediately struck by the soaring beamed ceiling. Although the church is architecturally designed to resemble a Quonset hut, it also conveys an impression of majesty.

The interior beams are massive conveying an impression that lifts the eyes to the heavens and at the same time creates a sense of security. The two main beams are 90 tons each. The interior ceiling resembles a ship's deck, both in texture and in color.

The pews are arranged in a half circle around the altar, which - contrary to many church designs - is not separated from the congregation by a multitude of steps or a large expanse of floor. This was a purposeful design by the early congregation to keep the parishioners close to the altar and more involved in the Mass.

The eye is drawn to the front of the church where a stylized baldachin highlights the altar. Erected as one piece, the exterior tower and the cross are lighted by day by the sun through a skylight and in the evening by electric light. During certain parts of the day, the sanctuary is awash in glorious light that makes the reredos mosaic mural seem to glow.

Designed and executed by artist Robert E. Harmon, the mural depicts the church as a shepherd of the flock of the faithful. There are 12 sheep represented symbolizing all nations and people. It is 2,500 square feet. The more than 4,000 tiles were individually shaped, tinted, fired and then composed in the main mural.

The altar was created by two parishioners, Charles Petefish, who was principal of Lanphier High School, and his wife, Vivian. It is made of walnut and cherry wood in alternate layers. It matches the two tables in the sanctuary as well as the chair which were also done by Petefish and his wife.

There was care taken to keep an architectural theme in the sanctuary area. The altar, the portable lectern, the offerings table and the commentator's lectern all feature a linear design as does the tabernacle.

The tabernacle is solid bronze and was designed by Flemish artisan Lambert-Rucki as was the processional cross.

The massive main stained glass window of the church is at the back of the church so worshippers see it as they leave. It was designed that way, according to church literature, because "beauty like grace should reward the searcher."

The window is 36 feet high and 22 feet wide, and the glass was imported from Germany. It was constructed by Emil Frei studios in St. Louis; the same studio that used the artist Robert Harmon.

The colors and tints of the glass are produced by several firings. Because the glass is thicker than usual windows, the alternating firing and tinting produce myriad colors making it seem almost variegated.

The window set up is done to mimic the effect achieved by rose windows in other churches. The hues in round rose windows change with the position of the sun. The windows at the rear of the Church of the Little Flower also change with the sun.

The window tells the story of St. Therese, depicting what she drew on for strength, and shows a Christian family as well as St. Therese's family.

Although the design of the church seems almost high-tech, parishioners are reminded of the roots of their faith as they leave their spiritual home and go out into the community. 


Story published Friday, January 8, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 1 )

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