open spaces

This evening I was sitting at a table with two colleagues from two different parishes who have church buildings that are nearly identical. A brief conversation about this coincidence sent me down a Google rabbit-hole in an attempt to learn more about who designed one of my favorite church buildings, yonder north in Brooklynensis.

I stumbled upon an article about John O’Malley, an architect from the New York City who designed many Catholic schools, churches and even a U.S. postal facility in the metropolitan area.  He was not only responsible for the structural paternity of my beloved St.Michael in Flushing,

St. Michael in Flushing, NY

but also Our Lady of the Angelus  School, St. Mary in Bensonhurst and St. Robert Bellarmine Church. Among his other progeny is the jewel in the patrimonial crown of the  Brooklyn Diocese: Cathedral College of Douglaston/Immaculate Conception Center.

Cathedral College/ICC Douglaston

Here’s more about John O’Malley:

Featured Architect: John O’Malley

While reading this article, I was struck by O’Malley’s versatility and openness. O’Malley was a chameleon, a literal shape-shifter. I would never have suspected that Bellarmine and American Martyrs were designed by the same person, nor would I have surmised they were so close in age. Its seems as though O’Malley worked with his clients to design buildings that resonated with their spiritual needs. He had an ability to appreciate a variety of styles and tasted, and blend them seamlessly, as in the marriage of angles and arches at Douglaston.

O’Malley was also refreshingly open to the advancement that was engendered by the Second Vatican Council. I can testify that this open space was designed to be unbetrothed to any particular era. It serves as no monument to taste. I played there for a few diocesan events over the years. I alwayd loved how the organ pipes speak in dialogue from the gallery and sanctuary. I like to think this was to diplomatically accomodate the exit of pre-conciliar norms with simultaneous welcome for post-conciliar values.

His design of Our Lady of the Angelus School was literally visionary. When I transferred there in the first grade, one of the first things I noticed were the translucent glass bricks along the top of inside walls of each classroom. The classrooms were also designed with a row of lockers in place of an enclosed closet space.  While I only attended school there for three years, I lived directly across the street from this building for most of my life. There was something about it that was so easy on the eyes.

The glass bricks, obscured by posters.

The giant windows at the end of each hallway allowed for plenty of natural light on the inside. It also allowed sneak-peaks from the surrounding neighborhood which has historically been predominantantly non-Catholic. I’m not surprised that this school continues to maintain a consistently stable enrollment, and that, at least when I was younger, there was a sizable contingent of non-Catholic students.

The article states that many of his buildings lacked altar rails. I wonder if a 50 year-old architect of today would be as receptive to change as O’Malley was. I also wonder how this level of openness would be received by clients of today.


  1. Great insights on places that I pass on a regular basis! You could post a series of articles.

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