Church Design

In 1994, Msgr. Livingston gave a presentation on the design of the church shortly before his retirement. During the presentation, Msgr. Livingston shared his recollections of the church construction and answered questions.

Plans for the church began in 1975 after the parishioners got tired of kneeling on the floor of the gymnasium in the original school. Planning did not begin with a pre-conceived style, but focused first on the elements required for a parish church. The arrangement of these elements determined the shape of the church building. After extensive planning, the church was dedicated in 1977 in the 15th year of the parish's history.

The church was named after St. Vincent de Paul according to the wishes of Bishop Franz. Although he served the poor, St. Vincent de Paul was primarily a missionary who sent priests from the Congregation of the Missions to surrounding countries. St. Vincent de Paul died in 1660, and since 1960, the 300th anniversary of his death, Bishop Franz wanted to name a church in honor of St. Vincent de Paul whose missionary priests brought the Gospel to this diocese.

Vincentian missionaries came to the new world through Canada following the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Great Lakes, and eventually through Illinois following the Illinois River. Some of these missionaries founded parishes in Seneca, Ottawa, and LaSalle, following the railroad workers. Other missionaries continued further south and founded a parish in Kickapoo in 1837 dedicated to St. Patrick. This church is still standing in the Catholic cemetery in Kickapoo and is the oldest church in continuous use in the state of Illinois.

The church has a contemporary design. The church has a natural beauty because it is composed of elements that are exactly as they appear. The church brings together brick, steel, wood, and stone.

Much of the wood in the church is oak. However, the wood in the ceiling is cedar that is designed not to absorb sound, but to reflect it for lively acoustics. The ceiling of the church is designed to be like the wings of a bird covering us, reminding us of the scriptural image of God's care for his people: "He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge" (Ps 91:4).

Msgr. Livingston wanted to keep the design of the church simple. One of his watchwords for the church was, "The height of felicity lies in simplicity."

The church building is not symmetrical, though it does have what Msgr. Livingston called the "balance of nature." In nature, there are no perfectly balanced objects. A branch grows out of a tree trunk on one side, but the next branch on the opposite side is at a different height. And still, through this natural process, the overall balance of the branches of the tree creates a thing of beauty. In the church building, the things on one side of the building are not identical to the other side. However, there is an overall sense of balance. The Stations of the Cross stand out on the south side of the church, but the choir area and the organ are distinguishing features of the north side of the church.

The community room or foyer was a fortunate accident in the building process. The building team did not want to funnel people to one center door, so two separate entrances were planned from the beginning. By separating the area between these two entrances, about 150 seats were lost, but a gathering area was created. Original plans called for seating for 1,000, though the church now seats a little more than 800.

Msgr. Livingston commissioned a mural to be designed by August Schmitz depicting St. Vincent de Paul and the different apostolic works he engaged in throughout his life. The sketch used warmer colors, though the finish product drew upon such dark colors that it gave the foyer a melancholy tone. In the 1990s, Msgr. Miller purchased five statutes of different saints to put up in the foyer with votive candles for the faithful. The saints in the foyer include St. Anthony of Padua, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Martin de Porres, St. Kateri Tekakwitha (newly canonized), and St. Patrick.

Msgr. Livingston liked to repurpose ordinary items in his artistic design of the church. He used two pieces of ordinary chalkboard slate to etch an image of the Blessed Mother and Jesus, and St. Joseph the Carpenter. The etching was painted and provides a very visually stunning and appealing depiction of the Holy Family. These two etchings originally hung in the School's Chapel/Gymnasium.

Originally, there were two stained glass windows on each side of the doors separating the foyer and nave of the church. Two of the windows had themes of the Incarnation and the other two had themes of the Trinity. Unfortunately, these windows were not well lit, and Msgr. Miller moved them into the foyer where they can be better seen. The symbols of the Trinity are seen in the triangle and the three leaf clover. The symbols of Christ in the Incarnation are found in the grapes and wine as well as the shepherd's staff.

The center of the church building is the Blessed Sacrament.

The two main columns represent two central mysteries of our faith: the Incarnation and the Trinity. The Incarnation (the Word made flesh) and the Trinity (three persons in one God) come together in Jesus Christ who is fully God and man. Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament between the two columns. The bright orange stained glass also draws attention to the Blessed Sacrament. The Eucharist is depicted also through the images of the wheat and the grapes in the windows behind the Tabernacle. The two columns in the sanctuary continue out through the church in the beams overhead.

The most important piece in this building is the risen Christ carved out of linden wood. Linden wood had a tight texture, is easy to carve, and holds its shape as it hardens. It was important to Msgr. Livingston that both the crucified Christ and the risen Christ be depicted in the church. The crucified Christ is shown in the Stations of the Cross according to the model of Oberammergau. The crucified Christ appears in a very strong Germanic sense. However, the risen Christ is in an Italian style, showing love, tranquility, and peace. The image of the risen Christ is the most expensive single element in the church.

Instead of importing marble from Italy, Msgr. Livingston used stone quarried from Mankato, Minnesota for the altar. The altar is one single piece of stone. That piece is 8 feet long, 32 inches wide, 9 inches deep, and 41 inches from the floor. It was brought in on long rollers. The workers couldn't figure out how to get it up the steps, so they had to attach a chain and a block and tackle to bring it up from the floor and winch it into place.

The Church has always revered the martyrs desiring to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass near the graves of those who have died for Christ. Even today, the relics of the saints are kept in the altar stones of our churches. On the altar stone is written, "Dedication Sunday, October 30, 1977." The altar contains relics of St. Vincent de Paul, St. Francis de Sales (patron of writers and journalists), St. John Vianney (the Curé of Ars and the patron of parish priests), St. Gerard Magella (the patron of expectant mothers), the Martyrs of Treves (martyrs form the early days of the Church), St. Cecilia (the patroness of music), St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (the patron of the Sacred Heart) and St. Bernice. God's grace flows out to us over the altar, and we make our return to him through praise and the sacraments.

On either side of the sanctuary is the stained glass depiction of the Holy Family and of St. Vincent de Paul. Msgr. Livingston chose fall colors for much of the church, such as the rusted color of the brick, the brown color of the wood, and the burgundy color of the carpet. However, the stained glass brings color into the space, especially the blue tones.

The stained glass was designed by some tremendous artists. Each piece of colored glass is seven or eight inches thick and had to be carefully crafted with a hammer and chisel (without shattering the whole piece of glass over the floor)! The glass was arranged and set in concrete.

There are three windows on the north side of the church signifying praise. These windows are located by the choir area, since the choir helps us praise God in song. The first window depicts the trumpets and the censor as described in Scripture: "Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp" (Ps 150:3). Also, "The smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God" (Rev 8:4). The second window depicts King David who wrote many of the Psalms. The third window depicts the stars and planets that praise God, as it says in Scripture: "The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork" (Ps 19:1).

In the Reconciliation Room is a stained glass image of the Good Shepherd.

There is a long window on the south side of the church depicting the sacraments. These windows begin with the depiction of the tree of life. Within the tree is an image of the Chi-Rho, representing the first two letters of "Christ" in Greek. There is also an image of a deer being nourished by the living waters: "As a deer longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God" (Ps 42:1). The waters are bluish green in color, flowing along the entire south panel of windows.

From the tree comes the vine and the branches which also run throughout this panel of windows. Jesus said, "I am the vine and you are the branches" (Jn 15:5). As the branches receive life from the vine, so we receive the life of grace through the sacraments.

The overturned shell with water pouring forth symbolizes Baptism. The image of the dove represents the Holy Spirit and Confirmation. The images of the chalice and the wheat and grapes represent the Eucharist. The keys of Peter represent Penance and remind us of Scripture: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Mt 16:18a, 19). The book and the stole represent the authority of the priest and symbolize Holy Orders. The two rings interlocking with the cross represents Matrimony. The oil container marked OI (Oleum Infirmorum) represents the Anointing of the Sick.

Msgr. Livingston gave considerable thought to the Stations of the Cross. He traveled the country examining possible Stations for purchase. In the end, he decided to craft his own stations using cedar wood.

The overall pattern of the Stations is a broken arch, which is representative also of the roofline of the church building. The roof rises from the back of the sanctuary to the altar, and then picks up again as the roof descends to the foyer. Similarly, the line of the stations rises from the sepulcher to the cross, and then resumes from the nailing descending to the other stations. The first and last station bear a similarity to the arch at which Jesus was condemned (the Ecce Homo) as well as the arch of the open tomb that received Jesus' body.

The individual stations were carved out of copper wood. The three wrinkled metallic nails are made of copper. The cross is the oldest dirtiest piece of oak that Msgr. Livingston could find. The crown of thorns was fashioned by Preston Jackson, a friend of Msgr. Livingston and an art teacher from Western Illinois University out of the metal from bumpers from a junkyard. The crown of thorns was fashioned out of iron and was added to the design around the cross.

When Msgr. Livingston found the statue of Mary, it was run down and in need of repair. He refurbished the statute and dedicated it to his younger sister who was a nun and who had passed away at a young age. Next to the statue of Mary is a prayer station with votive candles and a portrait of the Divine Mercy Jesus. The statue of St. Joseph also has a prominent place in the church on the south wall.

Msgr. Livingston designed space for a genuine wind pipe organ. It has 4870 pipes, most made of aluminum. Some of the pipes are as small as a pencil. These pipes serve two manuals and contain 21 ranks, including different voices for the oboes and the brass.

Church Design

This Church BluePrint was developed by Monsignor Livingston for SVdP.