Editor’s Note: Father Jamie Hottovy wrote this piece explaining the theology behind the architectural and aesthetic details for the newly constructed St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in North Platte. Father Hottovy and Char and Jean Kriz assisted pastor Father Mark Seiker in the project.
When one enters the vestibule of our diocese’s newest church they see a statue of the patron of the parish, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born American saint. It is adjacent to a display of her relics which one can venerate. The statue depicts St. Elizabeth wearing the habit of the order she founded, the Sisters of Charity. In one hand she is holding the Bible and in the other she is praying the Rosary. This statue was one of the points of inspiration for the design elements in the church.
Our primary consideration was for the proper setting for the celebration of the Mass and Sacraments and that it was conducive to prayer. We also wanted to make sure that the church had a strong sense of identification with its patron saint.
The Rosary St. Elizabeth holds reminds us of her deep Marian devotion and there are many aspects of the church which point to Mary. It is in fact a very Marian church.
Passing into the main part of the church one sees the striking, vibrant stained-glass windows obtained from a chapel belonging to the Pink Sisters in Texas. Each window depicts a Mystery of the Rosary in vivid detail as the believer is encompassed by the central events of the life of Jesus and Mary. Throughout the day the multicolored light from the stained-glass creates what looks like illuminated mosaics upon the windowsills.
Interspersed between the stained-glass are beautifully restored, plaster Stations of the Cross. The backgrounds of the Stations depict authentic settings of Jerusalem painted by an Israeli-born artist.
The floor plan of the church is cruciform (in the shape of a cross), which symbolizes the community, the Body of Christ, united with Christ, its Head. In the main body of the church or nave (which comes from "navis," the Latin word for ship), the interior of the roof is constructed of dark-stained wood trusses that resemble an upturned hull of a ship. This is meant to remind us that we are part of the Barque of St. Peter and members of the Ark of the Church which guides and protects us through the storms of life.
The ceiling is colored a rich blue with gold stars in order to evoke the created order of the universe: the planets, the stars and the sky. It is intended to help us realize that at every Mass heaven breaks down into earth and earth is taken up into heaven. The deep blue is also an allusion to Mary and her maternal care that overshadows her children like the vast mantle of the sky.
The walls of the sanctuary were hand-painted by an artist with a pattern of gold fleur-de-lis. The fleur-de-lis is a symbol of the Trinity (the three petals are often seen as a symbol of the Holy Trinity), it is an emblem of Christ’s resurrection (as it looks like a stylized lily) and it represents Mary (as the lily signifies her purity).
When I was recently in New York City, I visited St. Peter’s Church on Barclay Street, which is the oldest Catholic church in the city. This is where St. Elizabeth converted to Catholicism and was received into the Church. With images of this historic site, we were able to use elements from this church, which played a pivotal role in the life of St. Elizabeth, as inspiration for the custom-made gilded Altars, Ambo, Communion Rail, Baptismal Font and Shrines.
The parish obtained a plaster corpus of Christ that was refurbished and mounted onto a hand-fashioned wood and gold-leafed cross. This 9-foot crucifix was suspended above the Altar of Sacrifice.
The Altar of Sacrifice has incorporated into its front a plaster reproduction of the Last Supper. As parishioners wait at the Communion Rail to receive our Lord in the Eucharist, they have before them images of the Institution of the Eucharist and the act of Christ’s ultimate giving of His body in the large hanging crucifix.
As one leaves the church they view above the choir loft the large stained-glass window of Pentecost. Mary is surrounded by the apostles with the Holy Spirit descending upon all who were in the Upper Room. As the apostles were sent out following this momentous event, we too are reminded that we are disciples sent out from each Mass to spread the Gospel and build up the kingdom of God.