It’s pleasing to the senses
Most people really like what they see, hear and feel when they visit the recently completed St. Joseph Catholic Church in Commerce, Texas, a Monolithic Dome that can comfortably accommodate 400 worshippers.
The Rev. George Monaghan, pastor of St. Joseph, said, “Our new facility is something our parish has wanted for a long time.”
About 200 families worship at this Roman Catholic church whose parish history dates back to 1895. That was just ten years after the incorporation of its hometown of Commerce, so named by William Jernigin, a pioneer merchant who opened a mercantile store and had goods he ordered shipped to “commerce.”
“We’ve been in Commerce for more than a hundred years and on this site since 1955,” Monaghan said. “But the structure built then could barely seat a hundred. It was so small we couldn’t really do weddings or funerals well and it just got worn out.”
Beginning with a challenge
With the completion of the new Monolithic Dome, the original church became the Parish Hall. “That was how we planned to do this right from the start,” Monaghan said. “But that became one of our first challenges.” The pastor and his planning committee wondered what kind of a new structure would fit well with the old. They suspected that only something cornered and traditional would fit architecturally, but they wanted a structure that was energy-efficient, low maintenance, affordable and durable. Was that possible?
Father Monaghan said that for years he saw Bruco (Monolithic’s Airform factory) while driving down I35E to San Antonio and that the domes had always interested him. “That got me thinking,” he said. “Then, on the parish level, one of the guys on the diocesan building commission was intrigued by Monolithic Domes, and he asked (in 2004) David South (Monolithic’s president) for more information. In turn, David asked Architect Rick Crandall (Crandall Design Group, Mesa, AZ) to draw up a concept. I found Rick’s paperwork stuck at the back of a closet, brought it to a meeting and asked, ‘Can we build this?’”
What Rick had drawn up — and was nearly lost and forgotten — earned an almost immediate positive response from the planning committee. “We liked it,” Monaghan said. “We liked its kind of Spanish look. That gave it a traditional aura, but the technology was futuristic and we liked that.”
A new challenge
To proceed, the St. Joseph parishioners also had to like the idea of building a Monolithic Dome as their new church. “They weren’t sure to start with,” Monaghan said. "We talked about the safety aspects and the energy savings and that captured their attention. But they didn’t like the look of the dome coming down to the ground. When we added the stemwall that took care of 85% of the objections.
“Then just playing with different drawings and different layouts really helped. They realized the dome would fit on this site. We wouldn’t have to move. Actually, the dome fits much better than a squarish structure would. With the dome, you get a more economical use of space. Unlike a square building, this dome’s not built to the limits of this property.”
With Alden Porter (KDW Construction Management, Irving, TX) as Project Manager, Monolithic Constructors, Inc. built St. Joseph’s dome-church, its adjoining wall and covered walkway/patio. The church has a diameter of 88 feet, a stemwall 11 feet tall, a total height of 29 feet and an interior with 6000 square feet.
Harmonizing the old and the new
To achieve harmony, Architect Rick Crandall designed a wall and a walkway with a 56′ × 24′ overhead archway. Result: a covered walkway/patio, with three arch openings whose rounded shape echoes that of the dome, between the old church and the new one. The connecting wall and the dome’s stemwall are both made of cut face block that looks like warm, tannish colored brick and, literally as well as aesthetically, ties the two together.
Planning and constructing the floor of the dome and the walkway at a level that matched the level of the original church further unifies old and new. However, that was not an easy task. The dome-site is downhill from the original church, and the center of the new church is about 130 feet from the center of the old one. “But we insisted on the same level,” Monaghan said. "We didn’t want steps for our older people or the handicapped to maneuver.
“It turned out well. Monolithic did a terrific job. We love the look,” Monaghan added, “and we really like the patio. People can easily get from the church to the hall — or the reverse — even in the rain. It keeps us out of the sun and the weather. Visitors can sit out here and just enjoy nature or they can walk around and enjoy the dynamics of the dome.”
Pleasing to the eye and the ear
St. Joseph’s interior is as pleasing to look at as its exterior. Father Monaghan describes it as “a traditional look inside a modern building.” That feeling of tradition meets the visitor at the church entrance where the toasty tones of the woods and the rich, earthy browns and golds of the floor tile complement each other. Inside the sanctuary, subtle, comforting greens soften the black/white contrast of the walls.
As for sound, Monaghan said, “We’re delighted with the acoustics. There’s no echo and that amazed our bishop who envisioned all kinds of sound problems.” To eliminate echoes, Porter Falcon (Falcon Audio/Video, Owasso, OK) sprayed an 18-foot black band of K13 along the room’s circumference and installed Sound Channels, an acoustical fabric.
Tradition and memories
“I worried about the transition from a small, intimate church to a far larger one,” Monaghan admitted. “We needed to increase our seating capacity, but we also wanted to maintain the intimacy we had in the old.”
Circular pews were the answer. “They provide more seating than straight chairs or pews would and they’re friendlier, warmer,” Monaghan said. The familiarity of items such as two religious statues and stained glass panels, brought from the old church to the new, also helped.
“We achieved a very nice blending of old and new,” Monaghan concluded. “And everything just lines up so nicely. It just flows.”