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New Church Wins Award for Architectural Excellence

By Denis Grasska

SAN DIEGO — The Diocese of San Diego’s newest church received top honors at an annual awards ceremony recognizing the best and worst in local architecture.

St. Thomas More Parish, located in Oceanside, received the coveted Grand Orchid at the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s annual Orchids & Onions awards. The awards ceremony was held Oct. 13 at Spreckels Theatre, following a reception at Horton Plaza Park.

Recently-built projects in San Diego are publicly nominated for the Orchids & Onions awards, and those nominations are published online. (This year, a record-breaking 169 nominations were received.) Jury members rank the projects, narrowing the list of potential winners to about 30. They visit project sites and, ultimately, decide which will be honored.

The decision to award the Grand Orchid to St. Thomas More Church was unanimous. In comments read at the awards ceremony, the church was described as “truly exceptional” and as “beautiful, refined and elegant.” The architectural style of the new 23,000-square-foot church, which was blessed and dedicated on Dec. 16, was praised by one juror as an example of “warm Modernism.”

Father Mike Ratajczak, pastor, said St. Thomas More Parish is “thrilled” to finally have a permanent church building. (The parish was established in 1985.) Having received an architectural award for the newly constructed church, he said, is “like icing on the cake.”

Father Ratajczak told The Southern Cross that the new church is “modern, but it’s also classic in many regards,” and he predicts that “it’s going to age gracefully, it’ll get better as it ages.”

Noreen McInnes, chair of the Diocesan Art and Architecture Committee, described the parish’s new church as one that “truly expresses the beauty of their worshipping community and the sacred rites they have been celebrating for the past 30 years.”

“The successful completion of the church is truly the fruit of the parish’s collaboration as one body in Christ,” she said. “The Diocese of San Diego is blessed to have such a majestic sacred space for God’s holy people to gather now and for many years to come.”

While delivering his acceptance speech at the awards ceremony, Father Ratajczak was joined onstage by Bishop Robert W. McElroy and representatives of several groups that had a role in the design and construction of the new church, including Renzo Zecchetto Architects, T.B. Penick & Sons Contractors, Rozak Construction and the St. Thomas More Interior Design Team.

Others from the parish were seated together inside the theatre.

“It takes many people working together to make good things happen, to create spaces and places that have the ability to raise the human spirit to new and better heights, to bring strength, patience and perseverance for the journey of life,” Father Ratajczak said in his remarks.

He also reflected on the theology behind various aspects of the church’s design.

“There are three main elements in our church: wood, creating a warmth for when we are spiritually cold; glass, bringing in the light of the day, a transparency to take away the temptation for people and institutions of being dishonest and hiding the truth when caught in weakness and sin; and thirdly, unfinished concrete, a reminder that all of us human beings are works in progress, and our life’s journey is about growing in holiness, and presenting, one day, to our God, a being who struggled to be the best that she or he could become.”

Philip Goscienski, who was among those who stood onstage alongside Father Ratajczak, served as co-chair of the St. Thomas More Interior Design Team with his wife, Pat. The team held regular meetings for almost nine years.

Goscienski, who along with his wife has been a parishioner since the parish was established, remembers the large churches he attended in his youth, as well as the European cathedrals he has visited since then. They were “remarkable works of art,” he said, but “none of them conveys the warmth” that the new St. Thomas More Church does.

“I consider it a really remarkable combination of elegance and tradition,” he said of the parish church, “and it may be that pairing — elegance and tradition — is what contributed to its winning the Grand Orchid.”

Sharing that he heard people at the ceremony express interest in visiting the church, Goscienski said, “I just had a sense that that was more than a physical visit, but maybe a spiritual one as well.”

Father Ratajczak similarly expressed hope that even those who are not particularly religious might be drawn by the church’s architectural beauty to pay a visit and perhaps be inspired to consider the Catholic faith.

“The beauty in the structure ... can be an evangelization tool,” he said. “Just the beauty of the building might bring some people to faith or to a deeper faith.”

The Southern Cross

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