"He instinctively can find the shining greatness of our American culture and does a good job of highlighting it (although he also does have those rare lapses when he writes about hockey, but that is something caused by impurities in the Eastern waters or something)." Erik Keilholtz
Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
It was built in 1962, and it shows. The floors were paved with salt-and-pepper terrazzo; the bricks were light red, the railing around the altar was the black-and-white marble you’d find in the lobby of Perry Mason’s office building. The altar space was immense, and empty - a blank screen against the wall, a canopy floating in the middle of the space (its eyebrow shape seemed designed to capture prayers and deflect them back down) and a tiny crucifixion scene hanging in the air, a potent jot of symbolism in this empty Empyrean expanse. Very 1962. Oh so 1962. You could imagine the congregation back then - narrow lapels, thin ties, shaved necks, a faint ghost of Vitalis and Winstons hanging over the men. The women had nylons that skrred when they walked; sensible Republican cloth coats, Patsy Cline hair that had been aqua-netted to the brittle consistency of frozen cotton candy. This place must have seemed extraordinary to their eyes, at least compared to the old church - no more the suffocating jumble of Gothic iconography, the cold wind shooting in through ancient windows, the creaky pews, the heavy timbered roof. This was the future. You might as well have carved LATIN NOT SPOKEN HERE over the door.
I kept expecting the gigantic screen to slide up and reveal a bank of Univac computers, busily computing the ideal homily to keep the people believing in Landru.
I understand the concept - rather than stuff every corner with some sad-eyed disapproving saint, rather than have every square inch radiate HISTORY and OBEDIENCE and MAJESTY, the architects pared it down to the essential details: the stained-glass window with its triumphal expression of Mariology put the church firmly in Catholic territory, and the lone small Christ hanging in mid-air concentrated the worshipper’s mind on the essentials. I grew up around modern churches, so these places don’t leave me cold. But there’s something forlorn about the churches whose modernism now feels dated and failed. In the old churches your faith was reflected in the splendor around the altar - the faces, the symbols, the details of stone and wood that tied this place to centuries past. Here the great void over the altar swamps and swallows the tiny little Christ. The architects, in effect, made people pray to something hanging off a charm bracelet…