Church Review: St. Charles Borromeo, Kettering, OH

St. Charles is just up the road from me, but I've never been there before. (I've been in their parking lot to practice driving, though.) It's a big parish, and Alter High School (named after Archbishop Alter) is right next door. So you can see where they'd need a big honkin' church to go with it.

First off, it's not ugly. There are some very nice things about it. The glass in the vestibule is kinda nice, and so are the big windows. The organ is off to the side instead of playing "I am the modern replacement for the tabernacle", and there are some nice statues in niche semi-chapels off to the side. Also, you could easily put a choir in the back row and be heard all across the building, I think. However, since the piano was down front and to the side, I bet that's where the music folks are. However, it's in a sort of pit to the side of the tall altar dais, so at least the musicians aren't on display in full view of the congregation.

But it's not really pretty, either.

What happened, apparently, is that they hired one of those late eighties, early nineties mall facade-type architects — you know, the ones with all kinds of interesting architectural details that don't make sense, and build on a scale that's subtly too distorted to feel comfortable? That's what this church is like. It looks nice on the outside, but as soon as you get inside, you start to feel out of place. Not small before God, not comfortable in the House of your Father. Just out of place.

The altar had apparently been stripped for Passiontide already. It was pretty small — a wooden table that you could easily carry off with one other person's help. I don't know where they manage the saint relics in that thing — must be under the tabletop somewhere, but there's not much room. The lectern was a matching table. (Matching didn't look stupid, but the table thing did. And it must be a pain if you have additional papers.) There was nothing behind the altar dais but space for two trees which were set up against the back wall, and the non-representational window high above the altar. (Maybe that's the tabernacle? Or maybe it's a non-representational Last Judgement?)

If there was a crucifix, I didn't see it. I did later see the Easter candle out in the lobby… er, vestibule… though. So I guess they must carry in the crucifix at Mass time. Presumably nobody needs to remember Christ's suffering the rest of the time. (Or they only open up the chapels when it's not Mass. Which makes sense, 'cause I sure wouldn't want to go pray in a cavernous mall amphitheater or a holy Holidome.

I don't have anything against trees, you understand; but they were exactly the kind they use in malls. Really made the place look like a Holidome. Also, I would have thought three trees at least, for the Trinity. Ah, well. Clearly the trees are meant to represent Christ as both human and divine. Or the Marian and Petrine sides of the Church.

The floor was flat but sloping. And I mean sloping to the point you'd slide down to the altar dais if you missed your footing halfway up. Wheelchair and dropped toy nightmare, I'd bet, especially since the floor is tiled. The tiles were gray and green teal, btw. (Why doesn't anyone believe in polychrome anymore?)

The walls were either bare beigeish brick or bare white plaster. The plaster bits screamed, cried, and pleaded for frescos, but nobody is paying attention to them.

The pews were padded and placed to create nice wide space for movement — but there were no kneelers!!! The back rows used those annoying chairs with book holes to the side. They were fairly wide chairs, but still, there's an obvious lack of love for big and tall people. No kneelers back there, either. (My non-Catholic friend Joy is very indignant about how cruel all this standing is for the old folks, btw. And there were tons of old folks in this parish, from what I saw.)

I don't know where the tabernacle was. Maybe it was that thing off the lobby/vestibule.

I don't know where the holy water fonts were. I think they maybe only have the one in the lobby. I'm not sure that bowl was a holy water font, either, as it was attached to some kind of non-operational mall fountain, which might have been the baptismal font. Honestly, the place needed signs to tell you what things were. (Another reason for representational art on the walls and sides of things — to tell you what you're looking at.)
There were Stations of the Cross along one back wall, apparently made out of ceramic tiles during the seventies. I didn't care much for how they looked, though it was convenient that they were so close together. Convenient for walking the stations on your knees, that is, which is usually a bit too strenuous for us wimpy Americans.

All in all, the church gave the impression of being very expensive, but too cheap to spend money on a lot of the important bits of a church. (Like, say, kneelers. Or pictures on the walls for the kids to look at.) I would have been hard-pressed to tell you it was Catholic if I hadn't seen the Stations.

But once the next generation puts in the frescos and the altar canopy and the permanent tabernacle with the huge mural against the back wall, that will no longer be a problem.

UPDATE: I actually underestimated this church. It was built by the ecclesioclastic Fr. Vosko, so it's unusually beautiful and full of images and color for one of his. (Unlike poor Corpus Christi at my old university. You don't design a church based on light in a town where it's dark and rainy or gray and rainy more than half the year, which he should know since he's from Rochester of the lake effect.) Beautiful for Vosko is not saying much, but let's think positive. At least when he's building new, he's not tearing anything down or ripping anything out.

(Btw, did you notice the labyrinth under Corpus Christi's altar? Uh huh. Well, all I can say is that if you crawl around the labyrinth on your knees while saying the Rosary or singing the Divine Mercy Chaplet, I bet you can reclaim it for traditionalism right quick. I'm not sure what you can do about having non-saints and non-Catholics pictured in a church. (And who the heck puts up an icon of Karl Rahner? I always knew Father Bacik was a theology fanboy, but that's just silly! And that's SAINT Mother Teresa to you….). Maybe start inquiring about how much money you have to give to also get your own portrait put up so close to the baptismal font.)

It really is a shame Vosko didn't go into designing malls and gyms and community centers, though, because that's clearly where his true talents lie. And people would like him so much better.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Church Review: St. Charles Borromeo, Kettering, OH

  1. MaryAnne

    Just moved to the area, and became parishioners of St Charles (for tuition purposes), and was very disappointed myself by the “no-kneelers”, no tabernacle up front, and lack of religious reminders or statues up front. Went to 4 other churches close by and they all have kneelers. I like to kneel when I pray, and also to show reverence.

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