St. Patrick design elements reflect parish, Catholic Church history

Eugene Nikitin, a New York-based Russian iconographer, depicted a vision of heaven in this mural above the altar at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Iowa City.

By Celine Klosterman and Kathy Weiss

For its new church, St. Patrick Parish wanted a classic design with modern amenities, said Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor.

The parish’s embrace of tradition was clear from the beginning. Following the historic, European Christian practice of locating churches in public squares, St. Patrick’s built its church across from a green square in east Iowa City. A Romanesque design, with rows of columns lining the church’s front, harkens back to the early centuries of Christianity. And a tower that houses the 90-year-old bell from St. Patrick’s former church reflects tradition, too. “Symbolically, church towers have always been an architectural presence, a symbol of the church and a way to call people to Mass or announce good news and sad news,” Fr. Juarez said.

Atop the tower stands a 26-foot-tall, pyramid-shaped iron piece topped with a Celtic cross. The cross and Celtic knots in the tower’s window screens recall St. Patrick’s roots as an Irish parish.

The designs were inspired in part by the Book of Kells, a medieval manuscript containing the Gospels and images of Celtic art, said Dale Merrill of Liberty Iron Works in Mount Vernon. He and crew members spent 700 hours creating the bell tower piece, which a parishioner paid for after learning St. Patrick’s budget wouldn’t allow for it.


Also outside the church, a plaza invites parishioners to gather on warm days. It and the narthex, or entry area, were designed to encourage community, Fr. Juarez said. And the colonnades flanking the entry to the church suggest welcoming, outstretched arms, he said. 

Inside the worship space, Catholics immediately come to a baptismal font, symbolizing the faithful entering the church through baptism. To the font’s sides are reconciliation rooms, whose placement connects the sacraments of reconciliation and baptism – two sacraments in which Catholics are freed of sins, Fr. Juarez noted.

Gates and a railing eventually will surround the baptismal font, Merrill said.

Two sets of screens and one set of gates now stand in back of the altar. Privacy glass will be installed in them later to create personal space for adorers in a chapel behind the sanctuary, Merrill said.

The gates feature a sunburst design inspired by Revelations 22:5: “Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.” Merrill said he kept the design clean and crisp so it wouldn’t compete with a mural above the altar illustrating a vision of heaven.

 Appearing in that mural are images of saints whose names the Iowa City and Coralville parishes bear – St. Patrick, St. Thomas More, St. Mary and St. Wenceslaus. Father Damien of Molokai, a priest who ministered to leprosy patients in Hawaii and was canonized in October, and seven additional saints also are depicted.

Portraying saints from throughout the world recognizes “the universal call to holiness,” Fr. Juarez said.

Below the mural stands a chardonnay marble altar accented by columns made of brownish-red carnelian granite quarried in Minnesota. Dark-green marble salvaged from a chapel in the former St. Joseph Hospital in Ottumwa forms the altar’s decorative panels.

“It’s beautiful,” Fr. Juarez said of the altar, whose design matches the ambo.

A three-foot-diameter bowl for the baptismal font also will be carved from chardonnay marble, said J.B. Barnhouse of Country Stone Masons in North Liberty. He, Eric Whittlesey, Adam Bonnema and Jacob Hatch were among those who worked on the altar, ambo and an octagonal tabernacle made from marble and granite.

“It’s a work in progress,” Fr. Juarez said of the church. “We’re very pleased.”

Mural features many saints

The hand-painted mural above the gold domed altar conjures images of the Sistine Chapel with haloed saints and winged creatures flying about.  But what does it mean?

St. Patrick’s pastor, Father Rudy Juarez, says the canvas mural by New York-based Russian iconographer Eugene Nikitin “is the vision of heaven—the Holy City, the new and eternal Jerusalem.”

The mural depicts God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit amid symbols of the four gospels, he said, along with 12 saints who pay homage to the multicultural spirit of the parish, as well as neighboring parishes in the Iowa City and Coralville area.

“There are the saints we know and those we don’t know,” the priest explains, adding that the “invisible saints” standing behind the others represent us, the faithful.  “All of us are called to holiness,” he said.

From left to right, the saints include a nun representing the Vietnamese martyrs, St. Damien of Molokai who ministered to lepers in Hawaii; St. Thomas More, patron of the new Coralville church; St. Katherine Drexel standing with a Native American child; the parish patron, St. Patrick; and Juan Diego kneeling in the foreground holding a tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  On the right side, the Blessed Mother represents St. Mary Catholic Church, Iowa City.  Beside her is St. Peter and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation nun who inspired devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus. St. Rose of Lima is there, next to St. Martin de Porres and a dog, which represents the lowly who he associated with, and St. Wenceslaus, patron of an Iowa City parish.

Rays of the sun appear to radiate from the large round window above the altar, which the pastor said denote “the rays of glory and the hand of God.”  Seven lamps are shown burning at the throne of judgment as holy water flows from the temple.  The gold dome hovers over the tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament resides.

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