By parishioner Ed Weiss
History and Challenge
In 1957, architect Francesco Montana and Robert J. Schultz designed the original Little Flower Catholic Church at 54191 N. Ironwood. The general contractor was Thomas L. Hickey, Inc. In 1988 the interior of the church and rectory were renovated for the first time. The primary architect and designer for the renovation was Gary Gabrich. At that time, I was a member of the "interior design committee" along with about eight other parishioners.
After the new shape of the pews and altar area was in the process of completion, we had not yet addressed the issue of new altar furniture. We looked through many catalogs of church furniture and found nothing "fit" our needs. It seemed apparent that we needed a custom design to be complimentary with the basic design of simplicity and openness that Frank Montana created. The challenge was to design the furniture with the look of the original sanctuary's interior and retain the warm feeling of the natural wood already in place.
Design and Symbolism
I built several sets of scale models of furniture, all with a different look; some traditional, and some more modern. Any of them would have worked, but none seemed to spark my excitement.
The first goal was to make an altar with some symbolism. I created a fisherman's "john boat" for the top section of the altar. Then the next thought was, "what naturally hangs under a fishing boat"? Nets! A design began to form as I recalled the gentle curves of the sanctuary's arched beams, and the curved figures of the angels of the 12th station of the cross which adorns the south side of the church. These common curves would become the altar legs and be the symbolic nets under the fisherman's boat. This concept provided the basic design. Then I began to work and re-shape the model. Finally, the design that satisfied me emerged. From there, the presider's chair and ambo seemed to fall into place.
At that time Fr. Rich Conyers was on the Art and Environment Committee at Notre Dame. He would be the first person to okay a plan before it went on for final acceptance. I took all of my models to St. Pat's, where Fr. Conyers was assigned at that time. When he looked at the proposals, he immediately selected the model that I was excited about, and which ultimately became the plans for the furniture that we now have.
An interesting point about the altar base is that several people have seen other symbols in the form. The inside curves look like a line drawing of a chalice. Fr. Mike Connors said it looks like fingers of outstretched hands in prayer.
The top of the ambo has a hinged book holder that can be raised or lowered to different heights for the comfort of the reader. It can also be raised to a horizontal position so a slide projector could be placed on the top if needed.
The large candle holders are my favorite pieces. The three spires represent the Holy Family. They could also represent the Trinity. One of the candle holders, when fitted with the special shelf, has the capability to support the Easter candle, or a unity candle for a wedding. Because the candle holders are designed asymmetrically, the bases can be interwoven to form a grouping of six candles. Also, because of the different heights of each of the three spires, the length of each candle is less noticeable if one candle burns at a different rate than the others. All of the altar furniture was built by John Sindelar, a cabinet maker now located in Edwardsburg, Michigan.