From the Chicago Tribune:
St. John Cantius chosen America's Most Beautiful Church
Threatened with the wrecking ball in 1988, St. John Cantius Roman Catholic Church, with its opulent baroque interior, stands as one of Chicago's many symbols of resurrection.
This past weekend, the Goose Island neighborhood parish built by Polish immigrants in the 19th century, marshaled more than 16,000 of its fans and faithful to be voted "The Most Beautiful Church in America," edging out Cathedral of the Madeleine, the seat of the Salt Lake City Archdiocese.The contest, dubbed Church Madness, began as a whim of Patrick Murray, a self-proclaimed liturgy geek and consultant for Granda Liturgical Artsa church design company in Omaha, Neb. Inspired by the NCAA basketball tournament nickname, March Madness, Murray designed a bracket of 64 architecturally alluring churches throughout the U.S. and posted them on his personal blog, which usually had about 10 views a day — "I think nine of them were from my mom."But the introduction of the "Sacred 64" bracket quickly changed that. By April 7, four days after the contest debuted, the blog was up to 70,000 views from 3,500 visitors. It had about 7,000 visitors Saturday, the day St. John Cantius took the title.
"I've been surprised at the emotional response," said Murray, 25, a native of Des Plaines who grew up part of the time in Northbrook and once attended St. John Cantius. "At the same time I shouldn't be.
The whole point of art and architecture in these churches it to play to our emotions and lift our hearts."
The Rev. Joshua Caswell, a priest with the Canons Regular, the religious order housed at St. John Cantius, said he believes the contest provided a pleasant distraction for Catholic faithful.
"Beauty matters," he said. "Our culture is starved for beauty."
He admits he didn't think about the importance of the contest at the time. But as St. John Cantius advanced to the "Theological 32," the "Stunning 16," and the "Ecclesiastical Eight," he was in it to win it, as were other competitors, he learned.
Also included in the original bracket was St. Peter's, a windowless urban art-deco church in Chicago's downtown.
"I was hoping to present a variety of styles, spotlighting the fact that beauty and creativity can come in all shapes and sizes," Murray said.
Still, he was happy to see St. John Cantius claim the title.
"It had an extraordinary impact on my faith," he said. "That was my first time ever understanding that we have this great Catholic heritage of art and tradition and liturgy that's all so important, and through baptism it's mine."