North America’s largest Catholic parish church – St. Charles Borromeo with seating for 3,200 souls – was officially dedicated Thursday (Feb. 2) in front of a packed house that included bishops from throughout California.

The $21 million church in west Visalia may be sparkling new with its 48-by-53-foot mural on the wall behind the altar, dome murals and California mission style exterior but it has already garnered attention nationally.

St. Charles Borromeo, the new parish church of The Good Shepherd Catholic Parish in Visalia, is a template for the Catholic Church as it consolidates smaller and struggling parishes into one site.

Fresno Diocese Bishop Joseph V. Brennan, who officiated the almost 3-hour long bilingual mass of dedication, called the parish “a big deal.” It was Brennan’s first dedication of a church. “We’re hoping that this becomes an example, if not a model, for the church in the States,” said Brennan.

A priest shortage hasn’t been as acute as in previous years, said Brennan. But an increase in the number of parishioners has required the Catholic Church to get innovative in its planning.

“That does take on national significance because every community of faith faces these same issues, as we do, in a different context and different areas of the country.”

That means that any new church built in the Fresno Diocese, must hold at least 1,500 people.

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Check out the report on the dedication:

Meanwhile, The Guardian, from Great Britain, has this analysis:

From a distance, St Charles Borromeo church looks like it could be a great barn, or an out of town wine warehouse with Mediterranean aspirations. A large octagonal cupola rises above a cruciform hall, with creamy stucco walls and a roof of rustic terracotta-coloured pantiles. It greets its 880-space parking lot with a broad, stage set-like facade, a faintly baroque silhouette signifying the function within. This is an ecclesiastical billboard in the manner of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown’s “decorated shed” – a sign, legible from the highway, complete with three arched doorways and a niche for three bells (fixed in place, with speakers behind, natch).

“We wanted to hark back to the original Californian missions,” says Mark Russell of Radian Design Group, the architect of the new church. “Which was a struggle. The missions were always very narrow, due to the available materials, but we had to accommodate 3,200 people in a wide, column-free space.”

… Passing through solid mahogany doors, you are greeted with the big black stone bowl and mosaic pool of a baptismal font, positioned on an axis with the 25-metre wide nave that erupts in a polychromatic fantasy as it reaches the central cupola, terminating with camp crescendo in a retablo painting at the far end. Huge timber trusses of glue-laminated Douglas fir support an exposed cedar ceiling, resting on thick walls – here made of concrete, rather than adobe, to support the 270-tonne roof.

Conceived by liturgical designer Rolf Rohn, the decorations are a technicolour eyeful in the true Catholic tradition. A swirling celestial cloud of fiery red, orange and electric blue billows across the 30-metre diameter dome, signifying the formation of the heavens, from which the four evangelists peer down, flanked by their symbols of a man, lion, ox and eagle. This trippy cosmic scene hovers 20 metres above an altar and ambo, carved from pink Mexican cantera stone, atop an octagonal white travertine platform. Behind, the rear wall flexes out in a convex bulge, to help with acoustics, where a giant crucifix projects above an arched stone portal, held up by the heavenly father, whose gilded cape swishes with a dramatic flourish.

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