- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Catholic University of America announced Tuesday that a trio of students has won its competition to design the altar on which Pope Francis will celebrate Mass during his visit to the nation’s capital in September.

The winning design features high arches and mimics the Byzantine architecture of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where the papal Mass will be held, adjacent to the university campus. It was selected from 18 proposals by students exhibiting a wide range of architectural influences.

“Having our client be the pope really kept us driving through the whole process,” one of the winners, Matthew Hoffman of Pittsburgh, said in an acceptance speech Tuesday.

Mr. Hoffman and his teammates — Ariadne Cerritelli of Bethesda, Maryland, and Joseph Taylor of Eldersburg, Maryland — stood by a small model of their design during an awards ceremony at the university. In their concept summary, they said their altar aims “to bring focus not on itself, but on the Vicar of Christ himself, who can preach from it.” The papal chair displays a simple arch like those of the basilica, the country’s largest Roman Catholic church.

Monsignor Walter Rossi, the basilica’s rector, said finding a design in harmony with the church’s architecture was a key goal in the selection process, noting that the altar, pulpit and chair “had to be timeless because the shrine is timeless.”

A six-member jury of delegates from the university, the basilica and the Archdiocese of Washington examined the submissions before determining first place, which included a $6,000 award.

“The creativity, beauty and thought that went into each of the submitted designs is a visible sign of God’s grace at work among us in a unique way,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, said at the awards ceremony.

Cardinal Wuerl also remarked on the “incredible task” the teams faced in having just two weeks to design an altar, chair and pulpit that will remain in the basilica “for generations and generations to see.”

University President John Garvey said not only architecture students submitted designs, noting submissions from theology, philosophy, political science and English majors.

“This was truly an interdisciplinary effort,” Mr. Garvey said. “Every school here has an important role to play in the life of the Church [and] making beautiful things is a way to find our way to God.”

Francis’ Sept. 23 Mass at the basilica will be celebrated outside to accommodate an anticipated multitude of congregants and pilgrims. Cardinal Wuerl said he expects the service to be seen by “millions and billions” of people via television and the Internet.

At the Mass, the pope will canonize Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan friar who established the first nine of 21 missions in California during the 18th century — the first canonization of a saint on U.S. soil. Francis also will become the first pontiff to address a joint meeting of both houses of Congress.

For Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States in 2008, Catholic University architecture students designed the furnishings he used to celebrate Mass at Nationals Park, as well as the chair he sat in when addressing educators.

“History repeats itself,” said Randall Ott, dean of the architecture school. “Never would I have thought that seven years later, we would have the opportunity to do this again.”

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