Good Shepherd Catholic Parish, part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, is now in the construction phase of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Visalia. The project is expected to be completed in late Spring 2021.
Our intent is to keep you as up to date as possible on all phases of the project. We encourage you to reach out and share with us your thoughts, desires and suggestions.
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church Architectural Design Approach
Mark E. Russell, AIAProject Designer and Principal ArchitectRadian Design Group, Inc.
In July of 1769, the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala’ was established in present-day San Diego. It was the first of 21 missions in The Californias, a province of New Spain. They became beacons of our Catholic faith in their newly established communities and were often the largest or highest elevated gathering place in the center of town where new and established believers could share a common Christian faith and learn to love the celebration of the Mass in their lives. Friar Junipero Serra established 9 of the 21 missions which points to the many faithful who picked up his legacy and continued to establish the remaining missions much like we are asked to carry on in our faith journey even today.
They were developed with logic to their design and locations not always obvious to travelers. A majority of the missions were oriented on an east-west axis to take the best advantage of the sun’s position for interior illumination. They were generally built along the only dependable trail over 250 years ago, the El Camino Real, and were built approximately 30 miles apart – a day’s journey by horseback- covering 650 miles total after their completion. Their familiar use of thickened mud walls with white plaster surfaces, heavy wood timber roof supports, clay roof tiles and cast terra cotta paver floors added a sense of familiarity to travelers along their journeys in California from one mission to another. This “sense of place” was further enhanced by colorful wall paintings, stenciling, statuary, icons, and gardens with sophisticated water supply systems, fountains, and pools -all of which added restfulness so vitally important after a hard day’s journey and a contemplative setting for all visitors needing to re-connect with their God. Good design principals were at work even if they were not so obvious to the casual observer.
Is it any wonder that establishing the design language for this new Good Shepherd Parish Church would emulate a “mission” style architecture that anchors our rich Catholic heritage in California? Towards that end, this church has massive 14” thick exterior walls with stained glass windows distributed throughout the church space and supporting heavy timber trusses spanning 81 feet. The overhead structural wood framing, mission style roof tile, and a cedar wood ceiling echo the materials used in earlier missions. In this church, the biggest design challenge was to utilize the mission-style architecture of the past, with the familiar cross-shaped floor plan, and blend that with our modern-day architectural design and building techniques needed to build at a significantly larger scale. The church design is dominated by formed concrete walls, forged steel plates, and concrete reinforcement, large span wood trusses, and mandatory energy codes that would have been foreign to any artisan of the past who built the missions by hand with locally available materials. Maintaining the authenticity of St. Charles Borromeo Church mission style design language in a significantly larger setting also meant roof spans supporting 400 tons of roof and seating to accommodate 3100 worshipers while still maintaining a sense of intimacy and visual contact for all gathered for the mass rituals and the sacramental celebrations that we all hold dear. This truly had never been contemplated in the original 21 California missions with their tall and narrow layouts that obscured, in some cases, fifty percent of the congregation from being seen by each other during the mass just to maintain the structural integrity of the church and avoid collapse.
Our design worked toward that goal by “opening the arms” or transepts of the cross-shaped floor plan with 45-degree setback corners so that interior site lines were improved and nearly all worshipers could actually see each other and maintain that sense of community during the practice of our faith. The floor was sloped down 21” to improve sightlines even further and the predella (altar) was moved forward in the plan to reduce sightline distances for all worshipers. Natural light streams down on the altar through a focused overhead oculus to enhance the Mass celebration and highlight its sacrificial importance. The oculus over the altar is encircled above with eight suspended painted panels that echo the fresco art and stories of our heritage that live within so many of our Catholic Churches and Cathedrals throughout the world. This setting has been developed to remind us all of our Catholic heritage established through St. Peter that lives within us all to this day and into the futures of our descendants. This “new” mission church is designed to be that rare setting where the power of over three thousand Catholics coming together can give testimony to Christ’s love for us and emotionally move us as we share our Catholic faith. That was our goal for this unique design challenge submitted to our care and it will remain our special gift back to the Catholic Community of the Good Shepherd Parish, Visalia, and the southern San Joaquin Valley for generations to come.