Church Madness: One Shining Moment

Feel the beat of your heart / Feel the wind in your face / It’s more than a contest / It’s more than a race…

Church Madness 2016

IntroductionMidwest Bracket (March 17)East Bracket (March 18)South Bracket (March 19)West Bracket (March 20) · Sacred 64 Results (March 28) · Theological 32 (March 29) · Stunning 16 (April 4)Ecclesiastical 8 (April 8)Ferial 4 (April 11) · National Churchpionship (April 14)“One Shining Moment” (April 17)

You sports fans out there know that the ultra-cheesy song One Shining Moment, sung by Luther Vandross, is played at the conclusion of each year’s NCAA Basketball championship, “March Madness.” Normally there’s an awesome montage of clips and highlights from the preceding weeks, and it’s a really great way to cap off the tournament. I thought it’d be funny to overlay the song with a slideshow of photos of the winning church.

Well, for legal and technical reasons, I can’t do any of that. So instead, hit play on this video as you read on.


With a total of 16,363 votes cast, 

and separated by a mere 181 votes,

the winner of Church Madness 2016 is…

Art and Liturgy St John Cantius Easter 2016

St. John Cantius Church
Chicago, Illinois

Sincere thanks to the Diocese of Salt Lake City / Cathedral of the Madeleine and the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, all of whom were completely amazing throughout this competition. Both of these groups do incredible work and deserve our prayerful support!

A few final thoughts:

When I started this little competition, we were getting about 10 views a day. I think 9 of them were from my mom. (Thanks, mom.)  One thing led to another and then we were on the 6 pm news in Salt Lake City.  I never expected this thing to take off the way it did, but in hindsight, maybe I should have. Our culture is starved for beauty. The very authentic and emotional response to all of these beautiful churches has been amazing, but not surprising. Thank you for all your voting, tweeting, Facebook sharing, and whatever else.

I got a few comments from some scrooges out there who said this competition was all about vanity and pride, and that Jesus is truly and wholly present in every Catholic church, so they’re all the same. The second point is quite right, of course, but I want to use my tiny soapbox to say that being a faithful Catholic does not need to be synonymous with being a party pooper all the time. It’s rough out there. We don’t need the friendly fire, especially not in comboxes for fake internet competitions.

I’ve received so many terrific suggestions and nominations for next year’s tournament. It’s going to be so difficult to narrow down the field, but I’ll do my best to spotlight a wide range of styles, sizes, locations, and everything else. The field will be announced on March 19, 2017. The feast of St. Joseph! Totally on purpose. (Note: This is also “Selection Sunday” for the real March Madness tournament.) Mark your calendars, set a reminder with Siri, etc.

Now that this year’s competition is over, we’ll be back to a regular schedule of more-or-less practical posts about art, architecture, and the liturgy. I hope you’ll stick around! For your convenience, here are a few recent posts I don’t hate:

Art History for Normal People: Rome: you’ll never look at concrete the same again.

Why do we use liturgical colors?: more than just “red for martyr’s blood,” etc.

“Turning the other cheek” redefined: a dual-faith church in rural Nebraska

The vicious circle: practical advice for priests and patrons of the arts

Spotlight on the National Shrine of the Little Flower: Art Deco overload near Detroit


  1. St. John Cantius is a worthy Church Champion amongst the many beautiful churches that we are fortunate to have in the US. Thanks for the great competition A&L.

  2. Had such fun with this! It really made me giggle. Well, some of it was because my parish church won. Very exciting when your own parish church is up against beautiful churches from around the country. Worthy competitors all, and in God’s eyes, all equal in glory to Him. Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever! Amen.

  3. I am glad you recognized the Canons of St. John Cantius. But it should also be recognized that the church was built, and the parish founded, by the Congregation of the Resurrection (Resurrectionists), of which the current pastor, Fr. C. Frank Phillips, C.R., is a member. Father Phillips founded the Canons and is largely responsible for the current beauty not only of the church building, but of the music and art which adorn the liturgy there.

  4. My dad was baptized at St. John Cantius in 1907. I have been most moved by this church for several reasons. Its liturgy, focus on sacred music, the replica of the altar from the St. Mary’s Church in Krakow, Poland and the inspiration one gets during a visit to St. John’s.

    The announcing of the beauty of the Church hopefully will move many to look more intently into the spirit of Catholicism and bring more people closer to Christ.

  5. Hi Patrick, I want to say thank you for running this little contest. I wish I would have known sooner, but maybe it was a good thing. I can get rather intense in a competition. 😉
    Anyway, I thought maybe you would be interested in a documentary of its Centennial celebration that I was honored to do for KSL- TV . Its 47 minutes long and it shows the history and the art of the Cathedral. I really enjoy the Stations of the Cross. They are so unique in their symbolisms and stories they convey through imagery of the American Southwest. Here is the link if you would like to watch –

  6. Patrick,
    Although you correctly noted that Chicago has the most beautiful church in America, and while I completely agree that St. John Cantius is an absolutely beautiful church, it’s not even the most beautiful church in Chicago. That distinction should have been granted to St. Mary’s of the Angels. I can tell that you’ve never been there to witness its beauty as it wasn’t even placed in the Midwest Bracket. Do yourself a favor and visit St. Mary’s before you do this again. Beauty is certainly in the eyes of the beholder and everyone has biases, but I’d like to get your reaction once you pick your jaw up off the floor!

    • Hi Terry, thanks for the comment! I love the passion! I have in fact been to St. Mary of the Angels once. It is as the kids say these days. It really is a fitting home for Our Lord. You wanted my reaction so here it is: if I were in charge of selecting the paint colors, I would go easier on all the pastel pinks and blues. I am drawn to more vibrant colors. But truly, that’s just a personal taste, not any kind of real statement. In any case, another Windy City gem saved from its demise and restored to a vibrant parish life by a pretty legit group…I am sensing a trend here. I don’t know how I am going to choose for next year from all of these great Chicago churches!

      • Patrick,
        I’m glad that you were able to visit and appreciate your comments and opinions! Everyone has their own personal likes and dis-likes when it comes to judging art and beauty in general, and you have articulated yours responsibly!

      • Patrick, I’m glad that you were able to visit St. Mary’s and thanks for your comments and opinion. Everyone has their own likes and dis-likes when it comes to art and beauty in general, and you articulated your preferences in a responsible manner.

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