Church Madness 2017: National Churchpionship

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The atmosphere is electric here at Guardini Arena for Art & Liturgy’s National Churchpionship! Voters from around the country have winnowed down the national bracket of 64 beautiful churches to the final two, separated by a mere 270 miles in America’s heartland.

St. Francis de Sales Oratory, administered by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, comes into this matchup a slight favorite. This church — the second largest in St. Louis, “the Rome of the West” — is widely known for its dedication to traditional liturgy and beautiful liturgical arts. Also, the Canons wear some RAD blue cassocks.


Their opponent, St. James Church of the Archdiocese of Louisville, is no slouch. Its 80-foot dome, recently restored, is the most impressive in this year’s tournament. All of the basketball teams in the state of Kentucky were sent home early from the real March Madness tournament, and so St. James may have the advantage of a hometown ready to redeem what’s been an ignominious few weeks for the Bluegrass State.

If our two competitors would like to place a friendly bet on the results — Kentucky bourbon and, I don’t know, Imo’s Pizza or something — I think that’d be pretty cool.

Only one can be America’s Most Beautiful Church! Who will prevail? You decide: vote now!

Updated bracket:

CM 2017 Bracket 2-01.png

All polls close Thursday, April 6, at 11:59 pm Central Time. Click images for larger views.

St. Francis de Sales Oratory
“Tradition for Tomorrow”
St. Louis, Missouri
—360º virtual tour here (caution: autoplays audio, but it’s awesome organ music)


St. James Church
“The Heart of the Highlands”
Louisville, Kentucky
— 360º panorama here

Check back on the afternoon of April 7 for the announcement of the National Churchpion!

Update 1 (April 4)

I received this message from Canon Michael Wiener, rector of St. Francis de Sales:

We were struck by lightning yesterday which put out parts of our electrical systems, including the bells and the clock of the church (only recently restored after decades of inactivity). Please say a prayer for the protection of St. Francis de Sales Oratory, an important monument AND a very active apostolate of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.

Stop right now and say a quick prayer!

Update 2 (April 4)

A parishioner of St. James emailed me with some additional information, which I am adding here because it is awesome.

…While you mention our beautiful dome, even more impressive is the Byzantine-inspired “eye of God” in the interior of the dome. It’s a feature that everyone comments on and remembers. However, even more significant is that we are the only church with an “eye” like this in the U.S. and only one of two in the world – the other being the former Greek Orthodox Church of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.

I’ve also added a photo of this nifty little detail to the gallery for St. James.


  1. I love the fact that people are excited about church!
    I love the fact that people are proud of their Church!
    I love the fact that people are speaking first hand about these great churches!
    I love the fact they are both from humble cities that often go overlooked!
    I’m from St. James. I love our church. I love our community. I love the fact that if you go to the 360 you see our school families on the way to a parade. I love the fact that are little church has more votes than we have parishioners. I can’t believe we are even close to this big huge church with probably 4x the number of parishioners. We have one pastor that we share with another church. We have the best volunteers you’ll ever see… And look at this we are actually competing against this huge church!

  2. My husband and I attended Mass on Corpus Christi a few years ago. I absolutely loved the ritual which is so missing in most churches now. I believe that every Catholic (and of course others) should attend Mass at least once at this impressive church. They would see what the church used to be like. Get back to the roots.

  3. I feel a need to address the sudden preoccupation with “Communion rails” in some comments, as though that could be the determining factor as to whether a Church is deemed “beautiful”. St. James did, in fact, have a Communion rail–from way before the time I was baptized there and well after the time of my marriage there. And for many years the Priest–as in all parishes at that time– turned his back on the congregation and spoke Latin, which no one understood or could follow. Then Pope John XXIII saw the need to make appropriate changes in the Church liturgy to draw the congregation into the Mass. We saw the evolution of the Priest facing the people and speaking to them in their native language, and changes to the distribution of Holy Communion. St. James evolved with the times. There is not a Communion rail, and that is a good thing. The congregation is not isolated from the altar. St. James emanates warmth and inclusivity in the magnificent and beautiful refurbished design. And this warmth and inclusivity is part and parcel of the people who call this their parish.

  4. I voted for St. Francis de Sales. I did grow up in St. Louis , but I looked at both.
    I do prefer the traditional cross shape of St. Francis, but the true deciding factor for me was the central location of the crucifix in St. Francis as opposed to on the side as it is in St. James. Both are beautiful.

  5. St Francis de Sales Oratory is a church of magnificent beauty. More importantly for me personally, it is a place where in the crazy world of today, in quiet meditation I can hear Jesus telling me what he expects of me. I hear Him in my heart as the flame of His love overtakes my being. My soul is refreshed, and I see Gods beauty in the statues, paintings, banners that adorn this sacred place.

  6. Clearly St. Francis De Sales is awe inspiring & majestic in every regard! St. Francis De Sales has my vote.

  7. St. James is indeed beautiful, but there’s something about Gothic architecture that truly elevates the soul and heart to God! As a native St. Louisan, I vote for St. Francis deSales, which, because of its magnificent beauty, has always been nicknamed, “The Cathedral of South St. Louis!

  8. I vote for ST James in Louisville. was once my parish church and my children to grade school there. still love the church when I get a chance to go. we were there in 1950’s.

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