Church Madness 2017: One Shining Moment

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Every year, at the conclusion of the NCAA Basketball tournament, a crazy weird song by Luther Vandross called One Shining Moment is played beneath a montage of highlights from the preceding weeks. It’s iconic: I remember practicing game-winning 3-pointers in the yard as a kid, yelling “ONE SHINING MOMENT!” as the ball usually sailed over the backboard and into the weeds.

Someday, I would like to learn how to produce videos, so I can make a Very Serious slideshow of photos of the winning church and hometown references with this goofy song blaring in the background. In this case, that slideshow would include Mark McGwire, toasted ravioli, and Switzer’s licorice, because:

With a total of 17,860 votes cast…

after a come-from-behind victory…

the winner of Church Madness 2017 is…

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St. Francis de Sales Oratory

Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest

St. Louis, Missouri

It was a back-and-forth affair, with SFDS pulling ahead for the final time in the closing hours of the tournament. At certain points we were getting over 1,000 votes per hour!

I am always amazed, but not surprised, at the emotional response generated by this silly contest. Our culture is so starved for beauty, but these buildings and our commitment to them say something real about who we are and what’s happening inside.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “Beauty is not mere decoration but rather an essential element of the liturgical action, since it is an attribute of God himself and his revelation.” My hope for Church Madness is to show that really, genuinely beautiful churches, worthy and fitting homes for Our Lord, are attainable here, today —  not just in Paris or Rome or Madrid, but Omaha and Boise and Buffalo.

This is a practical reality at St. Francis de Sales, who won this contest in the middle of a massive and important structural restoration and preservation project. They really need financial help and prayers to continue their important work. Go to to see their plans and get involved.

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Thank you to St. Francis de Sales and St. James, both of whom were inundated with media requests the last few days. Thanks to the Archdioceses of St. Louis and Louisville who spread the word and supported these parishes. I hope Church Madness brings many interested people to your doors, who want to learn more about the Beauty and Goodness of our faith.

I owe a huge debt to everyone who submitted photos. I especially want to thank Colter Sikora, who donated a lot of his photos from his work for “Roamin’ Catholic Churches.” If you liked this contest, you’ll love his blog and Instagram. Thanks also to Nikki M., Bethany T., Geraldine E., Sheri B., and Margaret D.

Finally, thanks to everyone who read, commented, and emailed, especially all those who didn’t get the April Fool’s gag and were concerned about the mention of “wizardry.” Love your passion.


We’re already looking ahead to next year’s contest. There’s a good chance that future fields will be 32 entrants instead of 64, just because the amount of work really adds up. Send in your nominations! The bracket is already filling up.


If you are just discovering Art & Liturgy, welcome! I hope you’ll stick around. As for me, I need a nap.

Over the coming weeks I want to write on some amazing churches and great stories I learned about during Church Madness, but wasn’t able to spotlight in any significant way. I also have another GRAVE and AHFNP in the hopper that I think you’ll really enjoy.


  1. For next year’s contest I’d nominate St. Stanislaus Church and St. Stephen’s Church, both in Cleveland, as well as St. Anne Church and St. Joseph Church, both in Detroit.

  2. How do you submit nominations for next year? I have two churches I would like to include. Thanks!

  3. Thank you for sharing these photos of St. Francis de Sales Church in South St. Louis . . . My parents and grandparents were members of this parish . . . . This church always inspires me . . . as does my own parish today, St. Pius V Church on South Grand . . . ❤ ❤

  4. Since you’re working on 2018 already, and the need to cut down to 32 is obvious, I’d like to suggest including St. Agnes in St. Paul MN. Having been a parishioner there at the turn of the century as well as on 09/11/2001, it will always hold a special place in my heart.

  5. I have long admired St. Fidelis in Victoria Kansas, known as the “The Cathedral of the Plains.” It is a landmark visible from Interstate 70.

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