Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church

Project Location: Atlanta, Georgia

Sizemore Group is honored to be working with the historic Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, the oldest African American catholic church in Atlanta, Ga, located in the distinctive Sweet Auburn district and adjacent to the National Historic Martin Luther King Jr. King Center. The church members come from Atlanta and surrounding communities and are eager to have the new church built since the current sanctuary is bursting at the seams.

The primary design goals were to focus on the cultural significance of the site and emphasize the parish’s beautiful religious and diverse culture. The overall design encompasses a “church in the round” concept with a 500-seat centralized nave, generous narthex, chapel, sacristies, music room, bride’s room, and other supporting programs around the perimeter.

The team started by working on the overall conceptual master plan, which incorporated the new sanctuary, maximized the existing facilities and improved functional operations for the parish and connectivity through out the historic urban campus.

To express the cultural significance of the neighborhood and church’s communal value, Sizemore Group employed the following strategies and services.

Parish Engagement

Community engagement was a critical part of the design process. The design team worked extensively with parishioners, a liturgical consultant, and the building committee to ensure the design echoed the values of the church community.

The team prioritized finding design solutions for five key elements: the seating layout, narthex, baptismal font, Blessed Sacrament Chapel, and fusion of African American culture.

Seating Layout: Church in the Round

The arrangement of the nave seating “in the round” allowed for visibility from all angles, which encouraged the parish’s passion for an open, communitarian, and celebrative worship space. The function of the church “in the round” allows for a worship space that encourages dynamic, participatory involvement and a heightened sense of community. The seating arrangement allows the parishioners to see each other and sit within 65 feet of the altar which is a theatrical dimension for the distance from which you can read the expression on someone’s face and be in a more intimate setting. The round shape best reflects the community and its friendly, inclusive musical culture. Parishioners are given the opportunity to be more personally engaged in the worship and celebration.

Narthex: Making Space for Connections

In addition to the layout of the worship space, the incorporation of a spacious narthex encourages the culture connectivity and communication within the church community. The spacious narthex expressed the parish’s desire for thematic variance, communal space and building ministries, while functioning as the liturgical space for procession and location of various religious rites. It functionally allows for overflow space but creates a secondary space where parish members can engage with one another prior to and following the service.

Baptismal Font: Reflecting the Journey

Locating the baptismal font at the interior entrance as the space to welcome the newly baptized to the community. The shape of the Baptismal font is long, narrow, and leaf-like with continuous flowing water to express the river of life where early Christians were Baptized. The narrow-curved shape also allows for ease of flow around the baptismal which sits in the center aisle on axis with the Altar linking the sacrament of Baptism and communion. Thus, reflected the liturgical importance of the Christian’s journey through the waters of baptism to the altar. With the design of the baptismal font, the design team incorporated the parish’s input on the experience and visual character of the font. 

Blessed Sacrament Chapel: Intimacy and Reverence

A visually appealing, layered, and multi-functional design for the Blessed Sacrament Chapel allowed for accessibility from all sides. The chapel sits in a prayer garden surrounded by a new columbarium, all on axis with the center aisle, altar, cross and baptismal font. This same axis connects to the back yard of Martin Luther Kings historic home in the Old Fourth Ward of Atlanta. The design intent for the chapel was to create an intimate atmosphere for the tabernacle and allow for private devotion and reflection on the meaning of this sacred cultural place.

African American Culture: Front Porch Inspiration

Drawing inspiration from the African American tradition of using the front porch as a social place of connection and family engagement, we designed a portico area that looks and feels like a front porch. This space can be used for weddings and events. In doing so, the design reflects the cultural neighborhood experience and creates an engaging informal public space for storytelling and community involvement.

Parishioners and leaders wanted to make sure the building told the stories of their African American culture and community. Two main people supportive of the African/Black people were Mother Katherine Drexel and St. Benedict.

Mother Katherine Drexel was an heiress who gave herself to God and donated her inheritance when she founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. An order established to serve Black and Indian people which was instrumental in helping the mission of the church and parish and provided financing and support. She helped to spread Christianity throughout the United States.

St. Benedict the African was the patron Saint of African missions and of persons of African descent. He was known for his patience and understanding when faced with racial injustice. His parents from Africa were brought to Sicily as slaves. He was born a slave and later freed. Later in life he became a hermit and joined the Franciscan Order.

  • Exteriors: The design helps tell the church’s history by using artistic panels and decorative friezes, which illustrate influential, historic, and religious figures and imagery critical to the growth and development of the parish.
  • Interiors: The church’s history is also incorporated into the interior design by using visual imagery in the narthex, wall treatments, religious furnishings, stations of the cross, and more. This is also incorporated in the design elements in the chapel and prayer garden.

Additionally, the Sizemore Group team incorporated creative design solutions to promote inclusivity and culture for the larger congregation. 

Prayer Trail

In addition to the physical elements of the church that reflect the contextual and religious influences, the design incorporates a prayer trail, flowing into an outdoor prayer and meditation garden. At the rear of the church is a columbarium area. These design elements intend to create a cultural and spiritual journey that allows for informal, small gathering and personal reflection. The outdoor garden incorporates a tree grove, flowers, low vegetation, seating, and artwork, which complement the space’s creation of a smaller scale communal space.

Music Ministry

At Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, the music ministry is immensely vital to the culture of the church. The parishioners and choir have the vantage point to see each other as they joyfully sing together. To take advantage of this unique quality, the design incorporates operable windows in the music room so users of the space can fill the prayer garden and portico with music. This design element gives members of the community an opportunity to enjoy the ministry’s music and engage with the religious experience.

Other items critical to the design were sustainability, daylighting and materials. There is a cupola located over the altar which brings in natural daylight to the sanctuary. The materials used are warm and reflect the current church which has the warmth and sustainability of the wood and the community landscape. The building systems will also be designed to be as efficient as possible to enhance the longevity of the new church. Overall, the church captures the essence of the people and church community.