St. Columba’s, St. Paul has a very unique fish-like shape and takes largely from the design of its predecessor, St. Francis Xavier, Kansas City. Looking directly at the church entrance, its curved side walls are concealed at both ends by a pair of walls that form a V-shape from its front tower.
The exterior finish is based on light-coloured limestone with metallic finishes used on the doors and decorative crosses. The front features two granite crosses which are surrounded by small blue glass openings. The front doors stand inset under the entrance which displays the church’s name etched into the brickwork.
Both side walls house a series of tall vertical windows built from glass tiles. Blue and yellow stained glass is also used to feature horizontal windows along each side. These windows act as a colourful light source along the inner aisles.
Between the curved and V-shaped walls at both ends, lie larger glass tile windows which add strong feeds of light to both the altar and choir gallery. The clever positioning of these windows, ensures that from the interior, they are completely concealed. This maximises the effect of the natural light intake.
The main fault obvious in the interior is the small altar. This lacking in scale is due partly to the limitations of the site. Byrne, actually positioned the building at an angle to maximise usage of the limited space.
However, the strong use of woodwork on the altar and side aisles, coupled with a characteristic Byrne approach to function before form, delivers a very dignified feeling to the interior.
During discussions for the commission, Father Michael Casey was determined to have his church designed with an Irish round tower. Byrne objected on the grounds that the purity of his design would be compromised. However a persistent Fr. Casey, eventually convinced Byrne to address this. The final result was as you see; a unique and yet integrated solution. The tower is very much part of the design and does not look out of place as Byrne had feared. Fr. Casey later described the tower as not a reproduction of “those the traveler sees” in Ireland; instead St. Columba’s has a modern “American Irish” tower.
Appreciation extended to Robin Shaw, St. Paul, MN for some of the the internal shots used in the gallery.