The church of St. Thomas The Apostle, Chicago was the first of Barry Byrnes Roman Catholic churches. The interior is square-like (but more rectangular) and features a flat ceiling. Byrne was opposed to the narrow rectangular shape traditionally used in church design and his objectives were to bring the congregation closer to the sanctuary. This is partially achieved by the semi-polygonal shape of the sanctuary.
The seating was based on four rows, the central pair ended at the foot of the sanctuary, with the outer rows, partially wrapping around the octagonal sanctuary. This approach was also to feature in his next three churches. Despite the wide ceiling, modern design techniques and materials removed the need for supporting pillars, giving a 100% unobstructed view from all locations. This characteristic is reflected across nearly all of Byrnes churches.
The choir gallery was located behind and above the altar. The reason for this location was, in Byrnes mind the only solution to avoid interrupting his integration of nave and sanctuary.
This approach was mirrored in his next three churches but eventually abandoned in lieu of the obvious awkwardness of the locations. In St. Thomas The Apostle, mirrors were used in a vain attempt to provide visibility of the altar to the choir. However, as with all of these designs, the concealed choir galleries were finally abandoned and many are now used for storage purposes.
The stations of the cross, are made from brass and are inset on the side walls. They are also individually lit by over hanging lights. Byrne was meticulous about every aspect of design and the positioning of stations was taken very seriously. He always insisted on making these part of the church and not resorting to “hanging” them up as was the case in most churches. His next church, St. Patrick’s, Racine, would use inbuilt lighting for each station, while Christ the the King, Turners Cross, aligned its ceiling lighting over each station.
The exterior is itself a masterpiece in brick-work and window design. The tall and pointed windows are positioned in pairs, providing a strong inflow of light to both sides of the nave. Their pairing maintains a modern feel while preserving a level of tradition with the use of the chevron tips. The external brick work is clever in the manner that corners are softened with the use of zig-zag patterns, a trait repeated in his next two churches.
The entrance repeats the use of the chevron but enhances the effect with the addition of modern sculpture by Alfonso Iannelli. The terra cotta decoration on the roof tip is used to de-emphasise the edge. It also gives a certain Spanish flavour to the exterior.