In the first half of the nineteenth century, the men who designed Roman Catholic churches throughout the United States had little formal education or training in the field of architecture. Some may have been educated. Some may have apprenticed with existing architectural firms but many came from humble backgrounds of experience in the trades.
No one demonstrated this more clearly than the most prolific designer of Roman Catholic churches in the nineteenth century, Patrick Charles Keely. Keely immigrated from Ireland in the 1840s and worked as a carpenter in Brooklyn, New York. An Irish priest, Father Sylvester Malone, entrusted him with the task of designing a church for the parish of Saints Peter and Paul. Built in the Gothic style , this church attracted the attention of Bishop Loughlin who recommended the young carpenter to others. In the next two decades, his reputation grew, the newspapers began calling him "architect" and many compared his work to that of A. W. Pugin, a well-known English architect who designed churches in England and Ireland.
Many of the busiest architects of the nineteenth century shared Keely's lack of training and formal education in the field of architecture.; even James Renwick, Jr., who designed the beautiful St. Patrick Cathedral in New York City. Renwick did attend college but he worked for the Erie railroad company when his father persuaded him to try his hand at drawing plans for Grace Episcopal Church in New York City. His plans won the competition among other designers and launched his career as "architect."
In my most recent book, American Gothic Catholic Church Design, I introduce six men, who like Keely and Renwick started humbly as tradesmen and apprentices to become well-known designers of Roman Catholic churches. The book outlines the connections between Patrick Charles Keely, Lawrence O'Connor, James Murphy, Thomas Francis Houghton, Patrick Ford and Timothy O'Connell and presents images of the churches they built in American Gothic Catholic design . Another of my books, Ecclesiastical Architects, Artists, and Artisans in America: 1860-1920 alphabetically lists the men and companies responsible for hundreds of Roman Catholic churches and cathedrals in that time period. This book is loaded with images and biographical sketches of these men and their firms.
To take a look at these books and access information about purchasing them, just click on the images below.