Church Madness 2017: National Churchpionship

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The atmosphere is electric here at Guardini Arena for Art & Liturgy’s National Churchpionship! Voters from around the country have winnowed down the national bracket of 64 beautiful churches to the final two, separated by a mere 270 miles in America’s heartland.

St. Francis de Sales Oratory, administered by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, comes into this matchup a slight favorite. This church — the second largest in St. Louis, “the Rome of the West” — is widely known for its dedication to traditional liturgy and beautiful liturgical arts. Also, the Canons wear some RAD blue cassocks.


Their opponent, St. James Church of the Archdiocese of Louisville, is no slouch. Its 80-foot dome, recently restored, is the most impressive in this year’s tournament. All of the basketball teams in the state of Kentucky were sent home early from the real March Madness tournament, and so St. James may have the advantage of a hometown ready to redeem what’s been an ignominious few weeks for the Bluegrass State.

If our two competitors would like to place a friendly bet on the results — Kentucky bourbon and, I don’t know, Imo’s Pizza or something — I think that’d be pretty cool.

Only one can be America’s Most Beautiful Church! Who will prevail? You decide: vote now!

Updated bracket:

CM 2017 Bracket 2-01.png

All polls close Thursday, April 6, at 11:59 pm Central Time. Click images for larger views.

St. Francis de Sales Oratory
“Tradition for Tomorrow”
St. Louis, Missouri
—360º virtual tour here (caution: autoplays audio, but it’s awesome organ music)


St. James Church
“The Heart of the Highlands”
Louisville, Kentucky
— 360º panorama here

Check back on the afternoon of April 7 for the announcement of the National Churchpion!

Update 1 (April 4)

I received this message from Canon Michael Wiener, rector of St. Francis de Sales:

We were struck by lightning yesterday which put out parts of our electrical systems, including the bells and the clock of the church (only recently restored after decades of inactivity). Please say a prayer for the protection of St. Francis de Sales Oratory, an important monument AND a very active apostolate of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.

Stop right now and say a quick prayer!

Update 2 (April 4)

A parishioner of St. James emailed me with some additional information, which I am adding here because it is awesome.

…While you mention our beautiful dome, even more impressive is the Byzantine-inspired “eye of God” in the interior of the dome. It’s a feature that everyone comments on and remembers. However, even more significant is that we are the only church with an “eye” like this in the U.S. and only one of two in the world – the other being the former Greek Orthodox Church of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.

I’ve also added a photo of this nifty little detail to the gallery for St. James.



  1. Modern architecture is greatly lacking for many churches in America. It is seen as a practical necessity. Nevertheless, St. Francis is quite beautiful from the inside and the atmosphere is warm and you can feel a religious presence. Heating and cooling is quite an economic issue. That is the shortcoming for a stunning venue.

  2. St. Francis de Sales is so very beautiful.
    The first time I attended Holy Mass I was in awe of the beauty of St.Francis de Sales.
    I cherish each and every time …the beauty is moving , a place true worship .

  3. I grew up with St James as our Parish- this lovely church was the site of school, sacraments and sports, in addition to being a beautiful building. What this article does not convey is the effort and struggles that have face the Parish over the years. The building even withstood the Super Outbreak tornado of April 3 1974! I no longer live in Louisville, but my heart is full whenever I think about this wonderful place. I can’t think of a more deserving Parish and church for which to cast my vote.

  4. St. James Church is an iconic beauty. The parishioners are also deep in their faith: they look out for others ; not just in the parish, but for those in the community.

  5. Baptized, 1-8 grade school, First Communion, Confirmation, Married. All of these are happy memories of St. James on Bardstown Rd. Fr. Willet was the first pastor that I remember.

  6. St. Francis de Sales…beautiful in name, architecture, liturgy, and history. A classic beauty with no need for remodeling or updating, St. Francis de Sales Oratory has withstood the test of time.

    • I agree! St. Francis de Sales Oratory is the most beautiful (in architecture and worship) church I have ever attended. Something about being there…it just feels right (like home) to this child of the 50s!

  7. St. Francis de Sales is a slice of heaven. Like a gilded jewel box. You have to see the light piercing through all the colored glass windows all at the same time, reflecting off the walls… breathtaking.

  8. Vote, vote vote for St. Francis de Sales Oratory. Lightning struck our clock & bell tower yesterday and now they are no longer working. Help us! We need this win!!!

  9. Speaking of bets, I think a round of “The World’s Best Ice Cream” (a.k.a Ted Drewes) would be most appropriate for “The Most Beautiful Church in America” 😉

    St. Francis de Sales! Ora pro nobis! 😀

  10. The details shown in the beauty of St. James also expresses our faith. Not only the eye of God watching over us, but an entire catechism. An example is the Holy Trinity shown as God the Father in t 5th e eye, Jesus Christ in 5th he Resurrection window and the Holy Spirit in the Pentecost window. There are also seven Windows depicting the Holy Mother and Jesus.

  11. St. Francis de Sales Oratory gets my vote because it has the communion rail and no table blocking the high altar. St. James seems to have a touch of modernism with the arrangement of the pews. The best part of St. Francis de Sales Oratory: two long lines for confession even if you are 30 minutes early for Mass.

  12. Both churches gorgeous, but I had to vote for the St. Francis de Sales Oratory because the St. James sanctuary was disappointing–at least in the video.

  13. St. Francis de Sales…. an awe-inspiring alter that is 50 feet high! Makes you very humble as you kneel at the rail to receive communion…

  14. Every time I see and enter St. Francis De Sales Church, the first thing that hits me is just how much love and devotion went into building this Church. Outside, the steeples reach up to touch God’s heaven. Even so, inside, such grace and beauty of the statues and alters, each trying to be more special. reaching up, trying to catch up to the outside steeples. I cry with happiness of the peace and presents of God, every time I enter. It is truly the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen.

  15. Spend some time on the Emil Frei windows of St. Francis de Sales. There aren’t many of such monumental size and beauty anywhere – $750 or so for each back in the day, today priceless. Various saints favored by the original German community. The confessionals, pews, and a few of the altars came from the former workshop Lausberg and Macke of Louisville, so I guess KY wins to some extent either way!

  16. I grew up in St. Francis de Sales parish. I went to the school there K thru high school. I met my husband in freshman year there & married there in 1967. That beautiful church holds a special place in my heart. De sales as we called it gets my vote.

  17. I went to school at St. Francis de Sales from 1st through 4th grade. I love that Church. So beautiful. So many memories.

  18. Both church buildings are beautiful. Each one unquie. Of course I am leaning towards St. James, I am a member there. The Church is the Body of Christ, the members of the community. St. James is a place that attracts Catholics and non-Catholics, rich and poor, educated and uneducated. All Are Welcome!

  19. St. Francis de Sales always brings back fond memories. I walked up that long isle for First Communion, Confirmation, midnight Mass, eighth grade and high school graduation, and my wedding, to mention a few. I used to help Sister Gerlinda in the Sacristy to prepare for daily mass, and helped set up the nativity scene and sang in the choir loft at Christmas for many years. I have been in every pew to polish the benches and clean the kneelers. As a child, my neighbor was one of the original founders of this beautiful church and he spoke of the fund raisers, donations, plans, and hard work that went into it’s building. There have been many changes over the past 60 years but it is still just as beautiful.

    • I was a member of St. Francis de Sales from womb to pew to 10th grade. I remember Sister Gerlinda and her German accent. I celebrated all of the sacraments up to and including marriage here. This church takes my breath away. It closed up for about a year or so until it was transformed into the great Latin Oratory. I don’t remember the Latin mass but I fell in love with it. It was humbling to see the pews filled to capacity once again. The communion rail was almost removed in the 80s but the parishioners rallied in protest and there it still stands. The photos do not do justice to this great work of art, beauty, and devotion to God.

  20. Not only the beauty of this great church but boast the greatest Gregorian chant choir in the country

  21. There is a sense of holiness when you step foot into St. Francis de Sales: the sanctuary floor, sacred altars, communion rail, the sacred music –which sounds like voices of angels from heaven, sacred liturgy (all in Latin-except homily… for those who don’t know), the incense, confessionals, the stained glass windows, pews, beautiful architect and religious statues, holy Canons, Abbe, and altar boys, ….,and….,

    in a word, you feel the presence of God everywhere! There is such a reverence there, …so fitting for Christ, our King, Savior, and Lord!

  22. Not only is the overhead eye iconic at saint james but the beautiful columns and statues of saints and apostles are awesome. Then along the dome the beatitudes are inscribed in the base as an inspiring reminder of Christ’s sermon.

  23. St James is the most beautiful and stunning church. I have been to no other church that compares.

  24. When walking through St. Francis de Sales, beautiful detailing is visible everywhere you look. Photos of other parts of the church should have been included, such as the side altars, the baptistery, even the ornately-carved confessionals are works of art. The jewel is that gorgeous high altar, which displays 20 or more 1st class relics of saints. Heaven on earth! Located in the south side of St. Louis City, this stately, ornate church was nicknamed “the Cathedral of the South”.

  25. My father was baptized at St Francis de Sales, parents were married there, also. I was baptized there, my daughter and son-in-law and their 8 children (that’s 8 of my 16 grand-children) attend there and one of those grandchildren was married there in June of 2016. Walk through the doorway and feel at peace; no place quite like it!

  26. I honestly can’t decide. St. Francis de Sales has the Institute of Christ the King, and some of the most awesome Gothic in America, but I have a soft spot for Byzantine architecture, and the unified program of symbols at St. James is its own kind of awesome.

  27. My husband and I joined St. James Church 5 years ago and are thrilled with the decision. Not only is the church beautiful but the people are too. They are very welcoming and feel like family to us. It is a privilege to attend such a beautiful church each week.

  28. While both churches are magnificent in their own ways, looks aren’t everything. The ‘Mass of the ages’ at the high altar, with its latin, incense, bells, communion rail that is really used, outstanding choir, and devoted canons is what draws people to St. F d S. Many drive 2+ hours for this holy Mass. This setting is fit for the King of kings in a most holy and reverent way. St. Francis de Sales must win, hands down. Consider what is really happening in this church that makes it the most beautiful.

    • I agree!! It is an all around beauty!! Physically and spiritually !! I have lived in the neighborhood all my live. I went to high school there and my son was baptized there. It holds a special place in my heart!!

  29. St.Francis de Sales,is a one of a kind church.Locally called,”The Cathedral of South St.Louis.Its spire,can be seen from many neighborhoods,through out the city.Upon seeing it, we are reminded of our Catholic beliefs,in this hectic world.

  30. We at St James are fiercely proud of our church. As you look at the 360 degree panoramic view you get a chance to enjoy the inspiration and beauty of the architecture. Over a century ago a local architect, James J. Gaffney, created this grand style with many Byzantine features. The results being the Eye of God, the stain glass windows, the Beatitudes, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, over 400 angels, and the Stations of the Cross to name a few. All of these elements remind me of why I’m Catholic and why I want to stay Catholic. I truly am inspired every time I come to church. All are welcome

  31. Hello I’m not a Catholic but I’m telling you they are so crazy these days people needs to be getting back into church and you know this world is going to come to an end soon so you know I think they all need to get back into church and thank God and thank God everyday that you are still alive and thank God that you are blessed if you still have a mother or a father or sister brother niece nephew or uncle but you know they need to stay in church and God bless and I hope you all win the for the church I’m not a Catholic like I said and I’m up here Baptist woman and God bless you each and every one of you all thank you

  32. We all know St. Francis de Sales is the most beautiful! We don’t need an award to tell us that!!! : )

  33. After looking over both churches, and being a disinterested party, being from New England, my vote is for Saint Francis de Sales Oratory. Its traditional beauty includes an excellent choir area, an altar rail, a magnificent main altar, and stained glass that looks magnificent! Combining all that makes me wish I heard Mass and observed my Holy Hour there daily.

  34. I grew up in St. James Parrish …every time I go home I go to visit this beautiful church. I feel safe, secure and welcome there. So many memories fill my head and my heart when I sit and look around.

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