The Architecture of St. Francis of Assisi Church

The plans for the erection of the church were drawn up by Colonel Allison Owen the well known architect from the firm Diboll and Owen in New Orleans. The church was initially estimated to cost at least $75,000. The foundation was laid in 1914 and the site was ready for the superstructure when the entire project was postponed due to World War I.

In 1920, a drive for the benefit of the Church Fund was successful and Father Brockmeier was encouraged to complete the church. On March 8, 1921, he visited the leading churches in New York and Pennsylvania for guidance before adopting the final plans for decoration. Impressed by the stained glass windows in Pittsburgh, he placed a contract with the Emile Frei Company in St. Louis, Missouri. The furnishings, altars and communion rail were made by Joseph Seevers of San Antonio, Texas.

As was the custom of the period, all churches incorporated in their decorations not only scenes from the life of Christ and the Blessed Virgin, but also from the lives of the saints, particularly the patron saint of a church.

Church Structure

The description of the church by its architect, Allison Owen, could not be located. However, John C. Ferguson, senior architectural historian, Historic Landmarks Commission, provided the following in October 1990.

St. Francis reflects the eclectic tendencies of church design in the early part of the 20 th Century. The exterior of the church, which is largely clad in a dark reddish brown brick set off against stucco trim, derives most of its inspiration from the French Gothic architecture, with the prominent single portal facing State Street and the complex east end of the building with apse and crossing bays forming the arms of the cross in the plan of the church. The asymmetrical composition of the main façade, with one short tower and one tall bell tower, would seem to have been derived from Italian church design, which favored symmetry; at least as far as minor (parish) churches were concerned.

The interior of the church is quite remarkable in terms of its details which are decidedly English in their background. The cruciform plan of the church is readily visible through the nave and transepts, with the main altar set beyond the transept crossing in the apse of the church. Each of the side aisles of the church provides the parishioners with an opportunity to view the stained glass windows which illustrate various scenes in the life of St. Francis of Assisi. The ceiling of the apse of the church above the main altar is typical of a plaster fan vault.

The most remarkable feature of the entire church is the fine wooden ceiling over the nave and crossing. The ceiling is supported by short beams that project from the walls of the church to help carry the weight of the ceiling. This system of timber framing is known as a hammer beam ceiling and is perhaps the most characteristic feature of English Gothic architecture. It is not commonly seen in churches in New Orleans. The spanning of the intersection of the nave and the transepts by a pair of hammer beam trusses is highly sophisticated and is without question the most distinguishing feature of the architecture of St. Francis of Assisi Church.