The Fordham University Church Story

In 1845, Louis Philippe I, the King of France, donated twelve stained-glass windows depicting the apostles to Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mulberry Street in Manhattan. Unfortunately for that cathedral, the windows turned out to be the wrong size. Archbishop Hughes, rather than return them and ask the King for a different size, decided to use them for the new chapel at St. John’s College in the Village of Fordham. That’s just one of many stories in the history of what is now The Fordham University Church.

levoy theatre before renovation

Stained Glas Window Depicting St. Peter

Studio T+L became a part of the story in 2009 when, after successfully renovating the dimming and rigging of the University’s Collins Auditorium, we were asked to specify a replacement for the failing 20-year old dimming system in the Church. The scope of that project quickly grew to include a new lighting design. The existing lighting was bleak. Light levels in the pews were 5 fc or less, and 15 fc or less in the sanctuary. The carved panels, wainscot, and polychrome ceiling were lost in the dim light. While discussing the project we came to understand that the goals of the new lighting were:

  • Increase illumination in the pews and sanctuary
  • Retain the “warm, intimate’ feel of the church
  • Draw attention to the sanctuary
  • Enhance the overall aesthetics

There were limitations, too. First, there was no additional power available in the building, so any lighting we added would have to be balanced with reductions in wattage elsewhere. Second, this was to be a lighting only renovation. No changes would be made to any of the finishes in the church.

church existing conditions

Existing Conditions in the Sanctuary (left) and the Nave (right)

After presenting an initial series of light sketches to the Fordham team (consisting of the lead priest at the church, the director of development, the choir master, the organ master, and two facilities representatives) we decided that future discussions about lighting treatments and techniques should be accompanied by on-site mockups. This decision slowed the process somewhat because we needed time to arrange for the delivery of sample fixtures, but it increased the group’s understanding because they could actually see each proposed element.

Over the next several months we looked at grazing the stained glass windows from inside (rejected), lighting the stained glass windows from outside (rejected), grazing the interior walls from the top of the wainscot (accepted), new lamp arrays in all of the pendant fixtures (accepted), grazing the carved panels (rejected), using LED stage fixtures to light the sanctuary (accepted) and statuary in the transepts (accepted).

The lighting was installed in several phases. In the first phase we installed the new dimming system, which included about a dozen lighting presets for daytime and night time activities and events. We changed the lamp arrays in all of the pendants, which increased light on the polychrome ceiling, in the dome, and in the pews. We also added the uplight grazing the walls of the church. The new light on the walls and ceiling brought the architecture of the church to life and gave it a wonderful sense of place.

In 2010, for the second phase, we installed . The sanctuary lighting had a huge impact on parishioners in the church, and also on those viewing mass via webcast.

In 2012, for the third phase, the church’s organ and organ loft at the rear of the nave were replaced. The organ loft was expanded, and the pipes of the new organ were exposed. Knowing that this would happen, we left space in the dimming system to control the new lights focused on the organ, the organ pipes, and the choir. Those fixtures were then added into the presets in the control system.

In 2018 we replaced the LED stage lights of the sanctuary and transepts with new, brighter and longer lasting fixtures. The next step will be to light the lantern at the top of the dome. The story goes on…

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