American Catholics and the art of the future, 1930–1975

Catherine Rhiannon Osborne, Fordham University


This dissertation proposes that considering the relationship between futurist projection and ideas about church buildings and other worship spaces illuminates the spiritual lives, theological commitments, and liturgical practices of a substantial group of mid-20th-century American Catholics. These men and women, largely well-educated, professionalized, and cosmopolitan, came to embrace an evolutionary paradigm, a way of understanding the world that saw biological principles of change, development, and adaptation at the heart of every facet of creation and every human endeavor. While other Catholics built churches to assert their presence and power, to memorialize and claim their past, the subjects of this study proposed and built churches both to forecast a new tomorrow, and to mold the future in the direction of their desire. Drawing on unpublished letters, manuscripts, and brochures and personal interviews, along with period magazines, architectural journals, advertisements, floor plans, sketches, blueprints, and both archival and original photography, I argue that the professionalized (and, de facto, ecumenical) world of art and architecture was one locus where a "culture of evolution" took root in the decades before the Second Vatican Council, a culture which flourished during the 1960s and 1970s. Catholic artists and architects came to believe that the future would be different from the present and the past. Along with their supporters, they both imagined and tried to bring about the future they envisioned through their creative work. The built and decorated church was, for these Catholics, the "art of the future," but thinking about and recreating this environment was also to artfully recreate how the Catholic Church existed in the world as it moved towards the embrace of the cosmic Omega Point anticipated by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., a favored theologian for many of this study's subjects. Their vision of the future was informed by technological, sociological, and cultural predictions alike, as well as a passionate attempt to create a church that would engage creatively with the secular world and with other Christian denominations and other faiths.

Subject Area

Religious history|Theology

Recommended Citation

Osborne, Catherine Rhiannon, "American Catholics and the art of the future, 1930–1975" (2013). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3600977.