The Catholic University of America

Jan. 28, 2008

Student Winners of Papal Design Contest Announced Jan. 28 at CUA

Architecture students, from left, Ryan Mullen and John-Paul Mikolajczyk, with their winning entry in the papal design contest.

The winning architectural design by two Catholic University students for a 10-by-4-foot papal altar to be used when Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Mass in Washington, D.C., was unveiled Jan. 28 at The Catholic University of America, D.C., in partnership with the Archdiocese of Washington.

The model by John-Paul Mikolajczyk, of Staten Island, N.Y., and Ryan Mullen, of Manchester, N.H., both candidates in the master's program at Catholic University's School of Architecture and Planning, shows an altar with a substantial top, a repetitive pattern of decorative parabolic arches beneath it and a smaller base.

Their model also includes a pulpit, lectern and chair that will become part of the sanctuary for the Mass that Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate April 17 at the city's new baseball stadium, Nationals Park. Following the Mass, the pontiff will give a major address on Catholic education at CUA.

The model shows a pulpit (or ambo) that is adorned with images of the Bible and the Holy Trinity. The tall chair back is decorated with Pope Benedict XVI's papal coat of arms.

At the unveiling, Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, said that the design is "a tribute to this school of architecture, Catholic University and the quality of students here.

"It's very exciting knowing this work you designed and were so focused on doing the best you can do - all those people are going to be looking at this and you'll be able to say, 'He's standing at my altar.' "

Most Rev. Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, with Mullen, left, and Mikolajczyk.

Mikolajczyk and Mullen will work with architecture faculty and the Archdiocese of Washington to fine-tune the design and actually construct the altar and the other sanctuary furnishings at the Crough Center.

The two graduate students were assisted by Rachel Bailey, of Napa, Calif., and Victoria Engelstad, of Bradley Beach, N.J., both seniors in CUA's undergraduate architecture program.

Mikolajczyk and Mullen explained that for design inspiration, they spent an afternoon at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception studying the altar furnishings. "We wanted to incorporate elements that would remind us of Christ's active presence and work in the liturgy," said Mikolajczyk.

One of the jurors, Monsignor Barry Knestout, who holds a degree in architecture and is overseeing planning for the sanctuary at the papal Mass, praised the winning design for its "delicacy and elegance. The winners obviously gave deep thought to the design and how it related to the implementation of the pieces."

From left, Dean Randall Ott, Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., Archbishop Wuerl, Mikolajczyk, Mullen and Monsignor Barry Knestout.

Twenty-one entries were submitted for the design competition, or charrette, which was held last week at CUA's Edward M. Crough Center for Architectural Studies, where the winners were announced.

The top award for the design competition will receive a $1,500 prize. The second-place winner will receive $1,000 and five honorable-mention winners will each receive $500. The proposed designs will be displayed at the Crough Center for about a week.

Mikolajczyk, 23, who earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 2006 from Catholic University, is enrolled in the first year of CUA's three-year Master of Architecture program. A graduate of Monsignor Farrell High School in Staten Island, N.Y., he was a member at CUA of the Eta Sigma Phi Classics Club and participated in Habitat for Humanity, Students for Life and DC Reads through the Office of Campus Ministry.

Mikolajczyk, who volunteers as an altar server at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, is a member of the Knights of Columbus and the International Order of Alhambra.

Mullen, 24, who earned both a bachelor's degree in architecture and a bachelor's in civil engineering in 2007 from Catholic University, is expected to earn his master's in December 2008. A graduate of Trinity High School in Manchester, N.H., Mullen was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Construction Specifications Institute as a CUA undergraduate.

Mikolajczyk holds a model of the 10-by-4-foot altar.

Also a member of the Knights of Columbus, Mullen participated in Students for Life and DC Reads as an undergraduate. Mullen, who is a student in the design technologies concentration, also holds both teaching and research positions in the areas of structures and digital computation.

Students, working individually or in teams of up to four people, prepared their models and drawings over an intense few days of work between Jan. 18 and Jan. 23. The entries were judged on Jan. 24.

The jurors, who were chosen by the archdiocese, included Monsignor Knestout; Jane G. Belford, chancellor of the archdiocese; Bishop Francisco Gonzalez, S.F., auxiliary bishop of Washington; and Monsignor W. Ronald Jameson, rector of the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington.

"This was an incredible opportunity for CUA's School of Architecture and Planning and for the university at large," said Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M., university president. "Architecture Dean Randall Ott and his outstanding faculty have the privilege of serving so many talented students who come here to study and grow in their professional development.

From left, Father O'Connell, senior Rachel Bailey, Mullen, senior Victoria Engelstad, Mikolajczyk and Archbishop Wuerl.

"I could not be prouder of this school and of all the students who participated in this design process. They will never forget the opportunity they have been given here as we all look forward to Pope Benedict's visit to campus in April."

Catholic University's School of Architecture and Planning is the largest in the Washington, D.C., area. The school offers a bachelor of science in architecture, master of architecture and master of architectural studies and its graduate program concentrations include cultural studies/sacred space, design technologies, digital media, real estate development and urban design. For more information see

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