By John Van Houten and Jamie Benvenuto

We are thrilled to share that St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church has been awarded a 2016 Solomon Award! The national Solomon Awards are some of the most well-known and respected honors in the church market. Winners are determined by a panel of editors from Worship Facilities Magazine, Church Production Magazine, and members of the WFX Advisory Board and management team. Each year, the Solomon Awards recognize churches and their partners for excellence in design, operations and technical production. St. Mary Magdalen won Best Church Building Design for a traditional church.



In July of 2012, St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church was lost to fire. Parishioners and the Grand Rapids Diocese quickly realized that a new church would need to be built from the ground up. They saw an opportunity to build a church that would better suit their needs, and the needs of the local community. Together, they developed a mission, one that drove our entire design process. It read:

 “If this rebuilt church does nothing else, it should create a journey of welcome, integrating a diverse, multicultural and multigenerational community that fosters a deeper evangelization through liturgy and sacrament, reflecting a prayerful, reverent encounter with the beauty of the transcendent, while inspiring serenity, refuge, worship and mission that reflects our Catholic identity.”

 Our team took this mission and, working closely with church stakeholders, designed a new church that focused on the spiritual journey of the people within, while embracing the neighboring community and creating a sense of welcome.


The church nave was designed to connect parishioners with nature and their spirituality. Light colors and a rising roof help accentuate the central axis. The experience is highlighted by natural light and colorful stained glass artistry throughout the clerestory. Organ pipes frame the sanctuary and crucifix to highlight the importance of music in an immersive worship experience. Portraying beauty and mystery, the tabernacle is placed on the sanctuary and sheltered by a bronze baldacchino sculpture.

The sanctuary features exposed organ pipes, crucifix and art glass to represent strong symbols of importance to the catholic faith. The Altar is prominently placed at the center of the sanctuary, accentuated by the steeple above.
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The entrance of the nave features a large stained glass installation that adds beauty to the space. Along the far wall, a soft curved form was added for reconciliation, prayer and reflection.
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Integration of the stations of the cross, reconciliation and the shrine to Mary alcove symbolize their importance. They are connected, yet still discrete, from the nave.
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The baptismal font in the foreground, is designed to reflect the form of a delicate petal. The tabernacle is located on the sanctuary and is sheltered by an organic bronze baldacchino sculpture. An internal light casts artistic shadows.


A transparent and lively gathering area supports worship activities and welcomes both members and visitors into the church. It creates a place for stories, connection and fellowship. Transparency reveals activity within the church while promoting visual connectivity to the neighboring community. The gathering space extends from high-to-low, creating a journey to the chapel that prepares parishioners for an experience of reverence. The space features tactile patterns and paths that are marked by soft forms, glowing candlelit statues of Mary, and quiet spaces. This creates a sense of enclosure, reverence and focus.

St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church aims to serve as a beacon for the community and to become known as a place that is safe, welcoming and spiritual.

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Large openings help connect parishioners with nature, fill the gathering space with natural light, and help the neighboring community see church activity and vitality.
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The natural curve of the wooden candle wall, with glimpses into the nave and lower volume, creates an intimate path to the chapel.

We are honored and excited to have received a 2016 Solomon Award for this project. We want to thank the Grand Rapids Diocese and the members of St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church for allowing us to be a part of their journey.

This is the second Solomon Award for Progressive AE’s worship team. In 2014 the renovation and expansion of Appleton Alliance Church won a Solomon Award for Best Church Design. The Appleton Alliance Church is a contemporary worship facility in Appleton, Wisconsin.