To Father Kenneth J. Malley and his parishioners, their new St. Catherine of Siena Parish building is more than a church; it's designed as a bridge between the world of faith and the world at large.
"Our building campaign phrase has been, 'something beautiful for God,' " said Malley.
"We hope that when people look at the art, they will wonder about the symbols and ponder questions that can lead to choosing deeper beauty, to discovering a higher love."
The building committee for the 21,000-square-foot space at 1955 S Belcher Road was in place when Malley came to St. Catherine's four years ago.
A St. Petersburg native, Malley spent four years in Rome, where he learned about the theology of architecture.
That theology is incorporated into the floors, altar and statues. Even the paint.
"We painted the church the same color inside and out," said Malley. "Because there should be no difference between life in and out of the church. This church is a place of worship, but it also tells a story."
The story begins with the sign of the Trinity, etched on the outside wall, then repeated in niches and on the floor. It's also in the wheat-colored stone floor leading to the sanctuary — the same kind of stones make up the floor of St. Catherine's house in Siena, Italy.
"And people ask why we have so many large windows," said Malley. "I tell them we need to see what's happening around us. We're not meant to stay within these walls, but to go outside."
Inside the church, a story of Mary and Joseph is written in the bronze figure of a man near the east wall and of a woman poised against the west wall.
Joseph and Mary are depicted life-size.
His tools at his feet, Joseph's soft eyes scan a scroll written in Hebrew.
Mary of the Cosmos is more mystical — in this world, but not of it. She stands barefoot on the moon, 12 bronze stars encircling her head and a sunburst shining from behind her pregnant body, following a biblical description in Revelations 12:1.
Artists Lynn and Jane Kircher of Colorado created the statues and the church's bronze Stations of the Cross.
Lynn sculpts. Wife, Jane, creates the patina of each piece.
"For the Hebrew on Joseph's scroll, I visited the rabbi down the street," said Lynn.
"St. Catherine's wanted to create a conscious sacred space."
Sacred, yes, but Malley says the bronze Stations of the Cross, Joseph and Mary were meant to be touched.
"When I first saw them, I thought, I can pray with those," said Malley. "Joseph stands not on a pedestal, but on the earth with people. With the sun radiating from Mary, it is as the word enfleshed."
Other art and the main crucifix from the former sanctuary, which was founded in 1976, were moved into the new sanctuary in January. After renovations, the former church will become the Friar Michael J. Finnegan Family Life Center, renamed to honor the priest who served the parish for 24 years.
A pipe organ being built in Padua, Italy, will soon be installed.
The mayors of Largo and Clearwater will attend the church's dedication ceremony on Saturday.
That day, Bishop Robert Lynch will anoint the new marble altar with oils, as Malley experienced at other tables of sacrifice while attending seminary. He remembers the beauty, theology of architecture and bridges he saw created then, and finds a connection of his own with his St. Catherine's Parish.
"In Rome each morning, I would look out at St. Peter's Basilica, arms outstretched to the world, welcoming people," said Malley. "St. Catherine's parishioners are a great and open people who want to influence their community by offering a place of hope, peace and beauty."