Pope Francis pictured during private audience at VaticanWith all the bustle expected to occur on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the papal Mass on Sept. 27, one of the most important structures of the Mass might go overlooked by worshipers hoping to get a glimpse of Pope Francis: The sanctuary in which he will celebrate the Mass.

James Lenahan, a recent graduate of the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture, has been selected to design the papal sanctuary based on his preliminary renderings of the structure.

Lenahan won a contest that challenged college architecture students across the country to design the sanctuary area and furniture for the Mass held at the foot of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 27.


The pope’s visit to Philadelphia will conclude the Eighth World Meeting of Families in the city, Sept. 22-25, and his pastoral visit to the United States.

Lenahan’s design will serve as a base and an inspiration for the final papal sanctuary, altar, lectern, ambo, deacon’s chair and other furniture utilized for the liturgy.

Guidelines were given to contestants based on the Catholic Church’s liturgical rubrics, “The General Instruction of the Roman Missal” (Chapter V) as well as “Built of Living Stone: Art, Architecture and Worship,” published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2000.

Though highly anticipated, the preliminary design has not been released to the public because of security concerns and because the Vatican has not yet approved the final design, according to spokespersons from the University of Notre Dame and the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

In an email message Aug. 4, Lenahan explained the design “is based on traditional and classical forms, and utilizes geometry such as the triangle to evoke stability as well as the Holy Family and the Trinity. It is also meant to appear clean and contemporary.”

The design took him roughly two weeks to complete over the course of his winter break this year. He was inspired by photos of past papal Masses in the U.S. and in Rome, and used those ideas combined with parameters specified by the competition.

Prior to the Mass on Sept. 27, the papal sanctuary will be the site of a stage for the Festival of Families, an intercultural celebration of family life around the world, the night of Saturday, Sept. 26.

The festival will feature music from renowned artists such as Andrea Bocelli, Juanes and the Philadelphia Orchestra plus testimonies of global families witnessed by the pope.

The events of both days will be free and open to the public, and will take place on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Eakins Oval across from the art museum in the heart of Philadelphia’s cultural district.

The stage and sanctuary will bring Lenahan’s design to life.

“It is truly an honor to have the opportunity to provide inspiration for the sanctuary that his Holiness will stand upon to deliver Mass,” said Lenahan. “Through my design, I hope to evoke solidarity and create an atmosphere for community prayer and worship. It is a tremendous privilege to contribute to this once-in-a-lifetime event and I am grateful for this opportunity.”