St. Luke reached a new milestone with the dedication of its new $250,000 church on November 29, 1960. The work of prominent Nebraska church architect James E. Loftus, this structure represents his first known attempt at designing a truly modern church building. And what an eye-catching success it is! Unfortunately, the sleek exterior lines of the building have been compromised by the addition of a sloped steel roof and air-handling equipment. Otherwise, both the exterior and interior of the church retain a high degree of architectural integrity.
The spacious, unencumbered volume of the interior evokes a sense of lightness, while the almost Art Deco-like marble reredos naturally focuses one's attention towards the crucifix and altar area.
Large clearstory windows create a bright environment, while the much lower ambulatory humanizes the scale of the space. The cream colored brick of the clearstory walls and the wood paneled sanctuary find complementary contrast with the white plaster ceiling and ambulatory walls.
By the 1950s, the ideas of the Liturgical Movement had come to greatly influence church design. One of these primary ideas was that only one altar should be visible from the main body of the church, since the altar is the primary symbol of Christ. This principal is clearly illustrated at St. Luke, where, neatly tucked away beneath two low-ceiling transcepts, are the traditional side altars dedicated to Mary and Joseph.
Some may find it initially jarring to come across such a thoroughly modern church in a small western Nebraska community. However, I think it's fair to say that the Lincoln Highway had a huge influence on the architecture of the communities it passed through. As the modern concept of long-range vehicular transportation became the norm, modern structures flourished along the Lincoln Highway to reflect this new era of American life.
Today, St. Luke Church should be appreciated as an innovative and exciting structure that reflects the enthusiasm of the 1950s and 60s, while still hearkening to solid liturgical principals that hold true even today.
History of Saint Luke’s Catholic Church of Ogallala, Nebraska
Parlin, Mary, and Colleen Gallion, comps. 100 Years of Faith: The History of the Diocese of Grand Island. Grand Island, NE: West Nebraska Register, 2012.