It’s rare to find a church that feels both sacred and inviting. St. Ignatius Catholic Parish in the College Park area of Mobile, AL is one such church. Worshipping together since 1937, the church dedicated its first building in 1978, added a vestibule in 1979 and completed a major choir loft renovation in 2015.
Mobile’s coastal climate requires a high-functioning wood species, but just as high on the list of specifications was a wood that would age with beauty and create a warm and inviting space.
Thanks to its reputation for withstanding high humidity and resisting rot, Meranti Nemesu was utilized in the church’s original construction. Therefore any new renovations needed to match the look of the existing millwork.
Any millwork shop, builder, or architect is concerned with the durability of a wood species. Walking through St. Ignatius and comparing the wood from the 1970s to that of the 2015 construction gives a good sense of how this particular species of wood ages. Not only has it held up without warping or unseemly wearing, the Meranti Nemesu has mellowed into a dark chocolate finish that very nearly glows.
The rich, organic feel of the Meranti Nemesu millwork in St. Ignatius expresses the warm and inviting atmosphere of the building.
The expansive coffered ceiling, which is inset with lighting, plays up Meranti’s natural glow, reflecting light as it bounces from surface to surface. This design element shows off the wood’s beauty, but also diffuses and softens the light in the sanctuary. The oculus directly above the altar also lets natural light in, adding another dimension of light and warmth to the room.
The paneled wall and inlaid icons complement the building’s atmosphere. The icons, which are painted onto a golden background, play up the wood’s natural glow and gold undertones. The icons and Nemesu panels are so lustrous that they appear to be subtly lit, but are simply reflecting the ambient light of the church.
The modern stained glass windows seen throughout the church invite contemplation of the sacred, marrying contemporary design with biblical and ecclesiastical iconography. The amber, chestnut, and ochre tones of the stained glass echo the rich tones of the paneled walls surrounding them. Additionally, the circular shape of many of the stained glass windows repeats the circles seen in the heavy wood doors of the church, creating a pleasing sense of continuity.
The parishioners of St. Ignatius worship together in the original church pews from 1978. Each pew, milled from a single board of Nemesu, has no seam, and has borne the wear and tear of constant use for nearly 40 years, but they look just as beautiful and welcoming as the day they were installed.
Meranti Nemesu is available in extra wide (12”) cuts as well as extra long (8’ to 22’), making dramatic design possible.
Several design elements in the church would not be possible without OHC’s long cuts of wood. These seamless boards are featured on the coffered ceiling, the vestibule, the altar dais, and the paneled walls of the choir loft. The planks emphasize the height of the sanctuary, drawing your eyes up, as befits a house of worship. It simultaneously makes the space feel both vast and intimate, which is quite a feat.
A particular challenge for this project was the large sections covered with wood paneling. With Meranti Nemesu’s varied grain and slight variation in color, the wall has ample depth and character which prevents it from appearing dense and monotonous, like a large brown painted wall.
St. Ignatius Catholic Parish has welcomed multiple generations of worshipers to its building, and with the beauty and longevity of its Meranti Nemesu millwork, it will last for many generations to come.