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HomeArticleArchitect Drawn to Priesthood: Father Sam Florance, FSSP, Now Builds Souls for Heaven

Architect Drawn to Priesthood: Father Sam Florance, FSSP, Now Builds Souls for Heaven

Architect Drawn to Priesthood: Father Sam Florance, FSSP, Now Builds Souls for Heaven

Clockwise from right: Father Sam Florance recently completed, with his father, a new high altar for St. Benedict parish in Fort Worth, Texas. He is also shown talking about architecture at the Institute for Classical Art and Architecture and on pilgrimage to Lourdes. (photo: Courtesy of Father Sam Florance)

 

‘The analogies between the construction of a building and the growth in the life of grace are numerous.’

Growing up in north Texas, Sam Florance spent many hours playing baseball. He became good enough to receive a scholarship offer from a junior college, but was drawn to something that he found more practical for a career.

Turning his focus from the baseball field to the field of architecture, Florance enrolled at Texas A&M University. He then discovered the traditional Latin Mass, which sparked an interest in classical building design — and the priesthood.

Florance was ordained, along with 10 other men, to the priesthood of Jesus Christ on May 29 at the Cathedral of St. Cecilia in Omaha, Nebraska, by Archbishop Terrence Prendergast. After a month of rigorous activity common for the newly ordained, the 33-year-old new priest shared his blueprint for holiness and happiness with the Register.

 

How did you become interested in architecture?

My two favorite subjects in high school were math and art class. Architecture seemed like it would incorporate both of those things, so I selected it as a major for study in college.

However, I believe my father also contributed to this interest. He has built five houses — including my brother’s — and for as long as I can remember, he was always working on some project. Growing up around this activity contributed to my interest.

 

Where did you study architecture, and were you influenced by Thomas Gordon Smith, who designed Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary — a Romanesque structure — for the FSSP?

I completed my undergraduate studies in architecture at Texas A&M University in 2013 and my graduate studies at the University of Kansas in 2015. Neither of these programs is classically oriented, so I did not know about the work of Thomas Gordon Smith or others while I was in college.

The architectural education I received heavily emphasized the practical aspects of architecture. We had classes in all the major engineering fields relevant to buildings today: structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, etc.

We became conversant enough in each of these fields to handle consultant engineers. We also gained experience with the various software programs used by professionals today.

Three years into college, my roommates and I began doing design work on the side, and I believe it was thanks to the practically minded curriculum that we were able to do this.

It wasn’t until I had a solid foundation in the practical side of architecture that I started to study classical design principles. Some might debate this method of learning, but it flowed very naturally for me. I felt that I could much better understand the aesthetical aspects of architecture once I knew how buildings went together.

I was very excited when I learned that Michaelangelo had a similar desire. He needed to understand the bone and muscle structure of a body before he felt competent to sculpt one, which is why he spent some time dissecting bodies. (You might be relieved to know that I don’t plan on doing any dissection.)

 

It is interesting to note that, like you, the apostles had secular jobs before becoming priests, and St. Thomas is the patron of architects. Have you relied on his intercession?

I did not know who the patron saint of architecture was for several years into my studies. Given the importance that architecture has for the Church, one would think the patron saint of architecture would be better known.

Since learning of St. Thomas’ patronage, I have had a special devotion to him, and I hope to find a statue someday that adequately expresses his patronage. At best, you can find a statue or image of him holding a carpenter’s square; and, at worst, there is no architectural symbol at all. I would like to see him surrounded by all sorts of drafting and measuring tools.

 

Have you taken the 19th-century Italian-American architect-priest Venerable Samuel Mazzuchelli as one of your patrons?

I do not know much about Venerable Samuel Mazzuchelli, but I will have to learn more because we share not only architect-priest status, but the same name, too! The little I do know is that he was a Dominican in the 1800s who came to the U.S. as a missionary. He designed and built over 20 church buildings and several civic buildings in and around Wisconsin.

 

Do you have a favorite church architectural style or one particular church itself?

I get asked this question a lot. I find it difficult to answer because architectural styles are rather complicated. It is different than naming your favorite flavor of ice cream.

The more I have learned about the various styles of sacred architecture, the more difficult I find it is to pick a favorite. I have seen beautiful churches in all the styles.

 

Father Sam Florance at Lourdes
Father Sam Florance at Lourdes(Photo: Courtesy of Father Sam Florance )

 

This answer does not satisfy most people, however, so I usually tell them of the building which most impressed me when I saw it in person. This would be the cathedral in Cologne, Germany. It is a great Gothic church. I wouldn’t say Gothic is my favorite style for the reason I just mentioned, but that grand building is undeniably impressive.

 

Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral (Photo: Courtesy of Father Sam Florance)

 

You can climb the towers and see carved stone all the way up, even fully carved statues of angels hundreds of feet in the air and facing inward toward the wall. The building is a tremendous testament to the faith of the people who sacrificed to build it, and it also shows how competent they were with design and construction, even starting several centuries ago.

 

Do you see a parallel in building a church as a Domus Dei and “building” a soul as one, too?

Absolutely. Christ himself makes this comparison in Matthew 7:24-27, Matthew 21:4 and Luke 14:28-30. There are many other references in Scripture about buildings and the life of grace.

I like to say I learned just as much philosophy on the construction site as I did in the classroom; it was just a different kind of knowledge. The analogies between the construction of a building and the growth in the life of grace are numerous. It’s no mistake that St. Teresa of Avila titled her great work on the spiritual life The Interior Castle.

A building is begun by digging a hole; and the taller you want your building to be, the deeper you must dig. You must first remove what is not necessary before you can build something beautiful. In the spiritual life as well, you must first remove superfluous attachments before God can go to work in the soul.

As a building begins to rise out of the ground, you start to realize the hierarchy of parts and the relationship between them and what is necessary for a beautiful building to stand. Similarly, progress in the spiritual life requires proper order in the soul and a hierarchy of desires in the will, all of which are subordinated to the love of God.

I have always felt there is a spiritual aspect to a building project that is underestimated. You can see this in the great interest that is stirred up around new building projects; people gravitate toward them.

In the construction jobs I’ve taken part in, I came to know the neighbors and passersby in the area. People would wander up to the site and ask about the project, with some even wanting to lend a hand.

 

How did you go from architecture to priesthood — and the FSSP specifically?

I did not consider the priesthood seriously until I was in college and studying architecture. However, I had a strong conviction to finish the path I was on in architecture before going to seminary, which meant becoming a licensed architect.

It took me two years after the master’s degree from the University of Kansas to complete the necessary intern hours and exams to become licensed. Two weeks after I received notice that I met the qualifications for licensure, I put in my notice at work and went to seminary.

It was my discovery of the Latin Mass during college that led me to the FSSP.

As I was attracted to the ancient liturgy, I became attracted to ancient buildings, in which I found a beauty that I wanted to learn how to make myself.

For someone who has never heard of the FSSP before, I often compare it to a historic preservation society. Historic preservation societies are founded to protect and preserve ancient buildings so that modern people can visit them and learn about the people who used to dwell in them.

This is what the FSSP does, but for liturgy instead of buildings. Pope St. John Paul II saw a need for a society within the Church to continue the ancient liturgy so that modern Catholics could learn more about the saints and who worshipped at this liturgy — and become a part of it themselves today.  

 

What were your biggest surprises at seminary and, if any so far, in priesthood?

Seminary is a very unique place. All other jobs in life are occupied by individuals who share the necessary prerequisites and dispositions for the job. The priesthood, however, is different, in that the main disposition that is looked for is a man whose strongest desire is to do the will of God.

This means you get all sorts of men from all sorts of different backgrounds who come to seminary. It makes for a very interesting group and a very positive environment. Seminary truly is a catholic (universal) place. We have men from a dozen countries, spanning three generations, all living and studying together under one roof.

I’ve also been surprised to see how handy my architecture background has been during my time at seminary, both in the speculative and practical spheres. I’ve found ample material for reflection during my studies on philosophy and theology, and I’ve put the practical skills to work at the parishes I’ve visited.

My father and I recently completed a new high altar for St. Benedict parish in Fort Worth, Texas, one of the FSSP’s locations. From start to finish, this project took about two years, though there were many pauses in construction during that time.

 

Florance high altar
Florance high altar for St. Benedict parish in Fort Worth, Texas(Photo: Courtesy of Father Sam Florance)

 

My father did most of the fabrication, and I would do the design work and send him files during my free time at seminary. When I was home on break, we were able to work together, and we installed it this past Christmas in time for midnight Mass.

 

Any advice to architects and/or young men interested in priesthood?

Both of these jobs require a lot of sacrifice. To the architects, I would encourage them to increase their knowledge of classical design and to strive to gain hands-on knowledge of construction. Our patron is St. Thomas the Apostle, who was the only one to inspect the Resurrected Temple with his hands when he touched the wounds of Jesus.

It was not enough for St. Thomas to see Christ resurrected; he wanted to touch him. We should follow his example by putting our hands into the work itself. I would also recommend the Institute for Classical Art and Architecture to anyone wanting to learn more about classical design.

 

Father Sam Florance studies
Last summer, still-seminarian Florance speaks in class at the Institute for Classical Art and Architecture.(Photo: Courtesy of Father Sam Florance)

 

Last summer, I completed their summer intensive program on the “Classical Orders” (or styles) and had a great time. It was a very good program, and I cannot recommend it enough.

To young men thinking about the priesthood, I would say there is only one place where they will get an answer to their question: the seminary. To young men not interested in the priesthood, I would say, you ought to be. Every man ought to see something attractive about the priesthood; and if he doesn’t, it means there may be a slight immaturity in his spiritual life.

I’ve often thought the seminary to be similar to the military. In a time of war, every able-bodied man ought to offer himself for the service of his country. The Church Militant is in a constant state of spiritual war, and every able-bodied man ought to offer himself for the service of the Church, our Holy Mother.

Often young men will fret a lot about making a big decision like this; I did a fair amount of fretting myself. The good news is that you don’t have to make a decision — God will make it for you, if you allow him to work. God will not be outdone in generosity, and no one has made a sacrifice for him who will not be repaid a hundredfold (Mark 10:17-30).

Trent Beattie is the author of Fit for Heaven (Dynamic Catholic) as well as Scruples and Sainthood (Loreto Publications). He is also the editor of Apostolic Athletes (Marian Press) and Saint Alphonsus Liguori for Every Day (Mediatrix Press).

 

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