BROOKLYN, NY – A church is first and foremost a house of worship, but beyond that oftentimes it is also many other things to its congregation. Such is certainly the case with the Co-Cathedral of Saint Joseph. A majestic 103-year-old building in Prospect Heights, the church is more than the spiritual hub for the 1.9 million Catholics in the Brooklyn diocese; it is also a gleaming symbol of hope for a neighborhood that is clearly moving into a brighter future. When Pope Benedict elevated the church to a cathedral shortly before his retirement in 2013, the diocese began an extensive renovation project that included a new lighting system from The LightTech Group of Jamaica, NY.
Central to the LightTech Group’s design were 18 Ovation E-190WW LED ellipsoidal fixtures that are used to cover the altar and key worship areas with flat, even fields of warm white light. Illumination from the Ovation fixtures not only creates an enriched visual experience for worshipers at the 1,500-seat church, it also provides ideal lighting for services that are broadcast on the Catholic Channel.
The Ovation fixtures’ journey to the historic church began when a parishioner, Jacques Pardovany, saw that Saint Joseph was replacing the two large chandeliers that hung over its center aisle leading up to the altar area. Pardovany, who is VP of Sales at the LightTech Group, spoke to the rector, Monsignor Kieran Harrington, about the benefits that LED fixtures could have for the church’s lighting system. This led to a meeting between the Monsignor and the LightTech team, which included John (Gonzo) Gonzalez (who is also the LD on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show from NBCUniversal) and company president Leon Saddler, in addition to Pardovany.
“Monsignor Harrington embraced the idea of what LED ellipsoidals and other LED fixtures could do to enhance the services visually and control costs,” said Saddler. “We were all very excited, because this was a very important project not only for the church, but for the entire community. Having the church declared a cathedral was symbolic in many ways of the neighborhood’s revival.”
Prospect Heights is indeed a neighborhood on the move. Barclays Center arena is only a block away from the cathedral, and the neighborhood itself is one of the most densely populated in New York City. As for the church building, it looks every bit the cathedral with its towering 77-foot-high barrel ceiling, 20 dome-shaped vaults lining its side aisles, elaborate tile work and varied murals.
Lighting designer Gonzalez was impressed with the throw distance of the Ovation E-190WW ellipsoidal fixtures in this massive building. “The output of these fixtures is very impressive,” he said. “We hung the Ovations from the balcony area 145 feet from the pulpit and 160 feet from the altar. We used a 5° lens on most of the fixtures and fired them from below the balcony, about 12 feet off the ground. From this distance, we are getting 40 foot-candles at the altar and pulpit, so yes, we are completely satisfied with the throw; plus the 3000K produces a nice glow for televised services.”
Gonzalez has 11 of the Ovation fixtures directed at the altar area, three at the pulpit and four aimed at the area around the impressive organ at the rear of the church. In addition to the 5° lens, he uses 14° lenses for altar area lighting. For the back wall lighting, he uses 36° lenses.
“We focus pools of light on the altar, the bishop’s chair, the monsignor’s chair, the communion area and a center aisle walk area in front of the parishioners, where the priest will walk out,” said Gonzalez. “We also light the area around the organ with this beautiful warm light to give parishioners an inspiring sight as they leave the church. The other areas are not illuminated directly by the fixtures, because the light fills them nicely without making them intrusive. We use the blue side of the spectrum on the focus with the Ovation fixtures so there are no harsh red lens lines visible. At the same time, however, there is a distinction between the illuminated and non-illuminated areas to create a theatrical look.”
LightTech installed a Leprecon LPC-96 controller to control the lighting system. “There are three remote buttons on it so the priest can control the lights from sacristy,” said Saddler. “We have a show mode for services and transition modes for other times. There is also an override that can be used for special events, when the lighting can be controlled by the board with LightTech Group’s John Reichle, also employed by MSNBC on NBCUniversal as the LD for the Early Today Show.”
As befits a church that draws people from all over the world, the Co-Cathedral of Saint Joseph conducts mass in 42 languages. The liturgical artwork that lines its impressive walls reflects this diversity, with images of Our Lady Queen of Nigeria and Our Lady of Perpetual Help from Haiti, Our Lady of Guadalupe from Mexico, Our Lady of Knock from Ireland and more.
All of these diverse images are brought out by the warm glow of energy-efficient LED lighting; a fact that makes lighting designer Gonzalez happy to be involved in his profession today. As this New York-based LD is fond of saying, “It is a wonderful era to be involved in church lighting.” Anyone who visits Brooklyn’s new co-cathedral is likely to agree.