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He makes some mad, but he gets hired

Fr. Richard S. Vosko’s is an unusual trade and track for a diocesan priest.

He was born into a family of artisans -- one grandfather was a homebuilder who also constructed the “Ukrainian church down the block” in Vosko’s hometown, Amsterdam, N.Y. His uncles and cousins were craftsmen, cabinetmakers and the like, and his brother trained with them.

Vosko himself developed early as an artist and kept drawing through seminary. After his 1969 ordination he was quickly placed on the diocese’s art and architecture subcommittee as the universal church grappled with the new liturgical requirements of Vatican II (1962-65).

He has a master’s in liturgy from Notre Dame, a master of divinity from Christ the King Seminary, Olean, N.Y., a master of fine arts and a doctorate in fine arts from Syracuse University, with a dissertation on how a worship space will foster or develop patterns of worship. He believes church space should be flexible, its fittings designed to be rearranged. One mentor, Lutheran architect Edward Sövik, gave Vosko a favorite saying: “It’s kind of strange that a pilgrim people would nail down their furniture to the floor.”

Soon Vosko was consulting on church and synagogue space outside the diocese and landed his first cathedral renovation contract, for Incarnation Church in Nashville, in 1987.

Vosko’s stock-in-trade is helping bishops save and restore their cathedrals, while realigning their worship space in the light of post-Vatican II liturgical norms -- for which he is frequently hounded by a claque of obscurantist critics who don’t like his work.

“If only they’d first read the footnotes,” he says of his critics, “they’d see everything follows the legislation of the Roman Catholic church.”

In Nashville, for instance, he spotted the cathedral’s first need straightaway. It had towering clerestory windows. “They’d been painted a horrible mustard yellow to keep out the light,” he said, with some amazement. But he began -- as he has ever since -- by meeting with the parishioners.

He wants to know what they want and only then think about what he’ll propose. What is it about his work that makes some people so mad but makes others want to hire him? “I want the architecture to return the altar table back to the whole assembly.”

-- Arthur Jones

National Catholic Reporter, April 19, 2002