Project in Progress: St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church

Project: St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church

History: Alexander Nicholson built the priory for the Dominican friars, including a private chapel and a residence across the street from the church. They also built the Charlottesville Catholic School.

 Architect: Cram & Ferguson and Train Architects

 Alexander Nicholson Superintendent: Calvin Johnson


A/N started its most unique and impressive project last year—St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church. This extraordinary structure is 16,000 square feet, with buttresses, archways, a brick dome, and every ecclesiastical finish imaginable. The first thing people notice as they drive by or walk up to the project is the grand copper cupola. It’s quite beautiful, and is extraordinary when the sun hits it.

We are currently nearing the halfway point in the project and are working on the framing for the interior arches. The arches will be made using gypsum fiberglass-reinforced drywall. Not only is it less heavy than stone, while still maintaining the same look and feel, it is also less expensive.

 The project design is full of details and finishes that work together to make a magnificent and breathtaking building. The finished building will have a plaster ceiling covered in stars, stained glass windows in the transoms, ornate tile floors, Italian marble furnishings, and woodwork handcrafted in Columbia. And, to fill the church with song, a vintage pipe organ, purchased with funding from an anonymous donor, will be installed.

 The project offers interesting and exciting challenges, all of which are opportunities to learn. These challenges include the construction of Lombard arches and laying complicated brickwork like that found in Romanesque architecture. The framing and brickwork at the dome may be the most complicated Alexander Nicholson has ever undertaken.

“Of all the projects I’ve worked on, this one is by far the fanciest,” project superintendent Calvin Johnson said. “It’s going to be a beautiful church and good for the public—maybe more people will go.”




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