Rising symbolically from a picturesque site along Sun Valley Road, the newly constructed Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church is a blend of artistry, function and respect.
Every element in the design and construction of the new church—from the bittersweet demolition of the old to the emotional weight of birthing the new—was steeped in respect for architecture and Catholicism. Project architect Jim McLaughlin’s decisions were based on more than the laws, codes and covenants that governing building-construction.
"This is a completely new building in the location of our old one, and it has created a lot of excitement in our parish community," said Teresa Gregory, Parish Life Director at Our Lady of the Snows.
Driving into Ketchum from Sun Valley, the building is imposing, its heavy roof serving as both protector and authority to those within. Entering the church requires crossing a bridge and serves as an act of transitioning from the everyday world to the realm of peace and sanctuary inside. "This way of entry was chosen as both a symbol and a defining element of the connection between our faith and our world," Gregory said.
Through 14-foot-tall mahogany doors, a soothing hush envelops the narthex. The warm welcome is accentuated by natural colors; walls are suede-covered and floors glow with plentiful natural light. This is clearly a sacred space.
"We are happily surprised to see how many people come in just to see the building. They can sense welcome."
Significant elements of the old church have been kept and used in the new. The 200-year old, wooden Mary with Child Jesus from the old building has been refinished and now graces the front of the new structure. Familiar stained glass windows by local artists Ralph Harris and Hermann Lirk have also been retained from the old sanctuary. Three relic stones lie beneath the altar, two from past mission altars and one from Sun Valley’s first parish church.
The solid elegance of high rafters frames views of Sun Valley’s iconic ridgelines through soaring ocular windows. With almost no other structures visible from inside, it is hard to believe the church sits along a much-traveled thoroughfare.
"It is as though worshippers are inside the woods, inside creation," Greogy said. The celebrated architect E. Fay Jones’ influence is strong. "Jones designed private chapels, mostly in Arkansas, that brought the outside inside, spaces where people experience nature while in the building," McLaughlin said.
A spacious gathering area opens onto a wide terraced garden 12 feet below the bustle of the terrestrial world. With its sense of protected tranquility, the garden is a perfect setting for weddings. It is part of a whole that invites a sense of both power and safety. Like the Catholic Church, Our Lady of the Snows invites all who enter to seek solace in its structure.
For visitors and residents, for the faithful or just the architecturally curious, the building is a new Sun Valley destination. Gregory said her church’s doors are "open during daylight hours as much as possible, so people of all faiths can visit."