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Career Case Study #13: John Cyril Hawes

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It’s not often we find architect and priest on the same CV but that’s the case with John Cyril Hawes. There’s a website, Monsignor John Hawes, from which I’ve summarized much of the following biographical information. Hawes was born in 1876 in Richmond in London but Canterbury Cathedral in the town of Canterbury where he attended school, was his first introduction to both architecture and the priesthood. He became an architect in 1897 at the age of 21 and in 1901 completed his first church, the Church of St. Christopher at Gunnerton. The British Architect described it as a “more than usually interesting village church” but whether this is faint praise or simply stating a fact I don’t know. The year after, Hawes began studying for the Anglican priesthood and was ordained the year after that.

In 1908, he was invited to The Bahamas to rebuild and restore four churches there but, after two years, began to have doubts about the Anglican faith so he left it in 1910, converted to Catholicism in 1911 in New York but whether because of the theology or the architecture we don’t know. Hawes was ordained as a Catholic priest in Rome in 1915. He was now 39. When in Rome, he met William Kelly, then Bishop of the Western Australian town of Geraldton and Kelly invited Hawes to design a cathedral for the new diocese there. Hawes arrived in Western Australia in 1915 but first spent a year in the town of Cue as parish priest. The town still has some fine stone buildings from its heyday around 1900 just after the gold rushes. Its population then was around 10,000. It’s about 120 now. Below are the Former Masonic Hall, the Shire Offices and Police Station, all from before Hawes’ time.

The foundations for St. Francis Xavier Cathedral were begun the same year Kelly arrived in Geraldton. As is often the way with cathedrals, construction proceeded along with fundraising but the first sermon in the incomplete cathedral was given in 1918, with the completed building finally opening in 1938.

Hawes’ time in Geralton is bookmarked by the beginning of construction of St. Francis Xavier the year after he arrived in Western Australia and its (first) completion in 1938 the year before he left. They were busy years. The following list of buildings is not complete as there are at least six other projects from the Geraldton years. Below, the building names link to the website.

Melangata Station Homestead and Chapel, Yalgoo 1916: Hawes had only arrived in Western Australia the year before so this is his first large commission and for a private house. The fact that it also has a chapel suggests clients with parish connections.

Sacred Heart Convent, Northampton 1919: It’s good to see the drawings for the convent’s chapel even though it was never built. They give an idea of the amount of architectural design the drawings represent, and what was left to be decided onsite.

St Hyacinth’s Convent Chapel, Yalgoo 1922

Our Lady of Mt Carmel, Mullewa 1926: This church was begun in 1921 and completed in 1926. The entrance portico is said to have been influenced by that of Church of St Trophime in Arles France and the general style by 12 century churches in the south of France.

Saint Mary’s in Ara Coeli, Northampton 1936

St Patrick’s Church Geraldton, 1938: The history of architecture is littered with imposing palaces and places of worship so it’s no surprise this was intended as a temporary building “until a more pretentious building becomes necessary”. I don’t know if it is Hawes who said this that’s normally left unsaid, especially since “permanent” or “more durable” are the more natural opposites of temporary. Stone is of course durable but it might be the case that, with Christian religious architecture at least, it has connotations of “enduring” and that could be seen as pretentious. Most churches outlast their parishioners. Some even outlast their parishes.

Nazareth House, Geraldton, 1939: The design for this orphanage was completed in 1939 just before Hawes left Geraldton and Australia.

Our Lady of Fatima, Nanson 1939: In addition to his priestly duties, Hawes had at least four projects on the go in 1939. He is said to have provided much of the construction labour but I think this must have depended on the project as, for example, the foundation stone for the next project was laid in May, 1936 and the building completed that September.

Saint Mary Star of the Sea Carnarvon, Carnarvon 1935

The Pallottine Monastery, Tardun 1937

In 1936, two years before the cathedral was completed, Hawes built a small cottage, The Hermitage, for himself when he thought he would retire as the chaplain of Geraldton’s St John of God Hospital but he was to never live there despite going so far as to design a chapel for his own grave, complete with brass effigy.

This was the 1936 Chapel of San Spirito for the Geraldton Cemetery at Utakarra. It was intended to be the tomb of Hawes’ predecessor, Archdeacon Adolphe Joseph Lecaille (who himself had built seven churches over the 1860s and 1870s before dying in 1908) as well as Hawes’, but only Lecaille is interred there. Construction of the chapel was paid for by Hawes who claimed it was the best architectural work he ever did. It may be, but it’s odd that this comment is the first record we have of Hawes speaking of his buildings as architecture. Some see modernist influences in it but this could just be Hawes’ first use of render. The chapel opened in 1838, coinciding with the grand opening of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral.

After all this preparation for death and the thereafter, it’s a mystery why Hawes, in 1939 and now 62, left Western Australia for Cat Island in The Bahamas. I don’t know how succession in diocese work, but Hawes wasn’t in line to be the next bishop. He arrived in The Bahamas in November 1939 and by February 1940 had purchased and begun clearing land for a new hermitage for himself. He duly completed the oratory in May, the living quarters by September, and the tower by Christmas.

Considering his previous rate of projects, Hawes took it relatively easy in The Bahamas with only eight completed projects over his sixteen years there, but the four largest ones were all either underway or completed in 1946.

St Francis of Assisi Old Bight, Cat Island, Bahamas 1944–1946

Convent and Chapel of St Martin de Porres, Nassau 1946

Saint Augustine’s Monastery Nassau 1946–1947: This is Hawes’ largest project in the Bahamas. It’s difficult to find good photographs of it.

Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Clarence Town, Long Island 1947

Hawes died in 1956 in Miami, presumably after an illness or infirmity of some sort, and his body was returned to his Bahamas hermitage and interred.

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But what to make of all this? Here we have an architect/priest person responsible for about thirty projects over forty years. He’s called an architect because that’s what people usually call persons who design buildings, even if those buildings differ in size, type and style. Hawes’ projects differ in size and style but all have some form of ecclesiastical use – both in terms of function such as monastery, church, cathedral, chapel, hermitage and so on. This doesn’t disqualify him from being an architect. Architecture Misfit #20: Edward T. Potter’s body of work was largely ecclesiastical until he retired and turned his mind and skills towards secular problems such as the quality of urban housing. The difference is that Potter saw his ecclesiastical work as “architecture” and his housing work as humanitarian. The one remark of Hawes’ about his Chapel of San Spirito being his best work of architecture rather than his only work of architecture, tells us he must have also thought of at least some of his other buildings as architecture. Here is the problem, and it’s still a contemporary one. It’s okay for people like Patrick Schumacher to make a distinction between “the client project” (the project the client needs) and “the architect’s project” (the project the client wants to design, often as part of some research project or marketing agenda). It gets tricky with ecclesiastical architecture and especially so when the architect is also a priest, because delivering the client project in the form of a building is all part of “doing God’s work” whether the architect has an architectural agenda or not. And who’s to say who is the real client anyway?”

An architect doesn’t have to be a believer in order to design a church with an architectural or self-promotional agenda. However, if an architect is a believer, then the buildings are designed, constructed, used and understood as part of the “doing God’s work” discourse and this bypasses and surpasses any architectural discourse. Believers in the architecture discourse and not the God’s Work one can evaluate Hawes’ output as architecture however they like. For a believer though, if “doing God’s work” is a manifestation of belief, piety, fervour and, importantly, “to be seen in a good light in hope of some future favourable outcome”, then it’s still self-promotional in some sense and not that different from architects striving for recognition and reward in the secular realm. The only difference with non-believers is the discourse participated in and the nature of the expected reward. Religion and architecture are alike in that one has to indicate one’s wish to participate in the discourse and be judged by it. Both belief systems expend much energy reinforcing the belief system, and both have little time for non-believers.

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