McInerney, Michael (1877-1963)
Lockhaven, Pennsylvania, USA
- Belmont, North Carolina
Styles & Forms:
Michael Joseph Vincent McInerney (March 18, 1877-March 3, 1963), architect and designer, was a Benedictine monk and Roman Catholic priest at Belmont Abbey in Gaston County, North Carolina. Beginning with his design for St. Leo Hall (1906) at the Abbey, he developed a nationally important architectural practice that encompassed scores of Catholic churches, schools, hospitals, and other structures. In North Carolina, in addition to his work in Belmont, he planned religious buildings in communities from Asheville to Kinston. Typically built of brick, sometimes in local stone, they combine architectural distinction with the modest size and simple forms suited to the budgets of the state’s small Catholic parishes of the early to mid-20th century.
Born in Lockhaven, Pennsylvania, to Irish immigrant parents, McInerney attended parochial schools in McKeesport and Pittsburgh and worked as an assistant to his father, a stone contractor. At age fifteen, he was accepted as an apprentice architect by W. A. Thomas in Pittsburgh. Augmenting his training with college courses at Duquesne, he advanced quickly and became a junior partner in Thomas’s firm.
In 1900, McInerney moved to North Carolina, intending to enrich his art by studying classics at what is now Belmont Abbey College. Soon after his arrival, a fire destroyed most of the college on May 19, 1900, and proved to be a turning point in his life and work. McInerney volunteered to be architect for the reconstruction of present Robert Lee Stowe Hall, beginning a long career as architect for Catholic buildings across the country. Edified during this project by the Abbey’s Benedictine monks, McInerney joined the monastery in 1902, professed the monastic vows in 1903, and was ordained a priest in 1907.
As a monk-architect, McInerney focused his art almost exclusively on Catholic projects. His designs were primarily institutional—approximately 200 Catholic churches, 27 hospitals, 18 convents or monasteries, 10 gymnasia, and others—but they were particularized and colored by his personal investment in the life and values of monasticism. Exterior ornamentation was usually intrinsic rather than appended; his interiors were characteristically austere. McInerney customarily signed his building with a long-stemmed cross, sometimes in bold relief as at Haid Gymnasium at Belmont, and at other times subtly inscribed in the brickwork, as at Linton Hall Academy near Bristow, Virginia.
In his early work, Father McInerney developed a variation on the German Gothic Revival that acquired the popular designation “American Benedictine” from its frequent use by monasteries. This style’s principal statement is found in his St. Leo Hall at Belmont Abbey College, a structure of imposing beauty and simplicity. Its box shape gains special distinction from the projection of the roof, the texturing of the brickwork, and the shapes and sizes of the windows. This building helped establish the young monk-priest as a leading religious architect. He continued to design buildings at the Abbey and College, including such modest structures as a brick well house as well as more substantial buildings.
The poverty of the Catholic Church in the South required that most of McInerney’s work in the Carolinas centered on small chapels. He also planned health facilities in Charlotte and Asheville for the Sisters of Mercy, also headquartered in Belmont. By the 1920s he had a national clientele, and most of his largest projects were those outside of North Carolina. Occasionally notices of his designs appeared along with those of other architects in the Manufacturers’ Record, where he was typically identified as “Father Michael of Belmont Abbey.”
In the middle period of his architectural career (1930-1945), McInerney shifted his emphasis from brick to stone and from Gothic Revival to a striking conception of Romanesque arches imposed on sturdy, classically simple façccedil;ades. This proved the most prolific and artistically fruitful period of his career. His rectories for St. Benedict (1932) and St. Francis (1934) parishes in Baltimore, for example, were vivid expressions of the maturity and power of his art. Working extensively in Maryland, West Virginia, and the Carolinas, the priest earned architectural fees that kept his abbey and its college solvent during the Great Depression. He also designed chalices, candelabra, sanctuary lamps, pews, and other furnishings as well as grave markers.
McInerney’s final period (1945-1963) reversed his earlier intentions. With a new economy of exterior line, and a taste for flat roofs and squared towers, he emphasized rather than disguised the box form. St. Michael Catholic Church and Rectory (Gastonia, 1957) is characteristic of this period. The most exquisite design of his last years, St. Michael Catholic Church in Wheeling, West Virginia (1952), was untypical of this period, for here McInerney returned to the Gothic aspirations of his earliest days, and created a strikingly unornamented interior whose art and expression proceeded entirely from its structural design, not decorations.
Father McInerney published many articles on church architecture, hospital architecture, the use of stained glass, and other topics. He served on the faculty of Belmont Abbey College from 1903 on, and in summers taught at St. Louis University in Missouri. The Stained Glass Association of America and the North Carolina Chapter of the American Institute of Architects granted him honorary memberships. In 1959, St. Vincent College of Pennsylvania awarded McInerney its doctorate (honoris causa) in recognition of his more than five hundred buildings, his “devotion to ecclesiastical art, the sacrifices and labors of the priest and monk, and the economy of church funds [secured through] the endeavors of his artistic and architectural talents.” He is interred in the monastic cemetery at Belmont Abbey.
Editor’s note: McInerney kept no records of his buildings, and the following list of his works was constructed by Dom Paschal Baumstein mostly from archival sources at Belmont Abbey. Baumstein’s research identifies as McInerney’s work several Catholic churches previously featured in published architectural surveys but without attribution to the architect. The list represents all the projects in North Carolina for which Father Baumstein found references, including several for which precise dates, addresses, and statuses have yet to be obtained. Photographs of some of McInerney’s designs may be found in Miriam Miller’s A History of the Early Years of the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Charlotte (1984), and in Paschal Baumstein, The Art of Michael McInerney (1992). The dramatic growth of the Catholic population in North Carolina that began in the late 20th century, due to immigration from northern states and from Latin and South America, has encouraged many parishes to leave or raze the small churches designed by Father McInerny, which served for many years, and to build large new complexes on new sites. Updated information is sought for all properties.
- Archives of Belmont Abbey, Belmont, North Carolina.
- Paschal Baumstein, “A Divine Practice,” North Carolina Architect (July-Aug. 1983).
- Paschal Baumstein, The Art of Michael McInerney (1992).
- “A Church Should Make People Mindful of God,” Subiaco, Arkansas The Abbey Message, 12.5 (Oct. 1951).
- Michael McInerney, “Architecture: Church Architecture in Modern Times,” in Catholic Encyclopedia (1936).
- Michael McInerney, “Architecture and the Small Hospital,” address to the Catholic Hospital Convention, St. Louis, Missouri (1944).
- Michael McInerney, “Hospital Architecture,” Monograph #232 (1944), reprinted from Hospital Progress: Official Journal of the Catholic Hospital Association of the United States and Canada, December 1943-January 1944.
- Miriam Miller, A History of the Early Years of the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Charlotte (1984).
- “Salute to Our Master Builder,” Abbey: News, Views, 1:2 (Spring 1957).
- Mrs. W.R. Stowe, article on Michael McInerney, published variously in Georgia Bulletin, Charlotte Observer, etc., May 10, 1938, typescript in Archives of Belmont Abbey, Belmont, North Carolina.
- Dates:1957Location:Belmont, Gaston CountyStreet Address:Belmont Abbey and College, Belmont, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:One of McInerney's last designs, the building has simple, rectilinear forms but also features the monk's signature cross motif.
- Dates:1921Location:Mount Airy, Surry CountyStreet Address:1208 N. Main St., Mount Airy, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Paschal Baumstein, The Art of Michael McInerney (1992).
Miriam Miller, A History of the Early Years of the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Charlotte (1984).
Laura A. W. Phillips, Simple Treasures: The Architectural Legacy of Surry County (1987).Note:The tiny Gothic Revival church is built in the local Mount Airy Granite used for many structures in town.
- Dates:1921Location:Kinston, Lenoir CountyStreet Address:506 W. Vernon Ave., Kinston, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:M. Ruth Little, Coastal Plain and Fancy: The Historic Architecture of Lenoir County and Kinston, North Carolina (1998).Note:The brick, Gothic Revival church typifies McInerney's style with its simple, gable-fronted form, buttresses, and pointed arched openings. A corner tower and narthex were added in the 1950s. The parish has established a larger church complex on another site, and the 1921 church is home to another congregation.
- Contributors:Michael McInerney, ArchitectDates:Early 20th centuryLocation:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:Asheville, NCStatus:UnknownType:ReligiousNote:The Loretta Hall Convent was part of the St. Joseph Hospital, and it is not clear whether the building still stands within the hospital complex.
- Dates:Ca. 1922Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:Vail Ave., Charlotte, NCStatus:No longer standingType:EducationalNote:According to the web site of Mercy Hospital, the Mercy Hospital and Mercy School of Nursing were established together in 1906 by the Sisters of Mercy of North Carolina. The original hospital was a 25-bed frame building located on E. First Street in downtown Charlotte. In 1916, Mercy Hospital opened at a new site between E. 5th St. and Vail Ave. with the Mercy School of Nursing facilities added in 1922. In 2006 the school moved to Forest Point Circle.
- Dates:1903; 1927Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:Bilyeu St., Raleigh, NCStatus:No longer standingType:PublicNote:In 1927 the Manufacturers' Record reported that "Father Michael" of Belmont had drawn plans for a Catholic orphanage in Raleigh. This probably referred to the wings added to the original 1903 Catholic Orphanage Dormitory, which was one of the city's first reinforced concrete buildings.
- Variant Name(s):St. Patrick Catholic SchoolDates:1930Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:1125 Buchanan St., Charlotte, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The Manufacturers' Record reported in 1930 that Father Michael had designed a parochial school for St. Peter's Catholic Church, to be built of granite and cost $90,000. According to the St. Patrick Catholic School web site, the history of the school began with St. Mary's Seminary founded by the Sisters of Mercy of Belmont, which opened in 1887 on Tryon St. In 1905 it was relocated to another site on Tryon St. and named O'Donoghue Hall for a local physician whose family made a generous donation. The school was moved to 1125 Buchanan Street in Dilworth in 1930. Its imposing stone building is now St. Patrick Catholic School, the oldest Catholic school operating in the Charlotte area.
- Dates:Ca. 1934Location:Albemarle, Stanly CountyStreet Address:400 block N. 2nd St., Albemarle, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ReligiousNote:A marker states, "Our Lady of Annunciation Catholic Church. Erected in 1934. Rebuilt 1971."
- Contributors:Michael McInerney, architect (1900)Dates:1886; 1888; 1898; 1900Location:Belmont, Gaston CountyStreet Address:Belmont-Mount Holly Road, Belmont, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:After much of the late 19th century college building burned in 1900, McInerney planned the reconstruction. The illustration shows Stowe Hall in the middle.
- Dates:1917Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:200 Hillsborough St., Raleigh, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Linda L. Harris and Mary Ann Lee, An Architectural and Historical Inventory of Raleigh, North Carolina (1978).Note:Harris and Lee (Raleigh) indicate that McInerney designed the Gothic Revival stone church, which is now a cathedral said to be the smallest Catholic cathedral in the country.
- Dates:1919; 1927Location:Pinehurst, Moore CountyStreet Address:Pinehurst, NCStatus:UnknownType:ReligiousNote:The congregation moved to a new site and built a new church, which incorporated the stained glass windows from the McInerney church. The 1927 rectory was built as a "Clergy Rest House" for priests from all over the country who came to Pinehurst for a vacation.
- Dates:Early 20th CenturyLocation:Belmont, Gaston CountyStreet Address:Main St., Belmont, NCStatus:UnknownType:EducationalNote:Sacred Heart Academy, later Sacred Heart College, was established by the Sisters of Mercy as a women's college. It closed in 1987. McInerney designed the administration building and another structure called Victory Hall.
- Dates:1938Location:Hickory, Catawba CountyStreet Address:Second St., Hickory, NCStatus:UnknownType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Miriam Miller, A History of the Early Years of the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Charlotte (1984).Note:The 1938 Catholic church later became the parish hall and may be the building still standing.
- Dates:Early 20th centuryLocation:Greenville, Pitt CountyStreet Address:W. 5th St., Greenville, NCStatus:StandingType:Educational
ReligiousNote:The parish has established a large new church on a different site, and the earlier church building is used as a community center.
- Dates:ca. 1917Location:Spencer Mountain, Gaston CountyStreet Address:341 Dallas Spencer Mountain Rd., Spencer Mountain, NCStatus:AlteredType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Kim Withers Brengle, The Architectural Heritage of Gaston County, North Carolina (1982).
- Dates:1927Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:Haywood Rd., Asheville, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Miriam Miller, A History of the Early Years of the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Charlotte (1984).Note:The congregation moved to a new location in Candler, NC, and the old church was razed to make way for a new development.
- Variant Name(s):St. Joseph HospitalDates:1900sLocation:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:Biltmore Ave., Asheville, NCStatus:UnknownType:Health CareImages Puslished In:Paschal Baumstein, The Art of Michael McInerney (1992).Note:The sanitarium was opened in 1900 by the Sisters of Mercy, whose headquarters were in Belmont. In 1906 the sisters also established Mercy Hospital in Charlotte. The institution has become part of a large hospital complex; it is not clear what remains of the old building.
- Dates:Ca. 1928Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:Haywood St., Asheville, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Douglas Swaim, ed., Cabins and Castles: The History and Architecture of Buncombe County, North Carolina (1981).
- Dates:1906-1907Location:Belmont, Gaston CountyStreet Address:Belmont-Mount Holly Road, Belmont, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:Paschal Baumstein, The Art of Michael McInerney (1992).Note:The large brick edifice is an early and influential example of McInerney's "American Benedictine" style. The illustration shows St. Leo Hall on the right.
- Dates:1936Location:Greensboro, Guilford CountyStreet Address:812 Duke St., Greensboro, NCStatus:StandingType:Educational
ReligiousImages Puslished In:Marvin A. Brown, Greensboro: An Architectural Record (1995).
Miriam Miller, A History of the Early Years of the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Charlotte (1984).Note:The St. Mary Catholic Church, a small, Gothic Revival brick church, is part of a complex that also included a convent, school, and rectory, built to serve black residents of east Greensboro.
- Dates:1957Location:Gastonia, Gaston CountyStreet Address:St. Michael Lane, Gastonia, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousNote:A larger church building has been constructed, but the smaller structure is still standing.
- Dates:1930Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:15 N. Tarboro St., Raleigh, NCStatus:StandingType:EducationalNote:The brick school with simple Collegiate Gothic detailing was built by the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh for black students.
- Dates:1936Location:Fayetteville, Cumberland CountyStreet Address:806 Arsenal Ave., Fayetteville, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousNote:The church was built for St. Patrick Catholic Church, but after that parish moved to another site in Fayetteville, the McMichael building became the home of St. Michael the Archangel Maronite Church
- Dates:Early 20th centuryLocation:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:507 S. Tryon St., Charlotte, NCStatus:StandingType:ReligiousNote:St. Peter's Catholic Church in Charlotte is a late 19th century church, long linked with the Belmont religious orders.