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St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church

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1932. High and Winter sts.
  • St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church (John M. Miller)
  • (Dexter Ennis Keegan)
  • (Dexter Ennis Keegan)

The Arts and Crafts look of these buildings suggests a date around 1915. What accounts for the late date of this church? And who designed it? Rustic and diminutive qualities are exaggerated in the church, conveying an appealing sense of humility and protection consonant with the life of the saint it celebrates. Random masonry walls are laid up to emphasize their textural qualities. All openings are tiny: the rose window in front a mere eyeball; the tower openings slits; the nave triplets squeezed under the eaves and marked off by miniature buttresses; the “clerestory” a row of minuscule gables. The three entrances are protected by a wooden porch for the center door, flanked by bracketed hoods for those to either side, all rustic in character and domestic in scale. The rustic effect is increased by the change from the masonry to wood to mark the gable end, with the lower truss bent in an arc over the little rose window. The bell cupola is a domical mini-building clasped, like a gem in a ring, by pronglike crenellations at each corner of the tower. Although this expressive craftsmanship is very appealing, some streak of conventionality restrains the architect from forcing his shapes and proportions to their full effect. Likewise in the too barren interior, where, however, the elements of the exposed wooden structure, which comprises the arcade columns and rafters for nave and side aisles, meld into one another as continuous curves rather than in the usual angular manner.

But what astonishes is the community hall behind the church, a barnlike building of textured brick with random splashes of masonry and tiny metal casement windows here and there. The brick wall, edged in stone, seems to part like a stage curtain around a nondescript entrance. Vertical stained boarding fills the resulting orifice (as in the gable front over the entrances to the church). At the pinnacle, the stone border continues as a cross inset in the wall up to the gable ridge. It seems to be a composite emblem of the stage within and of a cave or mountain with a cross on top. A sculptural stone chimney sits low on the gable. There is nothing like it in Rhode Island. So the final questions: how did it come to Wakefield? After this frontispiece one expects more than a quite functional interior, with exposed wood, brick, and steel spanning girders and a few craftsy touches. It is as though its designer counted on the nondescript factualism of the building to magnify the magic of the emblem.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church", [South Kingstown, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 380-380.

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