John Theodore Comes


John Theodore Comes

Larochette, Canton de Mersch, Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Death 13 Apr 1922 (aged 49)
Squirrel Hill, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA
Burial Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA
Plot Section R, Lot 164, Grave 1
Memorial ID 107300961 View Source
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From the website of architectural historian David McMunn:

Working for the firm of Rutan and Russell, John T. Comès designed the St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church for the German community in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh in 1899.
In 1902, working for the firm of Beezer and Beezer, he designed the St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church for the Slovak community in Lawrenceville.

By the end of 1902, he opened his own office and had begun to design churches under his own firm. By the time of his death in April, 1922, Comès had designed over eighty churches and parochial buildings. Many of his commissions were finished by his partners William Perry and Leo McMullen.

He is credited as the catalyst behind the founding of the Pittsburgh Architectural Club in 1896. The PAC incorporated in 1901. From 1907 until 1916, the PAC sponsored an annual architecture exposition at the Carnegie Institute in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. This exhibit highlighted art, decoration, and architectural sketches for architects and decorators throughout the United States.

In 1908, John T. Comès applied for and was accepted as a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) headquartered in Washington, D.C. For a time, he was the president of the Pittsburgh Chapter. He remained a member of the AIA until his death. In 1923, he was awarded, posthumously, fellowship into the AIA.


Following information from "John T. Comes, Catholic Architect (1873-1922),"
Gathered Fragments (Publication of the Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania),
by John C. Bates, J.D., Fall 2013.
Submitted by Member Angela, Member #48520699, also member of the CHSWPA and
of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation:

Born into a family of artisans in Larochette, on the White Ernz River
in the canton of Mersch, central Luxembourg.

Parents: John Richard Comes, an expert woodcarver who had studied architecture at the University of Cologne, and Margaretha Rodange Comes. Of their 7 children, only John and Magdalena survived past infancy.

Family emigrated to America when John was 8 and initially settled in St. Paul, Minnesota, where his father specialized in ecclesiastical woodwork. He designed and crafted altars, communion rails, confessionals, baptismal fonts, and Stations of the Cross. Recognizing his son's talent, John's father apprenticed his son to an architect. He earned Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in Architecture from Mount St. Mary's College, Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1890.

Comes visited the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, then, en route to New York City, decided to stop and see the steel mills in Pittsburgh. He worked for the firms of Rutan & Russell, and Beezer & Beezer, creating St. Augustine and St. John the Baptist Catholic Churches. Pittsburgh's numerous grand churches are a reflection of the influx of hundreds of thousands of European immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Comes lived with the family of architect-friend Charles Ingham until his marriage in 1902.
(See Nora Comes site.)

With the opening of his own firm, also in 1902, Comes focused on the production of Catholic churches and related buildings (rectories, schools, and convents), mostly in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, but also in Kansas, Ohio, Missouri, New York, Utah, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C. He designed over 60 buildings for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which then consisted of ten counties.

Comes traveled to Europe, where he sketched and drew inspiration by making "an exhaustive study of ancient church architecture" in England, France, Germany, and Italy. On another trip, he met with Pope Pius X, and informed him that he was trying to improve church architecture, just as the pope was trying to improve church music.

Comes gave yearly lectures to the seminarians at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe and to seminary students elsewhere in the country. (Among the students he addressed was the future Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.) In 1920, he authored "Catholic Art and Architecture: A Lecture to Seminarists," a 76-page work with 50 pages of illustrations, based on his lectures and work.

His deep Catholic faith led to many commissions.
The majority of his works are Romanesque, but he was at home in any style. Brick was readily available in Pittsburgh; he preferred to guild Gothic churches in stone.

Principal works in Western Pennsylvania include, but are not limited to:
St. Augustine Church, German Romanesque, Lawrenceville, 1901
Sts. Peter and Paul Church (now Keating Hall) and Rectory, Beaver, 1901
St. John the Baptist Church, Italian Romanesque, 1903; School and Convent, 1907, Lawrenceville
Holy Family Church, Latrobe, 1906
Transfiguration Church, Monongahela, 1907
St. Felix Church, Freedom, 1907
St. Joseph Hospital, E. Carson St., Pittsburgh (now Carson Towers), 1909
Church of the Epiphany (interior marbles, mosaics, glass, and bronze) Lower Hill District, Pittsburgh, 1910
All Saints Church, Rectory, School, and Convent, Masontown, 1910
Resurrection School, Brookline area of Pittsburgh, (now Creedmoor Court), 1910, 1912
St. Paul Church, Butler, 1911
St. Raphael Church, (now Gallagher Hall) Morningside section of Pittsburgh, 1911
St. Gertrude Church, Vandergrift, 1911
St. Joseph Church, New Brighton, 1912
St. Jerome Church, Rectory, and School, Charleroi, 1913
St. James Rectory, School, and Convent, Wilkinsburg, 1913
St. Anthony Church and Rectory, Millvale, 1914
St. Columba Church, Cambria City (Johnstown), 1914
St. Fidelis Seminary, Herman, 1915
St. Paul Cathedral High School, Oakland section of Pittsburgh, 1915
All Saints Church, Etna, 1915
St. Josaphat Church, South Side of Pittsburgh, 1916
St. Agnes Church and Rectory, Oakland, 1917
Chapel of St. Paul of the Cross Monastery, South Side, 1918
St. Mary Byzantine Church, Cambria City, 1922

Comes' fame extended across the country. He designed St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen Catholic Church, in Victoria, Kansas, (1911), the only Minor Basilica in the state. St. Fidelis is best known as the "Cathedral of the Plains," a name given by American orator and politician William Jennings Bryan.

Comes was a member of St. Paul Cathedral Parish, Duquesne Council of the Knights of Columbus, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Catholic Federation of Arts, both the Pennsylvania and Allegheny County branches of the Federation of Catholic Societies, City Planning Board, City of Pittsburgh Art Commission, and American Institute of Architects.

For almost three decades, Comes was one of the prominent and active ecclesial architects in Pittsburgh and in the nation. As he approached what appeared to be the true pinnacle of worldly success, Comes was diagnosed with cancer of the liver in August, 1921 - the unexpected culmination of a long-standing condition that had been considered to be merely stomach indigestion. He underwent surgery and shared the seriousness of his diagnosis with friends and the public. "The outcome is entirely in the hands of God and beyond those of the doctors. May I therefore kindly ask you to pray for my recovery or a happy death."

Four months later and with no evidence that his surgery had been successful, Comes, in December 1921, added two partners - William Richard Perry (Memorial #122396445) and Leo Andrew McMullen (Memorial #167563758).

John T. Comes died at 12:20 a.m. on Holy Thursday, April 13, 1922, at the age of 49 in his home at 3242 Beechwood Boulevard in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. His cancer had lasted eight months and treatments at hospitals throughout the country proved unsuccessful.

In the tradition of the times, Comes was waked at his own home. He was buried following a Requiem Mass at St. Paul's Cathedral on Monday, April 17. His gravesite overlooks his home. Comes had designed his own tombstone in his final days: a six-foot stone of Carrara marble from Italy. (The front side of the cenotaph is on his wife Nora's site.)

Designed by Comes, but completed after his death:
St. Philomena Church, Rectory, School, and Convent, Squirrel Hill, 1922
Most Holy Sacrament Church (now Blessed Sacrament Cathedral), Greensburg, PA, 1928

A Pennsylvania Historical Marker was dedicated on January 27, 2013, the 140th anniversary of Comes' birth. Located in front of the former St. Agnes Church at 3219 Fifth Ave., now part of Carlow University in Oakland.

From Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation: John T. Comes was the architect for his home at 3242 Beechwood Boulevard, Squirrel Hill, built 1906-1910.
The home received a PHLF Historic Landmark Plaque.

Edited and submitted by Angela, Member #48520699, Member of the Catholic Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania and of Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.



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