Local Architect Designs Chapel in Vatican

Catholic Foundation hears from Pittsburgh architect who designed Vatican chapel

‘God has something special planned for all of us’



Louis Astorino believes it’s important for every Catholic to contribute to the church in some way.

“It’s an everyday part of our lives, and we need the courage to make it stronger,” said the Pittsburgh architect, who is known for designing prominent structures such as PNC Park and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

But, Astorino has contributed to the church in a way no other American has ever done: He designed a chapel that stands inside the Vatican — the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.

This fall, Astorino spoke to The Catholic Foundation of the Diocese of Greensburg to detail how he earned the great honor of designing the chapel nearly 25 years ago. The story is detailed in his book, “A Pencil in God’s Hand: The Story of the Only American Architect to Design a Building in the Vatican.”

It all started with a phone call in 1993. On the other end of Astorino’s line was Pittsburgh entrepreneur John Connelly, founder of the Gateway Clipper Fleet and riverboat casino pioneer. The men worked together professionally and were friends.

Connelly had been contacted by Pittsburgh Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua, seeking a donation for a new Vatican hotel requested by Pope John Paul II. The new building would house visiting clergy and have a chapel within it.

Astorino recalls Connelly’s words:

“‘I told them, Lou, I would do it under two conditions: First, that I can pray in this chapel and stay in this hotel any time I visit Rome and, second, I want to pick the architect because I know the best one in the world. So, pack your bags, Lou, we are going to Rome.”

Astorino, a lifelong Catholic, said he was “blown away” to receive the greatest honor he could imagine.

Once in Rome, Astorino looked to his faith for inspiration.

The site was triangular and posed a design challenge for an architect trying to create a square structure.

“I finally came to the conclusion that this is a triangular site, don’t fight it, and follow God’s lead,” Astorino said.

He chose to study what God did with triangles in nature: fractals, snowflakes and even coastlines. Ultimately, he realized that a triangular design even complemented the name of the building — the Chapel of the Holy Spirit — because a triangle reflected the Holy Trinity.

Today, the chapel is closed to the general public because it is used almost daily by Pope Francis to celebrate Mass for visiting clergy and other Vatican guests. And, all these years later, Astorino still feels humbled to have played such a key role in creating such a special place.

“Why was I chosen for this project? I am still searching for the answer,” he said. “Maybe it is to encourage others that God has something special planned for all of us.”


Subscribe today!