Enabling the word to be heard at St Columban

Published: WORSHIP

USA: The first St Columban Catholic Church in Southern California's Orange County was dedicated in 1947, followed by the construction of Murphy Hall in 1956. The area and the congregation continued to grow, and St Columban's current sanctuary, built in 1968, is correspondingly larger than earlier buildings. Measuring 46.5m long by 55.5m wide and seating 1,434, it features Roman Travertine marble-covered walls and mosaics depicting the stations of the cross in a flowing panorama. The congregation is diverse: Mass is celebrated in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

The sanctuary’s original sound system dated back to the construction of the building and was never truly adequate. ‘When I arrived at St Columban's about two years ago, one big need that was expressed to me was to do something about the sound,’ recalls Father Al Baca. ‘The problem was very noticeable. In the back third of the church, speech was not intelligible at all. Catholic churches are generally built with a sensitivity to Gregorian Chant, to the ancient forms, which carry beautifully in a church like this. But spoken word is a challenge.’

To replace its outdated sound system and address the intelligibility issue, St Columban's called on local A/V firm AudioVideo Technologies Inc, which specified a Renkus-Heinz IC² digitally steerable loudspeaker system. ‘During the design process, we brought in Renkus-Heinz to demo their IC² loudspeakers,’ relates AudioVideo Technologies founder and president David Lusk. ‘I was very impressed with what I heard. The sound was very evenly dispersed. Ultimately, we were able to design a system using a stack of two Renkus-Heinz IC²s on the left and a stack of two IC²s on the right. That's all the speakers we needed to cover the entire room.’

The vertical output of the IC²’s can be divided between up to four steerable sonic beams. ‘The IC²'s steerable technology allowed us to precisely focus the sound at the pews and keep it off the marble-covered walls, the ceilings, and away from the hollow void in the middle of the space,’ explains Mr Lusk. ‘The sound stays focused on the people, where it's supposed to be.

‘Renkus-Heinz steering technology forced me to change the way I do my designs,’ Mr Lusk admits. ‘I'm kind of old school. I've been doing this for about 30 years. I believe that the fewer moving parts you have in a project, the more reliable it's going to be. The IC² is quite powerful, the sound is very clear, and with its precise beam-steering, we are able to cover everything with just two stacks and a total of four speakers. With a traditional approach, we might have needed 25 speakers – a lot more moving parts. Steering technology allowed me to keep it simple at St Columban's, and the results have been exceptional.’

'We're delighted with the new sound system,' confirms Father Baca. 'Our sanctuary was constructed so that no member of the congregation is seated more than 100 feet from the main altar, and there are no pillars, so everyone can see. Now everyone can hear too.'


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