George Rafferty re-imagined religious architecture in the wake of World War II — from imposing, awe-inspiring churches to welcoming places that fostered a sense of community and blended into their surroundings.
The St. Paul architect, in tandem with his brother Richard, designed numerous Catholic and Protestant churches across the country, ushering modernism into an area of architecture once steeped in tradition. He received national acclaim and Minnesota's highest professional recognition, the American Institute of Architects-Minnesota Gold Medal. He also helped make the Twin Cities architectural community tighter-knit and more collegial, promoting the idea of design as a team endeavor.
Rafferty died in late December, just days shy of his 101st birthday.
"He was one of the greats — an extraordinary person in addition to being an extraordinary architect," said Mary-Margaret Zindren, AIA-Minnesota's executive vice president.
Rafferty grew up on St. Paul's East Side, where he went to Harding High School. After graduating from the University of Minnesota School of Architecture in 1942, he joined the Army Air Corps and served as a flight instructor in Denver. After the war, he earned a master's degree in architecture from Harvard. There, he studied under German architect Walter Gropius, a key proponent of European modernism and its marriage of form and function.
Later Rafferty settled in St. Paul with his wife, Betty Jane Kase. They would be married for 72 years and have four children. He taught at the U in the 1950s.
Gary Reetz, who interviewed Rafferty for a Modern Masters video project at the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians, says Rafferty was instrumental in bringing modernism to Minnesota.
In his St. Paul basement, he and Richard spent evenings sketching out entries for the numerous design competitions of the late 1950s and early '60s, becoming finalists in the major Toronto and Boston city hall contests. Rafferty's son Craig scribbled nearby, certain even as a young boy he would be an architect, too.
Those basement sessions spawned the Raffertys' own firm, now called Architecture Advantage. Although they worked on various projects, including Como Park Zoo's big cat exhibit, they made their name in religious architecture.
Their big break came with the design of St. Jude Catholic Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., which foreshadowed the Vatican II push for a more accessible church. The Raffertys broke with the tradition of ornate, imposing Catholic churches, instead embracing clean lines, simple materials such as brick and designs that reflected their whereabouts.
Rafferty worked on projects across the Midwest, in the South and on the East Coast. He was especially proud of his work on St. John the Evangelist Church in Hopkins, now St. Gabriel's: By arranging pews on three sides of the altar, he sought to make services feel more intimate and personal.
Rafferty was active on the local architecture scene, helping foster its camaraderie. He was quick to call and congratulate colleagues who had secured projects for which his firm also competed, said architect Dewey Thorbeck.
He and Craig Rafferty are the only father-son pair to both win the AIA-Minnesota Gold Medal.
He worked into his late 80s and maintained his registration as an architect until age 98.
"Even though he was so well-respected and his work was so well-known, he was a person of great humility," said AIA-Minnesota's Zindren.
Rafferty is also survived by daughters Chris and Kathy and son Rob, nine grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Services have been held.