Ralphael Plescia’s Christian School


Photo by Travis Low and Torben Bernhard

Sculpture at Ralphael Plescia’s Christian School.

Although his works are not widely known, Ralphael Plescia will be remembered as a fantastic sculptor. From a very young age, Ralph showed a lot of interest in fine arts, especially sculpture. He spent most of his childhood playing in the Gilgal Sculpture Gardens where he watched Thomas Child build his sculptures. As an adult, Ralph would gain possession of his fathers auto parts store, and begin his life’s work—The Christian School. 

In 1970, Ralphael lost his grandmother, sister, father, and youngest daughter, all in a very short period of time. Due to this loss, he became owner of his father’s old auto parts store, which would go on to house his life’s work. Finding

Ralpahel Plescia’s Christian School (Photo by Travis Low and )

inspiration in the Bible, specifically the 12th chapter of the Book of Revelations in the New Testament, as well as female religious figures such as the Virgin Mary and Saint Bernadette, he began a series of beautiful sculptures. Many of these sculptures are fused into the very foundation of the building, top to bottom. The building itself serves as Ralph’s storytelling device, with the expanded second story housing a painting of the Heavens, God, and four deceased relatives mentioned above. The bottom of the building resembles a watery underworld. Amazingly enough, to add to the impressiveness of his sculptures, Ralph did many of the renovations on the building himself. He installed a skylight into the roof and  hand dug out the basement with 5-gallon buckets, deep enough to hit groundwater. His works are just as diverse as they are incredible, ranging from larger than life sculptures to paintings, including multiple paintings of religious figures on the backs of musical instruments. 

Inspiration stems from Plescia’s deep religious ideas, including the idea of a Heavenly Mother, which Plescia

Ralphael Plescia’s Christian School (Photo by Travis Low and Torben Bernhard)

emphasized in his work. When he was alive, he welcomed visitors into the school Monday through Friday, and would give tours while explaining his ideas to guests. He said that his goal in creating the school was always to educate people on his beliefs. It was never about making a profit for Ralph, which would pose a problem for the longevity of the school following his death. 

In his father’s will, Ralph would maintain ownership of the building for as long as he had use for it, but upon his death, the building would be returned to the ownership of Shriners Children’s Hospital. In August of 2022, Ralphael Plescia passed away at the age of 84, from gastrointestinal complications. This leaves the building in custody of Shriners, who previously issued Ralph’s family a notice to vacate the building of all personal belongings, including all 50 years of his works, by December 1, 2022. When Shriners was notified that much of the artwork was actually sculpted into the building itself, they issued an extension to the family, but have not spoken about the building since, leaving the future of Plescia’s work undetermined.

Efforts are being made by many preservation groups to save Ralphael Plescia’s Christian School, but there are many obstacles in the way of its preservation. One of the main issues in the way of saving the building is where it is built. Being located right off of State Street, the School is on prime real estate. Already that area has seen a proliferation of

Ralphael Plescia in his Christian School. (Photo by Travis Low and Torben Bernhard)

new developments, causing preservationists concern. Another concern is the ability to monetize the Christian School, in the event that Shriners Hospital makes the decision to sell it. Former director of Preservation Utah, Kirk Huffaker, stated in an interview for the Salt Lake Tribune that, “even if [the building] gets donated to someone like a nonprofit, giving guidelines are such that they need to monetize that donation, with real property, stock, or whatever comes in as quickly as possible.” This poses a problem for multiple reasons. The first being that Ralphael never intended for the school to be for profit. He only wanted to educate people, money was not his goal in creating it. Secondly, the building would be difficult to monetize, even as an attraction, due to the layout. Some of Ralph’s sculptures are extremely difficult to navigate, and wouldn’t meet building safety standards. Despite these complications, multiple organizations have stepped in to attempt to save the school, such as the Utah Arts Alliance. 

No updates to the Christian School’s future have been made by any organization since November of last year. But hopefully it, and the memory of Ralphael, will stand as a part of Utah for years to come!