John Theodore Comès (1873 - 1922) was born Larochette, (Fels), Mersch, Luxemburg on Wednesday, January 29, 1873. He was the eldest of five children born in the Comès household. Only one other sibling, however, survived past infancy. His father was a woodcarver. The family immigrated to Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1881. Comès followed a parochial education from Sacred Heart Parish in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
He arrived in Pittsburgh in 1896. He first worked for F. H. DeArment and the Pittsburgh offices of Peabody and Stearns, of Rutan and Russell, and of the Beezer Brothers. Comès designed churches for Rutan and Russell and Beezer Brothers before opening his own firm in 1902.
He established his own architectural office in Pittsburgh in the Washington Building on Fifth Avenue in Uptown. In 1914 he moved the firm to the Renshaw Building at the corner of Liberty Avenue and Ninth Avenue.
Comès design of churches became widely known. Soon, he was meeting with bishops across the United States who were interested in having him design a church or cathedral for their parish. In addition, Comès was becoming a "go to" person for matters of design and community development. He was held in very high regard by city planners, the AIA, and community non-profits.
By 1921, the practice had grown and William R. Perry and Leo McMullen were elevated to full partners, the firm being reorganized as Comès, Perry and McMullen. He was seriously ill with cancer and prepared the firm for the completion of the outstanding (open) contracts throughout the United States.
John Theodore Comès died on (Holy) Thursday, April 13, 1922 at the age of 49 at his home at 3242 Beechwood Boulevard. He is interred next to his wife in the Calvary Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh architectural and Roman Catholic community greatly mourned his death.
The firm continued as Comès, Perry and McMullen until 1928 when the partnership was dissolved and the remaining partners formed their own design studios.
In an extract from the family chronicle that John Richard Comès penned in his own hand, we know that in 1881 the John R. Comès family immigrated to the United States with John Richard Comès, father; Margaretha Rodange Comès, mother; John Theodore Comès, son; and Madeleine Comès, daughter; to Saint Paul, Minnesota. (Previously, the paternal grandfather John Baptiste Comès, along with John Richard Comès' two brothers John Aloysius Comès and John Adam Comès immigrated to the United States on May 9, 1880.)
John celebrated his first Holy Communion on July 5, 1885 in the parish church of the Sacred Heart in Dayton's Bluff neighborhood of Saint Paul. In the same church John was confirmed on December 14, 1890. Madeleine celebrated her first Holy Communion on July 3, 1892 in the Sacred Heart Church in Saint Paul, and later was confirmed on November 18, 1894 in the Sacred Heart Church in Morrilton, Arkansas. (The family had moved to Morrilton, Arkansas in July 1894, where the rest of the Comès family had settled in 1880.)
On February 12, 1897, the Comès parents celebrated their silver wedding anniversary in Morrilton, Arkansas. Margaretha Rodange Comès died on January 14, 1899 in Morrilton, Arkansas. John Richard Comès died on July 27, 1928 in Morrilton, Arkansas. They are buried in the Sacred Heart Cemetery, Morrilton, Arkansas.
John's sister Magdalena Comès married William Augustus Beschorner on May 9, 1905 at the Sacred Heart Church in Morrilton, Arkansas. She died on May 20 1937 in North Little Rock, Arkansas. She and her husband are buried in the Calvary Cemetery in North Little Rock, Arkansas.
John received parochial schooling at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Dayton's Bluff, Saint Paul, Minnesota. There is no record of education from college or university. There is no record of apprenticeship in architecture. His grandfather and father were carpenters and wood carvers.
On June 20, 1917, John received a Master's Degree honoris causa from Mt. Saint Mary's College, Emmitsburg, Maryland. There is no record of his attending this college for any course work.
John married Honora (Nora) B. Webber on Tuesday, September 9, 1902 in the Saint Paul Cathedral in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The ceremony was officiated by the Bishop Regis Canevin with whom Comès had become close friends.
Honora B. Webber was born on October 8, 1877 in Grandview, Ohio to Robert Jerome Webber and Elizabeth Ellis Webber. Prior to their marriage, Nora was already living in Pittsburgh because she lists 609 Dallas Avenue, Point Breeze, Pittsburgh, as her address on the marriage license application.
Following the death of John T. Comès, Nora stayed for a time at the Beechwood Boulevard home in order that the three daughters may complete their parochial school education. According to The Index, a weekly society rotogravure, Nora and the three daughters travelled to London and Europe on the R.M.S Laconia (Cunard Line) in June 1926. They would spend two years abroad while the two eldest daughters studied in London and Italy. In 1929, she sold the Squirrel Hill home and moved into the Pennsylvania Apartments located on North Dithridge Street in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
She moved to Washington, D.C. in 1939. Eleanor and Marcella both made their homes here as well. She was a longtime member of the Annunciation Church in the Cathedral Heights area of Washington, D.C.. Honora died on Friday, November 20, 1976 at the age of 99 in the Sacred Heart Home in Hyattsville, Prince George's County, Maryland. She is interred at the Calvary Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, next to her husband and eldest daughter.
The Comès family had three lovely daughters: Mary Eleanor born on November 4, 1903, Marcella born on September 3, 1905, and Alice born on January 29, 1909.
Each of these girls received a parochial education in Pittsburgh and went on to further education in various colleges. Eleanor went to Trinity College in Washington, D. C. and later did graduate work at Oxford University in England. Marcella studied art at the Carnegie Technical Institute and studied for a time in Florence, Italy.
Eleanor made a career as a secretary to the ambassador in the Luxembourg Embassy in Washington, D.C. Marcella made a career of painting and immersing herself in the cultural life of Washington, D.C. She painted a number of military leaders, poets, writers, actors, and socialites of the time. Alice married and moved with her career military husband to Pasadena, California where she was active in the theatre and cultural life. Each daughter married and raised successful and artistic children.
When John T. Comès arrived in Pittsburgh in 1896, he rented rooms in a home at 45 Palo Alto Street in Allegheny City (now Pittsburgh's North Side).
At the time of his marriage, Comès lived at 639 Maryland Avenue in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
In December 1905, Comès bought property and built a house at 3242 Beechwood Boulevard in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. While the house was under construction, the family remained in the Maryland Avenue home. It is believed that Comès himself designed the Beechwood Boulevard home in the Arts and Crafts style that was popular in residential architecture at that time. The five bedroom home has oak-paneled walls on the first floor and finished wood floors throughout. Charles Connick designed the leaded glass windows throughout the home, each with a stained glass medallion depicting a season or heraldic motif. Comès always referred to his home in letters and in conversation as Unserheim, "Our Home."
John Theodore Comès suffered from liver cancer, however, when the diagnosis was made is not known. Sometime in early August 1921 he underwent surgery for cancer of the liver. On August 19, he penned a letter to the editor of The Fortnightly Review asking him for prayers. The editor turned around and ran the letter in the September 1, 1921 issue of the journal:
"Dear Friend, I have just returned home from the hospital, where I was operated upon. 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? Wishing you God's blessing in your noble work and with highest esteem, I am very sincerely yours, John T. Comes."
We know that through letters to his sister in Arkansas and to close friends that he was very aware of his mortality. It is suspected that he sought out divine healing and treatments when he traveled to Europe's sacred places. For the last weeks of his life he was confined to his bedroom at 3242 Beechwood Boulevard. In a letter to George Sotter, he asked that a bird house be hung outside his bedroom window. Comès died on (Holy) Thursday, April 13, 1922 at the age of 49 at his home at 3242 Beechwood Boulevard. On the Monday following Easter, April 17, a funeral mass was sung for him at the Saint Paul Cathedral in Oakland. He was interred at Calvary Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. George Sotter fashioned a gravestone of rose granite with the family name "COMES" facing the road side and the Sacred Heart of Jesus executed in gold and colored glass mosaic on the grave side. Today, his wife and his eldest daughter lie in repose next to him. Each has a headstone in the grass just beneath the grave marker. A single footstone of rose granite marked "John T. Comes" rests at their feet.
The Pittsburgh architectural and Roman Catholic communities greatly mourned his death. His obituary appeared in every Pittsburgh newspaper and in the architectural trade journals. In the Catholic journals, in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects and in the journal Charette of the Pittsburgh Architecture Club, lengthy obituaries were written mourning the loss of such a man and praising his great works in Roman Catholic Church architecture. An interesting note, from his gravesite you can see his beloved home Unserheim just across the way. In death he was still very close to those whom he loved the most, his beloved wife and his three lovely daughters.