As noted earlier, the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, the University of Dayton’s iconic chapel on campus, is to be “renovated” this summer. This chapel and its previous splendor was reduced during previous “renovations” that occurred after the Second Vatican Council.
And as we suspected and noted at the time, this project has now been exposed as a blatantly dishonest and ideological-driven effort. A coalition of students, lovers of sacred liturgy as well as just plain lovers of history (who may not even have any affinity for sacred liturgy) are trying to stop this before it is too late.
The following email was sent by a professor to UD faculty:
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: John Inglis <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Subject: In memory of UD Chapel’s apse, hand-carved wooden pulpit, & Virgin Mary on ceiling
Since the renovation of the UD Chapel will involve the almost total destruction of the historical apse (narrow section of the building in front of the old altar), it is nice that we can experience it as a unity for a few months longer! This is in part what it means to preserve and widen a footprint.
Widening the footprint will include the division of the very large wooden pulpit hand-carved in KY in the 1860s in order to display specific parts of it in two or three different locations.
We should have a contest for the number of ten-foot tall hand-carved wooden art works from the 1860s that continue to exist on site in Dayton, let alone southwestern Ohio.
This has been my favorite work of art on UD campus during my 21 years here! That it includes a stairway to the pulpit connects us with early and medieval Christianity, even if no orator has mounted those steps in years. Seeing it for me is like visiting churches and chapels in Europe, which I do each summer precisely to study and photograph such things.
As the widening of the apse will lead to the removal of the historical painting of the Virgin Mary, Trinity, and angels on the ceiling, it is great that we can enjoy them still.
And since a public passageway will be cut through the old wedding cake altar, we can hold it within our gaze a little longer.
These are some of my favorite non-people things at UD and represent much Catholic and Marianist history!
From talking to Marianists, I assume that hundreds of members have taken their religious vows in this space in front of this art.
Ask Marianists that you know. This was not only a university chapel, but an important chapel central to this religious order.
The apse is the oldest part of the chapel not to be disturbed by significant renovations over the last 100+ years. It will now largely be destroyed and replaced with a new wider structure. But, at least the great old stained glass windows high up on the apse walls will be removed and repositioned in the new construction! They are among the jewels of UD.
You can use the flickr address below to see the pulpit, the painting of Mary and the others on the ceiling, wedding cake altar, wooden panelling, stained glass windows, and shape of the apse. This space has its own distinctive character, which will no longer exist.
The character is in part a Catholic puritanism imposed by the European Marianists over and against the greater richness of the original plans. The order made a choice for simplicity, in some ways, or at least for me, an option for St. Francis and against the neogothic splendor of the aristocracy, a choice that continues to speak to many today.
or a larger printable file,
The apse space is being widened to include a place for the choir and more seating area. So the chapel will be more useful for liturgy today, which will be nice. I worshiped here for a decade, so can appreciate that.
The loss on the exterior will not be huge, largely the widened apse and a long one-story building constructed along much of the south side of the chapel, the side towards St. Joseph’s. But it will directly affect the 19th century feel of the space. It will be a great historical loss for the university and US Catholic higher education.
UD is one of the very few Catholic universities to have its original core campus from the Nineteenth Century largely intact. This is very rare in the US. Maybe someone can mention another campus that has it to this extent, but Notre Dame lost theirs years ago and I do not know of another Catholic campus in the US with so much of its core remaining from the mid and late 1800s.
The interior loss to the chapel will be significant, with the loss of the apse, pulpit, Virgin Mary painting, interior woodwork, and altar at one end; and loss of the 19th century balcony and pipe organ at the other. Remarkably, the balcony is held up with 19th century cast iron pillars that have different capitals on top, as if they were carved out of stone! Take a look before they are gone.
When stone was dominant, each piece was handmade, so stone pillars often differed from each other. When iron casting came in, this was no longer necessary, but the practice of utilizing difference continues at UD.
John Haldane, a visiting Scottish philosopher of international renown who has given the Gifford Lectures, marveled at the cast iron pillars a few weeks ago while on tour. This was an early industrial type of construction which blends in with the medieval style of the building as a whole. Viollet le Duc praised this use of modern construction for such purposes in his important encyclopedia, which Frank Lloyd Wright held up as the great work on architecture.
The political- and religiously radical stained glass windows that stand along the sides of the chapel and represent so much of the dreams of Vatican II, will be replaced with a gentle geometric design more like the originals. I hope they sell the post-Vatican II panes, for I would like one, and it would raise money for the construction. And certainly it is ingenious to turn the confessionals into shrines.
As one member of the Chapel renovation committee has reportedly said recently (off committee), at least we are keeping the blue dome on top!
Because we are now able to use Holy Angels church on Brown Street for large Eucharistic gatherings, we could renovate this chapel with historical respect. It is not necessary to renovate historical buildings according to contemporary standards.
I understand why UD is not doing this, as it will be more convenient for smaller Eucharists and weddings, but lament the loss none-the-less.
If you see me photographing the site over the next few months, stop by for conversation, so that we can observe one of Dayton’s and our region’s historical monuments together for a little longer. To my knowledge it has not been properly documented or studied.
Chair and Professor of Philosophy
Who knows if it is too late to stop this.