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Sense of Place

Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Sacred Heart University (Conn.)

Creating a dedicated space for meditation and worship
University Business, Jan 2010
A priest based in Rome was chosen to create the mosaic art, and a Netherlands-based bell foundry cast the bells.

With just a tiny chapel located within its student center and main academic building, it was time for a standalone chapel at Sacred Heart.

  • FUNCTION: A large chapel seating 500 and a small chapel seating 50, as well as external gardens and meditation space for a total of 14,000 square feet.
  • CHALLENGES: Since 1963, a small, dark room fitting just up to 100 people at once had served as the campus chapel. It had no permanent seats, only rows of chairs arranged against the left and right walls, facing each other. Because of that layout, those attending services or there for reflection could be easily distracted.

SHU made the shift from a commuter school to a residential university in 1989, and the need for a larger chapel was quickly realized. As the number of students living on campus increased, the gymnasium was temporarily used for university masses, followed by the auditorium when the gym was also found to be too small. "The need for a new chapel evolved out of the reality of what the campus became," explains President Anthony Cernera. "We are a Catholic university and needed a place for students to express their faith as members of the community."

A new chapel building was part of a campus plan approved five years ago. A group of students, faculty, and staff helped with everything from the choice of architect to small details of construction. More than 700 individual donors contributed project funds. Ground broke two years ago and concluded this past summer.

Officials have also made it a multicultural facility. Fr. Rupnik, described as a "modern day Michelangelo," constructed the artwork of the mosaics throughout the main and small chapels during the summer completing the project in only 12 days. He is currently designing the stained glass windows to be installed later this year. The completed chapel has been met with overwhelmingly positive feedback. "The chapel is the heart of the campus," Cernera says. "It met our best expectations and then some."

  • COST: $17 million
  • COMPLETED: August 2009
  • ARCHITECT: Sasaki Associates
  • SOLUTION: The building's main chapel is large, open, and bright white with a tiered ceiling. Permanent pews seating 500 face the altar, behind which is a mosaic designed by Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik S.J. of Rome. The glass walls in the narthex aim to show the intersection between daily life and the life of prayer. The chapel roof has copper folds in the manner of a nomadic tent, and the bell tower houses four bells, the largest one inscribed with a verse from the Hebrew Bible, an expression of interreligious solidarity. Cernera says, "Our hope is, while this is a Catholic chapel, people of all other religious traditions will find it as a place for prayer and meditation and feel welcome here."

Breaking Ground: Other Places

  • Construction of a fine and performing arts center at Bowie State University (Md.). The current center houses many departments besides the arts; this building will be dedicated solely to the arts. The 123,000-square-foot facility will include a 400-seat main theatre, a 200-seat experimental black box, a 200-seat recital hall, an art gallery, classrooms, class laboratories, and offices. The total cost of the project, scheduled for October 2011 completion, will be $79 million. Holder Construction Company is the contractor.
  • Renovation of an academic building at Troy University (Ala.). Bibb Graves Hall will get an added 53,300-plus square feet, including a new wing that will house an international business center and the Confucius Institute at Troy University, part of a global network of nonprofit public institutes aimed at promoting Chinese language and culture. New high-tech classrooms and computer labs, study lounges, and an auditorium with more than 250 seats will also be added. Funded by bond money as well as private donors, this project will run close to $8 million and is scheduled for August 2011 completion. It was designed by McKee Associates Architecture and Interior Design of Alabama.