FAIRFIELD—Ten years ago, construction concluded on one of Sacred Heart University’s most beautiful and welcoming facilities, the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. The University will celebrate the chapel’s 10th anniversary with yearlong festivities, the first of which will take place Sept. 18 with special guests Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Papal Nuncio (the pope’s representative to the United States). The nuncio will preside at a chapel rededication liturgy at 2 pm, followed by a youth festival for the entire SHU community.
“It is important that we celebrate the chapel, which is at the center of the University campus and its community. It occupies a prominent position that is impossible to miss from almost any direction,” said Father Anthony Ciorra, vice president of mission and Catholic identity. “The chapel is a place the community comes together for Mass and other religious services, and it also serves as a gathering place for guest lecturers, in-depth discussions, musical celebrations and more. No matter an individual’s religious beliefs, all of the Sacred Heart community can enjoy and appreciate the magnificent building.”
David Coppola, senior vice president of administration and planning, oversaw the chapel building project from its planning phases to the final installation of its beautiful stained-glass windows. Coppola said celebrating the anniversary gives the SHU community an opportunity to look back at its history and look ahead to its future. In looking back, the community remembers the notable events that took place at the chapel, from weddings and baptisms to remembrance services and funerals.
“The chapel serves as a wellspring of welcome,” Coppola said. “It’s a place people come together to be encouraged, nourished and taught, while also providing a space reflection.”
Sacred Heart invites the community to honor and recognize the chapel and its role at the University. Following the first event in September, SHU will host a colloquium on the chapel’s art later in the month. In October, SHU’s six colleges will host events and in November, guest speaker Sr. Helen Prejean, activist and author of several books including Dead Man Walking, will be on campus. The University will continue to update the chapel celebrations’ calendar throughout the school year.
About the Chapel of the Holy Spirit
Construction crews broke ground on the chapel—designed by the award-winning, international architectural firm Sasaki Associates—in December 2006. Design inspiration came from Second Vatican Council themes that speak to the Church as the pilgrim people of God, ever on a journey with and toward their Lord. The chapel’s art, music, bells and welcoming spirit all work together to draw people in and send them on their way to make a positive difference, Coppola said.
Because the Holy Spirit inspires wisdom, understanding, knowledge and counsel, Coppola said it was an appropriate name for a chapel on a college campus.
In August 2008, construction paused to allow the creation of the chapel’s dazzling mosaics by famous Jesuit artist Father Marko Ivan Rupnik and his team. Rupnik developed the design and execution of the mosaic art, which depicts stories from the Bible. Inside the chapel, there is a smaller area for daily Mass and private prayer–the Chapel of the Nativity, which seats 50. This chapel is also decorated in Rupnik’s meaningful artwork, such as a depiction of the three kings of the East.
Once the mosaics were installed, construction resumed and the chapel’s organ and bells were put in place. The organ was handcrafted in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, by the Casavant Frères organization, one of the oldest organ builders in the world. It also features a computer interface to help with sophisticated, contemporary music. Outside stands the 80-foot-high bell tower, a dramatic exclamation point near the chapel’s front entrance. Designed in the Netherlands by the Royal Eijsbouts Foundry, the four hand-crafted bronze bells toll the hours and call the University community to prayer. Each bell has a distinctive sound and a message important to the University.
By September 2009, the chapel’s construction was complete. An official dedication ceremony took place, with visitors from as far away as Canada and Europe. The Most Rev. William E. Lori, former Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, now Archbishop of Baltimore, presided at the Rite of Dedication. The ceremony was rich with symbolism and included sprinkling the walls and the congregation with holy water, anointing the altar and the interior walls with sacred oil, and casting incense throughout. Midway through the service, Lori offered this prayer: “Light of Christ, shine forth in the Church and bring all nations to the fullness of truth.” At that moment, all the lights in the new sanctuary turned on and the mosaics were brilliantly lit.
A year later, the chapel’s stained-glass windows were installed over the course of eight days. Also designed by Rupnik, the windows’ colors were chosen specifically to evoke meditation.
For the past 10 years, the chapel has served its purpose well. “It encourages the college’s mission to grow and expand. Its role as a gathering place has been accomplished and, in the future, we will continue to build on that wonderful legacy,” Coppola said.
(For more information, visit the chapel’s 10th anniversary calendar online.)