Chapel picking: A tour of Stonehill College’s campus ‘Sacred spaces’

By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff

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EASTON, Mass. — During a recent tour of the chapels scattered throughout the nearly 400-acre campus of Stonehill College in Easton, Father Robert Kruse, C.S.C., a 1955 graduate and retired faculty member, said it’s rare for a college to have so many different places of worship.

“We do have a lot of chapels on campus,” Father Kruse said. “From the looks of it, you’d think all we did was pray.”

Standing inside the oldest of the four main campus chapels — the 40-seat Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel on the first floor of Donahue Hall, Stonehill’s central administration building — Father Kruse noted how the site is often used for funeral Masses or memorial services.

“If there’s a death in the family and someone would like a Mass celebrated, it might be held in this chapel, along with the Chapel of Mary, which is the main chapel at the center of campus,” Father Kruse said.

Originally used as a seminarians’ chapel for future Holy Cross priests in the days before Stonehill was formally established in 1948, the Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel is so-named for the congregation’s patroness.

“Our Lady of Sorrows is the patroness of the entire (Holy Cross) congregation,” Father Kruse told The Anchor, adding that people often mistakenly refer to them as the Congregation of the Holy Cross.

“Our congregation was founded in a suburb of Le Mans, France, where the great 24-hour race is held every year,” Father Kruse explained. “And this suburb was called Sainte Croix, Holy Cross. So we are not the Congregation of Holy Cross, we are the Congregation from Holy Cross — that is our Latin title: Congregatio de Sancta Cruce. And I kind of like that (distinction) because it gives an emphasis to place: where you’re from.”

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Even after 50 years as a faculty member, it’s clear Father Kruse still enjoys sharing his vast knowledge of the college’s rich history.

He explained how the Donahue Administration Building was originally a private mansion purchased from the Ames family in 1934 and how it was later named for Father James W. Donahue, C.S.C., the superior general of the Congregation in the 1920s and 1930s and, more importantly, the man responsible for first bringing the order to the Fall River Diocese.

“Until then, the congregation was much more concentrated around Notre Dame and Indiana,” Father Kruse said. “(Father Donahue) was very eager to see us become established in the eastern United States. He also happened to be good friends with Bishop James E. Cassidy — they were close — and so it was the Fall River Diocese that he settled on.”

Recently renovated and reconfigured to better accommodate students, the Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel still retains the original stained-glass windows from the seminary days along with the colorful ceramic Stations of the Cross that resemble the style of Italian artist Della Robbia.

“The altar used to be at the far end and the seats were arranged (the long way), pretty deep going back — but (the seats were) very far from the altar,” Father Kruse said. “Father John Denning and I looked at it several times and finally decided on this arrangement to bring people closer to the altar. I think it works out well. And we brightened the chapel, as well, to give it a warmer feeling.”

According to Martin McGovern, director of communications for Stonehill College, the Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel is also the home to daily morning Masses during the academic year and hosts a monthly Mass of alumni intentions on the third Thursday of every month.

“Then there would be special occasions where it might be called into play,” he added.

Noting that the mission of Stonehill College and its founding order has always been “to educate both the mind and the heart,” McGovern said the predominance of campus chapels shouldn’t be surprising.

“One of the goals of the (college) has been to develop an appreciation for Sacred spaces and to ensure there are Sacred spaces and that they are acknowledged and accessible,” McGovern said. “We hope they have an atmosphere of welcome and that they’re integrated into the life of the institution and the life of the people who live here, work here and study here. They’re not incidental.”

As if to emphasize the point, one of the largest chapels is located at the virtual heart of Stonehill’s campus.

The 225-seat Chapel of Mary, Mother of the Church, offers a spacious hexagon-shaped interior, a handcrafted church organ, and beautiful stained-glass windows. This warm and inviting space for worship and reflection plays a major role in the Spiritual life of the college and remains a popular venue for alumni weddings and celebrations.

“The sense of the aesthetic is important, because one of the things that we want as a liberal arts college is to make sure that everything from the artistic to the Spiritual aesthetic to the sublime has a place and is nurtured and encouraged,” McGovern said. “You just can’t be utilitarian and I think that’s something we’ve been trying to achieve (with the chapels).”

The Chapel of Mary also hosts special Sunday night Masses, which are organized by students with the student choir providing music, and it is also where many special campus celebrations are held, such as the Christmas Eve Liturgy and other holy days.

Before the Chapel of Mary opened in 1978, the college’s main chapel had been located in a cramped converted basement storage room in the Duffy Academic Center. During crowded weekend Liturgies, students sometimes fainted and a Campus Ministry report noted, “A tall man can hardly stand erect without fear of bumping his head on a low ceiling.”

In the wake of 9/11, in which three alumni and one Holy Cross priest was killed, the Stonehill community gathered inside the Chapel of Mary to share in their grief and solidarity.

Located between the headquarters of Holy Cross Family Ministries and the Holy Cross Center residence for priests along the Washington Street side of campus is the Chapel of St. Joseph, the Worker.

First opened in 1962, the European-style chapel boasts large, carved wooden doors featuring St. Joseph and the members of the Holy Family on one panel and the Blessed Mother and Baby Jesus on the other.

Although used primarily by Holy Cross Family Ministries and the priests in residence, students often use the smaller back chapel, which can easily accommodate 30 or more for regular Tuesday-night Mass celebrations. Lined with long benches and chairs, students often prefer sitting on the carpeted floor.

“(The Holy Cross Congregation) is very intentional in its articulation and expression of faith, of belief, of prayer, of worship, of a sense of the Sacramental, and I think that’s reflected not just in the chapels themselves, but also in the small touches,” McGovern said. “It uses religious art with a delicate touch, but it’s a powerful one.”

The newest of Stonehill’s chapels, opened in 2010, is — appropriately enough — located on the fourth floor of New Hall, one of the campus dorms.

Named in honor of the first member of the Holy Cross Congregation to be canonized, the St. André Bessette Chapel can accommodate 50 worshippers and serves the 250 student-residents who, day or night, can take advantage of its location for a moment away for quiet reflection or prayer.

“This is in the heart of a 250-student residence hall,” McGovern said. “The vice president for mission, Father James Lies, C.S.C., lives here and it wouldn’t be unusual for him to celebrate Mass here on a regular basis. Once again, it’s integrated into the fabric of residential life on campus.”

In the corner of the chapel is a small bronze statue of St. André, the humble doorkeeper who ministered to the sick and needy of Montreal at St. Joseph’s Oratory.

“I think it’s clear that the chapels and their design are not brash — they are very understated,” McGovern said. “And in their understatement they are very deliberate.”

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