St. Edward’s celebrates newly renovated chapel
By Hannah M. Hepfer
St. Edward’s University in Austin unveiled a major renovation of Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel on Oct. 21. Bishop Joe Vásquez celebrated the Mass of Dedication, blessed the new walls of the sanctuary and consecrated a new altar. The chapel has been the spiritual home of the campus for countless students, faculty and staff who have attended Mass, weddings and funerals on the hilltop for the last 65 years.
Bishop Vásquez delivered Mass to a filled chapel, while overflowing worshippers watched a live broadcast in the nearby Jones Auditorium.
“A Catholic university chapel is the heart of the campus. Students and faculty gather and pray in order to nourish the mission of the church. Here, people should come with their worries, fears, hopes and dreams, confident that Christ will be present. It is primarily through the sacraments, celebrated here, that Christ – the way, the truth, and the life – is encountered,” the bishop said during his homily.
The Mass included the blessing and sprinkling of water, the Litany of Saints, anointing of the altar and walls with sacred chrism, and incensing and lighting of the altar and chapel. A relic of St. André Bessette, a Holy Cross brother canonized in 2010, was deposited in the altar during the rite of dedication. A chalice belonging to the founder of St. Edward’s University, Father Edward Sorin, was used during the celebration of the Eucharist.
Bishop Vásquez said that the most important part of the evening’s liturgy was the dedication of the altar because it serves as a “visible sign of the invisible God.” He emphasized that the altar represents Christ and is the focal point of every Catholic Church and chapel.
“Because of the altar, the memorial of the Lord is celebrated and from it, Christ’s body and blood is given to the people. The altar is both a place of sacrifice and a table of the paschal banquet. It is a table of sacrifice [because] on it, the sacrifice of Jesus and his oblation on the cross is perpetuated and made present,” he said. “This place is truly worthy to be called ‘House of God.’”
The renovation resolved the chapel’s previous structural challenges and improved its ability to serve the needs of the campus community. Prior to the renovation, the building was stretched to capacity, often leaving students to stand during Mass, especially at Sunday evening services. The sanctuary was relocated to the north side of the chapel to make better use of the space, increasing the number of seats from around 225 to 275. The original oak floors were restored and ample natural light streams through the chapel’s many windows.
Other changes included the installation of new liturgical furnishings made from natural materials. Along with receiving a new altar, the chapel also has a new tabernacle, crucifix, baptismal font, ambry and lectern. Each was crafted by local artisans with the lumber of campus trees that were damaged in a storm and removed during the renovation project. Wood from Sorin Oak, the campus’s beloved tree, was used to make small crosses that were placed on each of the chapel’s four walls.
Originally built in 1897, the chapel was an auditorium, theater, woodworking and blacksmith shop, bowling alley, barracks, and a shooting range before becoming Our Lady of Victory Chapel in 1947 and given its current name in 1973.
Holy Cross Father Peter Walsh, director of Campus Ministry at St. Edward’s, said he appreciated that simplicity was a priority in the design of the chapel, so that the sacredness of the building was honored.
“The simple beauty of the space will be inspiring to students,” he said.
The chapel has already been received well by students. Taylor Lawson, a sophomore, said she is looking forward to having “a solid space to come to express my faith.”
In addition to the chapel renovation, Mang House, which held campus ministry staff and volunteers, was demolished and the Brother Stephen Walsh, CSC ’62 Campus Ministry Building was constructed. Brother Walsh was the university’s youngest president and initiated New College, the adult undergraduate program, and the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), to assist the needs of children of migrant workers. The building will be a gathering hub for hospitality, prayer, learning and service. An all-faiths meditation garden, a contemplative space for reflection, connects the new building and the chapel.
Father Walsh is excited about the impact that the renovation will have on the campus.
“I hope the chapel will be a visual call to prayer. As students are rushing by, they’ll see a welcoming space, a space to pray and decompress from the stresses of college life,” he said.