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Brief History of the Chapel

A Brief History of the Chapel

In 1867, construction began on a suitable worship space at Nazareth Farm, where members of the Society of Mary were continuing Mary’s mission of bringing Christ to the world by overseeing a fledgling school for boys. This was St. Mary’s Institute, what eventually grew into the University of Dayton.

Over the next two years, bricklayers skillfully constructed 22-inch walls, including six chimneys (long removed). By the winter of 1868, the chapel had a roof, and this special place of worship began to take shape.

On June 24, 1869, Archbishop John Baptist Purcell, of Cincinnati, celebrated the rites of consecration and dedication of the “Church of the Nazareth” under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception, now often called simply and with affection the “UD chapel.” Its “consecration,” signified by “the 12 white marble Maltese crosses” on the side and rear walls, meant that it must always remain a place whose primary purpose is to celebrate the liturgical rites of the Catholic Church.

Chapel interior ca. 1920

That beautiful summer day announced the glorious beginnings of our beloved chapel whose interior continues to reflect the sensibilities of the times. The chapel’s original design took its lead from the liturgical rites the Church prescribed at that time. The sanctuary, demarcated by a graceful arch above and a simple wooden communion rail below, sheltered the high altar against the eastern wall, as was the custom. Both the altar and tabernacle were made of beautiful marble, but the tabernacle’s marble door proved too difficult to open easily. It was replaced in 1901 with one of bronze and onyx. Two years later, the wooden communion rail was also changed to mirror the same style. Suspended above the congregation, on the “Gospel side” of the sanctuary’s arch, appeared an elaborately carved wooden baldachino and under it, a pulpit, which a local artisan skillfully adorned with five figures, the four evangelists and the Blessed Virgin. It served its intended purpose sporadically over the next few decades, but fell into disuse in the 20th century. The original stained glass windows included 10 long windows, five on each of the north and south walls. Of simple design, they featured modest bands of color on each side culminating in a vividly colored liturgical symbol at the top. Four richly colored representations of Saints Peter, Paul, Augustine and Ambrose adorned the sanctuary, three colorful rosette windows graced the west wall, and another rosette window enhanced the east wall.

As the Marianists’ devotional life evolved, adaptations to the chapel occurred frequently. In 1870, side altars were added. In 1876, the lovely reredos containing the statues of Mary,
the Immaculate Conception, John and Peter graced the sanctuary. At some point in the chapel’s rich history, the statue of Peter was altered and transformed into a statue of Joseph, according to oral history accounts. In 1878, stations of the cross were installed. The now-familiar statues of Our Lady of the Pillar and Blessed William Joseph Chaminade came to
stand in their niches on either side of great wooden doors in 1951-1952.

Chapel after 1949

In 1883, the interior was repainted, and a Covington, Kentucky, artist completed several murals to adorn the walls and ceiling. Over the next 60 years most of the original murals disappeared. Some were painted over, others retouched in the 1929 chapel refurbishing; two above the side altars were redone with new subject matter as part of the 1948-1949 chapel renovation, and those two were painted over in the 1971 renovation. In the 2015 renovation, the sanctuary ceiling required significant rebuilding to meet fire and safety codes. Sadly, this requirement made it impossible to preserve the ceiling mural, the Coronation of Mary, given that it was painted directly on the deteriorating plaster. The honor given Mary’s participation in God’s salvific plan through the mural is given new expression in the stained glass windows that grace the chapel’s nave.

The most significant structural changes occurred in 1907 when a 20-foot addition enlarged the sacristy, and in 1919, when four confessionals were installed. The chapel’s renovations also bear witness to dramatic technological changes. A coal-burning stove, installed in 1877 along the north wall, overwhelms many early photos. The 1898 addition of steam heating allowed the unsightly stove to be removed. In 1929, central heating was installed, and air conditioned comfort arrived in 2000. Special lighting effects illuminated the tabernacle only three years after the 1899 installation of electricity, and in 1916, additional lighting produced “an aurora-like effect in the niche containing the tabernacle,” according to archival reports.

The most dramatic renovation occurred in 1971 in response to Vatican II’s call for liturgical renewal. The chapel’s interior was reconfigured; new stained glass windows, designed by Herman Verbinnen, were installed; the main and side altars removed; a small altar was placed at the foot of the original sanctuary; individual chairs replaced pews; and the chapel dome
was refurbished and painted blue.

Chapel in 1971

In 1983, the sanctuary was moved to the north wall of the chapel in order to accommodate more seating and to gather the assembly more closely around the altar. In 2000, the chairs were reoriented to face the original sanctuary, and a new sound system along with central air conditioning were added.

Chapel after reconfiguration in 1983

The history of the chapel’s refreshment, renewal and renovation reverberates in every corner, but its true power extends beyond its four walls. It appears in the lives of all who come here to worship the Triune God, receive the sacraments, pray in times of quiet hope and desperation, and share joys and sorrows. We leave this sacred space with a fervent desire, buoyed by God’s grace, to carry out the mission of Mary — the Marianist mission of bringing Christ’s life into a world always in need of refreshment, renewal and renovation.


Campus Ministry

Liberty Hall
300 College Park
Dayton, Ohio 45469 - 0408