by Chris Clemens
I had the extreme pleasure of being invited to Nazareth College for a round table discussion with spiritual life leaders from a number of Rochester area colleges. Getting an opportunity to meet with and bounce ideas off people from all backgrounds and faith perspectives was an honor all its own, but to have been invited in the first place to share experiences with Exploring The Burned Over District and how area college students could get involved was a remarkable privilege. Since I had never visited the college for the purposes of this blog and since the meeting was just 20 feet from the entrance to the chapel, seeing the inside was something that had to be done before departing.
Lynne Boucher, who is the Director of the Center for Spirituality at Nazareth College, set up an opportunity for me to arrive at the college a bit early and meet with Ruth Santiago. Ruth’s formal title for the department is ‘Secretary’ but I’m told that she is truly the heart of the department, and 14 years of being in her position meant that she knew the ins and outs of all that has gone on in the department as well as anyone. She got me all set up with some reading material about the history of the chapel and began to tell me a bit about it as she unlocked the doors and flipped on all the lights.
The chapel was built in 1927 and is the artistry of architect Joseph P. Flynn. He designed the chapel to be part of the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse, though since 2001 it has been the Golisano Academic Center and the Sisters of St. Joseph have built a more modern residence for themselves just off the college’s campus on French Road. Flynn designed the chapel in an English Tudor Gothic style, a style most noted for the Tudor Arch (or, four centred arch) which provides a really wide sense of space. The 55 foot high arches are flanked with trusses decorated in gold leaf icons at the base, each one being a symbol of particular importance for the Sisters of St. Joseph. Other notable artwork in the chapel was stained glass designed and installed by Pike Stained Glass of Rochester, New York. All but one of the stained glass windows in the chapel appropriately depict a female saint, St. Joseph is the one non-female saint appearing in a window, and he appears above the altar beneath a smaller quatrefoil rose window. In between windows are raised reliefs of the stations of the cross created by the Meyer Studio out of Munich, Germany.
The chapel now serves as a sacred space for the college to host a number of different activities. While there are on average about 35 weddings a year, the chapel also hosts a Catholic and a Protestant mass on Sunday mornings that is attended by students as well as area neighbors. The college music department takes every opportunity then can to use the space; with portions of the ceiling being lined with cork, the acoustics in the space help both organs reach their greatest aural potential. The Skinner Organ Company built the older pipe organ located in the choir loft, but there is also a newer, smaller Wicks Pipe Organ at the altar. Possibly the use that is most interesting is the ever growing interest in yoga classes practiced on the altar. The brainchild of Lynne, the yoga classes in the chapel began as a method of not only bettering the physical wellness of students, but incorporating a spiritual teaching that she said caught on way quicker than she anticipated. Within a few years the college has added upwards of six classes a week, some of them seeing attendance upwards of 100 people! Apparently the night time candle lit yoga classes are a favorite of a lot of students and the classes have helped bring a whole new set of students to the Center for Spirituality who may not have sought out the department otherwise.
While it isn’t perfectly a description of the chapel, I should point out that the Golisano Academic Center that houses the chapel also has some pretty incredible architecture. The oldest of all the buildings on campus has an entranceway that is possibly one of the most recognizable in the town of Pittsford. A local artist, Jon Alexander, created the nine foot statue of St. Joseph which stands among the pillars and ornate carvings surrounding the front doors to the building. Just inside those front doors is an oak paneled foyer that invites all who enter to continue just a few more steps in to the Linehan Chapel.
While I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to sit amongst such a great group of minds and to have been asked to share the vision for this blog, I am just as grateful for having been given the chance to see the inside of one of the area’s best maintained pieces of sacred architecture. Many thanks to Lynne and Ruth of the Center for Spirituality for the experience!
*This post previously appeared on ExploringTheBurnedOverDistrict.com
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens