by Cori Hilsgen
The Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict invite the public to a Festival of Thanksgiving and Praise at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26 in the Sacred Heart Chapel, St. Benedict’s Monastery, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the chapel.
The event will include narration, song and images. A reception will follow.
Prayer and Eucharist have been a part of the Sisters’ Benedictine traditions since their arrival in St. Joseph in 1863. Their first chapel was part of a log cabin. Because they outgrew that chapel, the Sisters voted in 1910 to build a new chapel. They wanted the new one to be both beautiful and to serve their needs in both the present and the future.
Prioress Mother Cecilia Kapsner and procurator S. Priscilla Schmidtbauer traveled to various locations, including Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and others to view chapels and churches.
The nuns chose George Stauduhar from Rock Island, Ill. as the architect. They made an agreement he would serve as their agent for all transactions with contractors. Butler Brothers of St. Paul was chosen as the contractor, along with many sub-contractors. In September 1911, Butler Brothers estimated costs of the building at $125,000. Construction began in October 1911.
It took much communication, prayer and budgeting on the nuns’ part to build the chapel. When S. Schmidtbauer inquired how they could cut expenses, she was told by Stauduhar in 1912 to eliminate the planned dome. After deliberation, the sisters decided not to eliminate the 135-foot-high dome.
The chapel’s communications director, S. Karen Rose, noted the dome is a landmark in the local area.
“It’s amazing in this small Midwestern town you suddenly see this magnificent structure, that could be a part of a cathedral, rising up towards heaven,” S. Rose said. “I think many people, including myself, find it a moving and inspiring sight.”
According to monastery records of correspondence between the architect and S. Schmidtbauer, she sent many reminders, sometimes three times, to Stauduhar to ensure he followed through with meetings and communication with the contractors, after they complained about not hearing from him.
The sisters were concerned about money and financing the chapel.
A winter 2014 publication of the Benedictine Sisters and Friends quotes communication from prioress Kapsner to the nuns: “I wish each mission to offer one Our Father daily in honor of St. Joseph, for the success of the work. Let us all endeavor to cut off every unnecessary expense, trying to contribute as much as possible toward the debt this year . . . God will bless us if we join our efforts for this beautiful intention, which I am sure, will be dear to His Sacred Heart.”
The publication also states that costs at time of construction were about $200,000.
The Roman-Renaissance architectural-style chapel was dedicated March 25, 1914. Options not initially considered, because of costs, were later added. Stained-glass windows were installed in the 1930s. Angel windows were installed in the dome and a Holy Spirit window was installed above the alter.
The mortgage on the chapel was paid in 1943 and because it was debt-free, the chapel could then be consecrated. The Sisters celebrate the anniversary of its consecration every year on Oct. 24 with an evening vigil, lighting 12 dedication candles located on the walls of the chapel. At that time, the interior of the chapel included marble pillars, statues, columns, a communion rail, carved wooden angels and more.
New hanging lights and more stained-glass windows were installed in the 1950s. The windows were designed by S. Jacquelyn Dubay working with Max Ingrand of Paris.
Vatican II changes in the Catholic Church brought changes in the chapel. In 1962, English instead of Latin was first spoken at liturgies in the chapel. The altar was moved forward so the priest would now face the people, some stained-glass windows were removed and installed at the St. Scholastica Convent in St. Cloud, the communion rail was moved to the adoration chapel, many ornate items were removed and more.
In the 1970s, due to needed roof repairs and placing the altar in a central location, prioress Evin Rademacher initiated a renovation project. She encouraged the Sisters to open their worship space to the College of St. Benedict and the world. The sisters contracted liturgical design consultant, Frank Kacmarcik and Theodore Butler from the architectural firm of Hammel, Green and Abrahamson.
The 1980s renovation, which cost about $4.5 million, included many challenges, and conflicts of opinions about the windows, the shape of the alter platform, design of the organ cabinet and more. However, the end result provided favorable solutions.
Following Vatican II recommendations, the altar was moved to a central location beneath the dome so people could surround it. The entrance was relocated to the west, where the altar had been, and a Gathering Place, where people could meet and visit, was added. A rally cry of “Go West” was adopted through S. Gen Maiers.
In 1985, the Noack organ, built by Fritz Noack and still used today, was installed and dedicated.
S. Katherine Howard was prioress during the 1980s when the renovation was completed.
“Sacred Heart Chapel is the center of our lives, the place we all make our monastic profession,” S. Howard said. “It’s the place where we gather daily at Eucharist, bringing with us in spirit all our neighbors here and around the world, intentionally joining ourselves with Christ in his dying and rising through the power of the Holy Spirit so all of us may be transformed by the unconditional, forgiving, inclusive love of God.”
In the 21st century, the chapel has been repainted and a new sound system was installed.
The chapel is attended by the Sisters, students and many people in the area. Mass is celebrated at the chapel at 5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. A 6 p.m. Sunday Mass is added during the school year.
S. Rose said the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass during the school year has about 250-300 attendees and about the same number attend the 6 p.m. Sunday Mass. About 700 people can be accommodated in the chapel during events such as the Golden Jubilee and the recent inaugural Mass for the new College of St. Benedict president, Dr. Mary Hinton. Christmas Masses often have about 500 attendees.
The Sisters have celebrated the 100th anniversary of the chapel with several events this year. A blessing of the chapel evening prayer service, celebrating its first service, was held March 25. An exhibit “God’s Home Among Us,” telling the 100-year history of the chapel, opened in the Monastery’s Haehn Museum at the Art and Heritage Place.
The exhibit at the Haehn Museum opened in April and continues through December. The museum is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 1-3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
On June 8, the sisters celebrated with a festive Eucharist, during which a hymn about the anniversary, commissioned by prioress S. Michaela Hedican, and written by S. Delores Dufner, was performed.
“May the sight of the dome, as you drive past St. Benedict’s Monastery or as you enter the monastery, be a reminder to you that God’s love surrounds you and that our prayers hold you,” S. Hedican wrote in Benedictine Sisters and Friends.
This 1913 photo from the St. Benedict’s Monastery archives shows the construction of the Sacred Heart Chapel.
The interior of the Sacred Heart Chapel before the 1980s renovation.
The current interior of the Sacred Heart Chapel.
The Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict invite the public to a Festival of Thanksgiving and Praise at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Sacred Heart Chapel.