By: JACK WELSH – RELIGIOUS EDUCATION
Some big news for those involved in Campus Ministry and other faith-oriented activities on campus is the planned renovation of Immaculate Conception Chapel. Known internationally for its distinguished blue dome, the Chapel is the focal point of faith life on campus. I need not waste ink describing its sublime importance to this community of students, faculty, alumni, and to me personally. It is precisely due to the immense importance of this structure that
I write to voice my opposition to the planned renovation. I do not write on my own initiative, but to raise concerns I have heard from no small number of friends and members of the community.
Moreover, my words are the result of weeks of prayer and discernment. I am not writing this on a whim or for the purpose of stirring up controversy. I am writing because I feel that I cannot in good conscience keep my thoughts on this private.
My concerns are, first and foremost, pastoral. We seek with this renovation to best serve the needs of students on campus, but I fear that students have not been informed or duly consulted. I find it troubling, misleading even, that a full disclosure of the plans with artist renderings of the interior space are not available online (instead there are merely vague descriptions), and that the unveiling of the designs to students has consisted of only a handful of meetings held after Masses.
I have to wonder how many students, faculty, and alumni are truly fully aware of the scope and breadth of these planned changes. In discussing the renovations with my friends, many of whom are incredibly involved with faith life on campus, I have found most of them to be ill-informed on the changes taking place, and a large number of those who are well-informed are apprehensive about (if not totally opposed to) these plans.
More specifically, I am opposed to these changes because of their near total disregard to the history of Immaculate Conception Chapel. Yes, the dome will remain. However, students by and large are unaware that the 19th century mural depicting the Coronation of the Blessed Mother will be removed, and that the equally old and beautiful hand-carved wooden pulpit will be dismantled and repurposed. Further, the original woodwork in the front of the sanctuary will be destroyed to accommodate for the expansion. Original and unique cast-iron pillars will be taken out as the choir loft is lowered. I fear that we as a community have not properly been given the opportunity to appreciate what we are losing. This is a grave injustice to the hard work of those who have come before us, and it is a severe deprivation to those who will go after us. Mark this: if this plan goes through, twenty years from now this lost history will be lamented, and the renovation will be deeply regretted.
I propose that we as a community pause for a moment. I realize how long we have been working to make this renovation a reality. Although it may be frustrating, we can wait a little longer. Let’s really talk this over as a community. I am requesting a public meeting with those in charge of the renovation and with Dr. Curran to talk about this issue. A twelve million dollar renovation to such an immensely important icon to our school should not be quietly ushered in, as it has thus far. Let’s make sure we’re on the same page. It’s only fair to the community, and the Immaculate Conception Chapel deserves nothing less.