The College of the Holy Cross: Lower Chapel Renovation Brings New Life to Campus Liturgy - Part II: Liturgical Spaces, Furnishings and Art

October 29, 2007


In Part I of this article, I described the process and outcome of the renovation of the lower chapel at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. This part addresses the liturgical spaces, furnishings and art in the project.

The Mary Chapel: The majority of the former nave was transformed into a chapel with seating for 270 people. This accommodates the majority of campus weekend Masses and holy day liturgies. After initially using a “U” shaped layout with the sanctuary at the open end of the “U,” we experimented with the altar in the center of the chapel for Lent and the Triduum the first year after the renovation. The feedback from students was so positive that this has become the usual layout now. Even when the chapel is full, as it often is for the lively and well attended weekly Sunday 7 PM Mass, no one is more than six rows away from the altar and lectern. The music ministers are well integrated in the assembly, and the presiding priest, while seated in a distinctive area, is not at all removed from the rest of the assembly. A simple ramp provides access to the platform with the lectern, and the reading surface of the lectern easily swings down for someone reading from a wheelchair.

Altar in Mary Chapel

Students gather around the altar in the Mary Chapel. The columns at the four corners of the altar reflect existing design elements in the upper chapel.

The McCooey Chapel: Honoring the memorial donation that funded the lower chapel renovations, the former sanctuary of the lower chapel was renovated into a small chapel for 35 people and is used for weekday Masses and a weekly inter-denominational service.

The McCooey Chapel

The McCooey Chapel, created in the former sanctuary of the Mary Chapel, has seating for 35 people and an upright piano. It is used for the College’s weekday Masses and a weekly inter-denominational Sunday service.

Blessed Sacrament Chapel:
The existing location of the tabernacle was renovated into a small chapel of reservation for the Blessed Sacrament. A candle and plaque clearly indicate the location of this space to all who enter the lower level of the chapel, and it provides a place of quiet prayer away from the many activities that go on in the adjacent spaces. The new tabernacle incorporates purple heart wood, a nod to the College’s purple and white colors.

Blessed Sacrament Chapel

The Blessed Sacrament Chapel is a quiet place of prayer with two chairs and a kneeler. The tabernacle is made of mahogany while the cross and medallions on the doors are made of purple heart wood. The fabric hanging behind the tabernacle was made by women in a province of Indonesia impacted by the tsumani in 2005 and was a gift of a Holy Cross professor who does her research in this province.

Reconciliation Chapel: Across from the Blessed Sacrament Chapel is another chapel for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The cross that previously hung over the altar in the lower chapel adorns the wall of this chapel.

The Reconciliation Chapel

The Reconciliation Chapel is located across from the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and adjacent to the gathering area where the baptismal font is located. Fabric hanging on a decorative rod provides anonymity for those who desire it in the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Baptismal Font: In the space between the Mary and McCooey Chapels is a lovely gathering and baptismal space highlighted by a font of constantly (and silently!) flowing water. The font has become one of the most popular places in the renovated lower chapel, and it is not unusual to find a student sitting on one of the nearby benches contemplating the moving baptismal water. Students easily make the connection to their own baptism as they bless themselves with water from this font on their way into and out of the adjacent chapels. A matching immersion pool is added during the Easter season, and the weekly Sunday 7 PM Mass begins around this font each week during Eastertime. The ambry for the holy oils was created by Rick Findora of Morning Glory Studio of Lodi, Wisconsin.

Font between Mary and McCooey Chapels Members of the assembly bless themselves with water from the baptismal font during the opening rites of Sunday Mass in the Easter season. The font is in the center of a gathering space between the Mary and McCooey chapels. In addition to the celebration of baptism, other liturgical events take place around the font in this gathering space, including seasonal reconciliation services, a service of remembrance in November, and the liturgy of the Word and renewal of baptismal promises at the Easter Vigil.


 The ambry is located in the gathering space near the baptismal font.

Furnishings: In the concept statements that inspired the renovation, the committee agreed that design elements should, as far as possible, be inspired by those that already existed in the building. This is clearly seen in the altars and lecterns in the Mary and McCooey Chapels which take their design inspiration from elements in the upper chapel. The altars, lecterns, tabernacle, baptismal font and candle stands were designed by John Buscemi and crafted by Grommes Millwork of Beloit, Wisconsin. The chairs in the chapels are from Sauder Manufacturing Company, and the seat fabric was selected by CBT Architects to complement the paint scheme used in the renovation.

Student Cantor - Mary ChapelA student cantor leads the responsorial psalm from the lectern in the Mary Chapel. The lectern is accessible to people who use a wheelchair, and the reading surface is on a hinge that allows it to swing down for use by a person in a wheelchair. Design elements on the legs of the lectern were taken from columns in the upper chapel.

Art: Icons of Mary (Mary Chapel) and the crucifix (McCooey Chapel) were written by Gianfranco Tassara of Inspired Artisans in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The new processional cross incorporates the corpus from a cross that previously hung above the tabernacle. It is made of powdered aluminum, purple heart wood and beveled glass. A large cross of powder coated steel, brass screening and beveled and clear textured glass stands prominently at one end of the Mary Chapel. Both crosses were designed by John Buscemi and crafted by Rick Findora. To soften the impact of the brick columns in the Mary Chapel, CBT Architects designed eight portable wooden “trellises,” each of which supports fabric hangings for the different seasons of the liturgical year. The fabric on these trellises is coordinated with seasonal banners that hang behind the large cross in the Mary Chapel. The glass in the cross picks up the different colors of the seasonal fabrics, providing various visual perspectives on the cross throughout the liturgical year. The fabric hangings were created by Jane Hanson of Wilmington, Delaware.

Icon of Mary in Mary Chapel

The icon of Mary in the Mary Chapel was written by Gianfranco Tassara.

Cross in Mary Chapel

The beveled and clear textured glass on the large cross in the Mary Chapel picks up the colors from the seasonal fabrics that hang behind it. Complementary seasonal hangings are used throughout the chapel on eight wooden “trellises” that were designed by the architect to soften the brick columns in the chapel.

Photo credit:  Images provided by Paul Covino

Paul Covino is Associate Chaplain and Director of Liturgy at The College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts and an adjunct staff member of The Georgetown Center for Liturgy where he was Associate Director from 1981-89.  He writes the weekly ritual suggestions column in Today's Liturgy magazine and served for many years as the emcee at the Form/Reform conference on environment and art.


The College of the Holy Cross: Lower Chapel Renovation Brings New Life to Campus Liturgy - Part I: Process and Outcome

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