Describing it as a place where people will “come into real contact with God,” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades blessed a new chapel that has been constructed at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and dedicated its altar during a special Mass on Oct. 3.
‘“How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!’” Bishop Rhoades said, in opening his homily during the Mass. “These words of Psalm 84 resound in our hearts today as we worship the Lord in this beautiful new oratory. This will truly be the dwelling place of the Lord, since here the most holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, will be celebrated and reserved.”
The voices of a USF choir and the capacity crowd in the 250-seat chapel filled the arched interior during songs and jointly recited prayers. Sunlight streamed in through the south windows, adding to the brightness of the cream- and light tan-colored walls.
Those attending the Mass included representatives of the USF student body, faculty and staff, along with donors, USF board of directors members and about 30 members of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration religious order, which founded and still leads USF. Many of the sisters came from the order’s Immaculate Heart of Mary Province provincial house in Mishawaka.
The $4.7 million chapel, which stands on the east side of Mirror Lake on USF’s main campus, will be known officially as the Oratory of St. Francis of Assisi because it is not a parish church, USF’s president, Sister Elise Kriss, said during an interview a week before the blessing Mass. At the university, it will be called St. Francis Chapel.
“Here in this oratory, the community of this university will come into real contact with God through prayer and the sacraments,” Bishop Rhoades said during his homily. “Here you will worship Him in spirit and in truth. Here you can enter into God’s house and into communion with Him any time of the day or night.”
The building includes an adoration chapel that students, staff and faculty can enter 24 hours a day using their ID cards, Sister Elise said. The holy Eucharist won’t be on exposition, so people aren’t required to stay in the adoration chapel 24 hours a day.
While blessing the new chapel, the bishop walked around the interior and sprinkled it with holy water. He later dedicated the altar by inserting a relic of St. Francis of Assisi into the altar’s stone top. He then poured sacred chrism on the altar top and spread it over the entire surface with his hands.
Bishop Rhoades incensed the altar, after which USF chaplain Father David Meinzen carried the censer through the chapel, spreading the incense throughout.
USF School of Creative Arts Woodshop Director Jay Herron crafted the altar base, ambo and tabernacle stand from wood with help from retired SOCA Dean Rick Cartwright, Sister Elise said.
Herron also made the large San Damiano cross mounted on top of the wall behind the altar. The cross has a duplicate side visible from the adoration chapel behind the sanctuary. St. Francis was said to be praying before such a cross in Assisi when he heard God call him to rebuild the Church.
A stand-alone chapel has been a longtime dream for the university, Sister Elise said. USF’s chapel has been housed since 1948 in various locations in Trinity Hall, which contains a dining hall, offices and dormitory rooms.
The new chapel is the faith component of USF’s $22.7 million Faith and Reason fundraising campaign. The reason portion of the campaign involves the expansion and remodeling of nearby Achatz Hall of Science.
St. Francis Chapel, at 76 feet high, intentionally towers over other buildings around it.
“It is going to be visible from almost anywhere on campus,” she said, as well as from Spring Street and Leesburg Road.
The building also serves as a sign of USF’s Catholic identity and its efforts to attract more Catholic students, she added. Currently, about a third of the university’s approximately 2,300 students are Catholic.
Sidewalks and paths have been re-routed to bring students, faculty and staff past the chapel as they go to and from the academic buildings on the east side of the main campus.
Sister Elise hopes more people will stop in for Mass, which will be offered at 11:30 a.m. daily and at 8:30 p.m. Sundays. The public is welcome at both the daily and Sunday night Masses.
USF also planned a special Mass in the new chapel Oct. 4 to celebrate the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.
Sometime in the future, USF hopes to hold a campaign to raise the $600,000 to $700,000 needed to install stained-glass throughout the chapel, which currently has clear glass windows.
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