The Immaculate Conception Chapel at the Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse
The Immaculate Conception Chapel at the Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse is a magnificent place of worship. For those who have visited the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse and had the opportunity to take a peek through the chapel doors or sit in its pews, the awe-inspiring view and its rich history bring about the most peaceful of feelings. I
The Sisters of Charity began construction on the main wing of the Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse in 1892. Their plans included a magnificent four-story chapel, but as work progressed, the cost of completing the interior of the chapel was prohibitive, and thus was delayed for several years. A fundraising effort begun in 1898, which included hundreds of 10-cent donations by family, friends and acquaintances, provided the means for the Community to complete the centerpiece of their new home. The chapel was dedicated Aug. 15, 1901, and consecrated Feb. 22, 1905.
Dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception, the chapel is built in the shape of a Latin cross. Polished columns of dark creole marble form the hallway entrance. The chapel is a blend of Romanesque and Renaissance architecture, which forms a central dome with a vaulted ceiling, arches, and rounded windows. The nave measures 147 feet by 74 feet with the transept widening to 90 feet. It is separated from the side aisles by 10 rounded arches supported by pink Georgian marble columns.
In 2000 a major renovation of the chapel was completed. A circular peninsula extended the worship space, allowing the assembly to gather on three sides. A new octagonal altar, fashioned with cherry wood and incorporating marble columns taken from the St. Joseph altar, is now almost directly under the central dome. A new baptismal font as well as the pedestal on which the tabernacle rests are composed of decorative marble pieces from the original basilica altar. The ambo is also beautifully crafted of cherry wood and incorporates four small alabaster columns from the St. Joseph altar. At the time of this renovation new lighting and a climate-control system were added.
S. Barbara Hagedorn, who was a Congregational councilor at the time, was directly involved in the renovation. She said that with each decision made, the committee consulted with others to make sure that the renovations would be beneficial to all. They had Sisters practice reading to make sure the lighting was appropriate, others were asked to sit in the chairs to make sure they were comfortable and easy to access, and a number of shades of paint were tested before the perfect one was chosen to brighten the walls.
Former SC Director of Archives, S. Judith Metz, has given hundreds of chapel tours through the years. She shared, “One of the overall concerns about the renovation was that it would change the ‘feel’ of the chapel. When the work was completed, everyone was delighted with the changes but also with the fact that it was basically still the chapel we had all grown to love throughout our Community lives.
“When I give tours of the chapel, the first reaction of those who have never been there before is to gasp in awe at its beauty. Visitors are high in their praise and remark that it is one of the most beautiful churches they have ever seen. Some admire the murals, some the architecture.