Knowing that Cardinal Stritch is the nation’s largest Franciscan university, Stritch student Audrey Edwards thought it “pretty ridiculous that our chapel (was) the size of a closet.”
In a recent telephone interview with your Catholic Herald, Edwards, a 20-year-old junior from Crystal Lake, Ill., in the Rockford Diocese, recalled coming to that conclusion about a year ago.
Weekday Mass attendance had increased since she’d first arrived on campus in 2009 and Sunday liturgies spilled out of the worship space, into a corridor. As a liturgical musician and liturgy planner, Edwards decided it was time to act.
Accordingly, she “got (a) petition drive going last year,” Stritch senior director of communications Scott Rudie recalled in an email to your Catholic Herald. Encouragement came not only from 60 student petitioners but from alumni and administrators such as vice president of university advancement Michael Brauer, who proposed a location for a new chapel.
Space to accommodate 160 worshippers was found on the second floor of Stritch’s primary administration building, Bonaventure Hall, and a chapel was constructed there over the past five months.
Quadruple the size of its unnamed predecessor, the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel was dedicated on its patron’s feast day, Tuesday, Oct. 4, by Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki.
“I think the biggest concern (regarding building a chapel) was the financial support,” Edwards noted.
The construction cost $610,000, but was “funded totally through private donations,” according to Rudie.
For example, a Stritch alumna whose brother had resided at the old St. Coletta School in Jefferson, which served adults with developmental and other disabilities, donated $20,000 for the stained glass above the chapel’s doors.
“The glass was originally at St. Coletta,” Rudie said, “and then refurbished and moved to Stritch.”
St. Coletta is a ministry sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, as is Stritch.
Edwards, who participated in the opening procession and did a Scripture reading at the dedication Mass, called the new worship space “very contemporary-looking.” A media release from the university described the space as “state of the art, modern.” One non-traditional feature is kneeler-equipped chairs, instead of pews. Two local firms, Groth Design of Cedarburg and CG Schmidt of Milwaukee, handled architecture and construction, respectively.
Stritch has been at its current location, straddling the northern Milwaukee suburbs of Glendale and Fox Point, since 1962. For the first 45 years, what was considered a temporary chapel in the basement of Serra Hall served the collegiate community. In 2007, the chapel was relocated to a converted lounge/meeting room on Bonaventure Hall’s first floor. That second worship site was utilized “right up until the new chapel dedication,” said Rudie, who added that the university has “no firm plans for the old space.”
“I think people are excited about it,” Edwards said of the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel. “It’s really going to help the community at Stritch.”
As the university’s interim president earlier this year, Kent Bergemann envisioned the chapel as “a place where future generations of students, faculty, staff and visitors can gather to experience that vital spiritual core” nurtured by Catholic colleges “in the Franciscan tradition.”
James Loftus recently became Stritch’s president. The university’s director of campus ministry is Jonathan Metz. Franciscan Fr. James Gannon is vice president of mission and identity.