The midday sun shone so brightly that cardinal-red booklets were shading faces all over the University of Dayton’s campus.
These booklets guide visitors around a newly renovated sacred space on campus known as the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. Thanks to Cecilia, I came prepared with one of my own, anxious to see the place for myself.
The chapel’s story begins in 1867, when construction began on a place of worship on Nazareth Farm, a 125-acre hilltop property in Dayton where members of the Society of Mary had been overseeing St. Mary’s School for Boys since 1850. On June 24, 1869, Archbishop John Baptist Purcell of the Diocese of Cincinnati consecrated and dedicated the “Church of the Nazareth” under the patronage of the Immaculate Conception. Twelve white marble Maltese crosses on the interior side and rear walls of the church signified its primary purpose: to celebrate the liturgical rites of the Roman Catholic Church.
The chapel still stands at the heart of the educational institution that grew into the University of Dayton. On August 16, it was rededicated after a 14-month, $12 million privately funded renovation that was designed to enhance prayer and liturgical activities.
Outside, the chapel’s front doors were refurbished and its iconic blue dome was repaired and restored. A courtyard now features a memorial garden for praying, reflecting and studying. Community members also gather in the courtyard at 3:00 pm daily for the Three O’Clock Prayer, a prayer of spiritual unity for Marianists. A sculpture reminiscent of a timepiece set to the 3:00 hour and its surrounding stone prayer pieces were designed by Hamilton Dixon, a Dayton metal sculptor.
Inside the chapel’s main worship space, the base of the baptismal font is fashioned from restored woodcuts of Mary and the four evangelists that were preserved from the chapel’s former hand-carved wooden pulpit.
Holy water fonts at two entrances to the nave were designed and forged from copper by Michael Bendele of Delphos. Bendele also created the chapel’s Stations of the Cross.
The sanctuary has been furnished with a new altar, lectern, presider’s chair, processional crucifix, cantor stand and Easter candle stand, all designed by Brother Gary Marcinowski, S.M., associate professor of art and design at the university. Wood and metal items were created by Cassady Woodworks and Custom Metalworks, both of Dayton. John Koepnick of Lebanon designed and carved the body of Christ on the processional crucifix.
The refurbished reredos serves as an entrance to the new Eucharistic reservation chapel. This space for private prayer and adoration houses a tabernacle under a canopy from the chapel’s historic pulpit. The sanctuary lamp hanging above the entrance is lit whenever the Blessed Sacrament is present in the tabernacle. Brother Marcinowski also designed the tabernacle and sanctuary lamp.
Refurbished solid walnut pews provide seating, while a state-of-the-art digital organ offers rich sounds during worship services and concerts. Three new devotional areas for private prayer are adorned with an original tapestry of the risen Christ and original paintings honoring Mary, Mother of Enduring Love and the Marianist mission.
Franklin Art Glass of Columbus both restored many of the chapel’s original stained-glass windows and created 10 new ones, including medallions depicting images of Mary from scripture and Catholic tradition.
True to its mission, the church’s original 12 white crosses remain on the walls.
Masses are celebrated in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception on Sundays at 10:00 am, 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and weekdays at 12:30 pm, when the University of Dayton is open. The chapel is also open for self-guided tours to visitors. You can download a copy of the Sacred Space booklet here.