December 29, 2020: History of the Chapel of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The chapel is special to me because it was in the presence of Jesus in the tabernacle that I was received as a novice into the Notre Dame congregation, pronounced my first and final vows, and celebrated my 25th, 50th, and 60th jubilee of vows.  It is my favorite place to pray, to spend time with Jesus, sometimes walking around, sometimes playing the organ, sometimes just sitting in silence and thought.  Now as sacristan, I feel privileged to provide an pleasant atmosphere conducive to prayer for others.  Below is a brief history of how this chapel came to be.

~ Sr. Anita Rolenc, ND, community archivist

The first dollar

In August of 1939, a donation of $1 from a woman in northeastern lowa who remarked that it be used for the building of a chapel, was the beginning of a fund for a future chapel. Donations from Alumnae of Notre Dame Academy, from clergy, friends, and family members; from Bingo and Card parties held by Friends of Notre Dame, and other sources continued to be sent to the Sisters.

World war Halts Progress

In March of 1941, the Notre Dame Provincial Officers concluded that the construction of a new chapel could begin soon. However, in mentioning this plan to Rev. Bishop H. Ryan, he advised them that it was not the right time to consider such a project. With the outbreak of World War II in December, both laborers and materials were unavailable.

On April 18, 1945, the feast of the patronage of St. Joseph, the Provincial officers had their first meeting with Carl Stangel, the architect, about plans for the new chapel and a west convent wing. At the corporation meeting on June 5, it was suggested that the Sisters offer Holy Communion and Holy Mass in honor of St. Joseph on the first Wednesday of each month to beg God’s blessing on the project. 

Breaking ground

Six months after the June 1949 Corporation meeting, Mr. Stangel had the plans for the project prepared and in January 1950 the submitted bids were opened. In mid-January, Rev. Mother Alphonsa Suda asked His Excellency Archbishop G.T. Bergan for his assistance in obtaining the necessary permission for borrowing the large sum of money needed. The Sisters began making negotiations for a loan of $300,000 with the advice of Walter V. Raynor. With his name inserted in the petition submitted to the ecclesiastical authorities of the Holy See, it was sent to the Apostolic Delegate in Washington, D.C. on February 14, 1950. By the 24th of that month, the petition was granted. Further permission was sought in April from the Superior General, Rev. Mother M. Zbislava Krump for approval of the cost for the building project.

While all this was transpiring, the blessing and breaking of the ground was held on Sunday, February 26, 1950 with Archbishop Bergan officiating. Along with nine Knights of Columbus as a guard of honor were approximately 100 people, including the architect and the general contractor E.E. Gilmore. Of note, the shovel used for the breaking of the soil was the same one used on August 15, 1925 for the Academy. 

Construction

The Miller Excavating Company began the excavation for the building on March 20, the day on which the feast of St. Joseph was celebrated that year. Since Rev. Mother Alphonsa had given St. Joseph the chief care for the entire project, it was appropriate. The job was completed on March 31.

By March 27, the Gilmore Company began work on the central heating plant. A month later the company poured the foundation for the chapel. On May 10, the Miller Excavating Company used heavy machinery with a giant elevating crane to erect the high steel skeleton from the lower level to the ceiling of the chapel. The floor in the nave of the chapel was poured on June 13.

In early September, 1950, the masons worked above the chapel windows. The walls of the chapel were finished on September 29. The building of the altars in the new chapel began the early part of June, 1951, and in mid-June the carpenters worked on the acoustical ceiling in the sanctuary. Installation of the electrical fixtures, the painting and finishing touches were prolonged until the end of July.

Blessing the project

The spacious chapel was blessed by Archbishop Gerald Bergan on August 13, 1951. In his homily, the Archbishop congratulated the entire congregation of Notre Dame Sisters on the successful completion of the beautiful sanctuary of Mary. A formal dedication of the chapel in honor of the Assumption of Mary was held at a later date.

According to the estimate the architects made on February 13, 1951, the cost of the new building was $459,302.71, not including the interior furnishings.

See more photos of this project on our Facebook album here.