A chapel was actually included in (then) Mother Katharine Drexel’s original blueprint plans for the Xavier campus in the late 1920’s and it was mentioned as an upcoming project in nearly every university strategic plan for the past 80+ years. However those plans were always deferred in order to address other essential campus needs such as new classrooms and laboratories, faculty and staff offices, living residences and other student oriented service facilities.
“The new chapel and its centrality on campus reinforces Xavier’s historic Catholic identity and its continued commitment to the goals and mission established by Saint Katharine, and will welcome students of all faiths to share in their spiritual development,” said XU President Dr. Norman C. Francis. “The St. Katharine Drexel Chapel will be a place where the Xavier community can come together to celebrate the Eucharist, enrich its knowledge of the liturgy, foster religious vocations, attend life-altering retreats, participate in ministries of service, and give time and talent to assist the poor.”
Scheduled opening week activities include the official dedication and consecration Mass Saturday, Oct. 6, at 4:00 p.m. with the Most Rev. Gregory Aymond, Archbishop of New Orleans, serving as the principal celebrant. Other events include special individual Masses (for alumni, faculty, staff, and students), a city-wide ecumenical service for local religious clergy, on-campus receptions, concerts, and personal tours of the chapel.
Designed by world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli and built at a cost of more than $10 million [with all funds coming from private sources], the 11,000 square foot structure is situated next to the University’s new pharmacy addition alongside the Interstate-10 Expressway bringing motorists to and from downtown New Orleans.
The chapel, which seats 450, is contemporary in design, yet the sanctuary’s octagonal plan is rooted in traditional religious structures.
Raised four feet above the grade, the building is reached by an 80-foot long sloping processional approach. This path is aligned with the original campus quadrangle and the site from which Pope John Paul II spoke in 1987.
The design connects with the university’s tradition of building materials and color. Like the other buildings on campus, the chapel’s exterior is made of limestone. Its domed copper roof, which with time will change into a beautiful green color, has a large cross located strategically at its crest that architect Pelli joked “will be visible from the airport to the river…” adding that “…people will see this cross and know it is the chapel at Xavier University.”
Inside, the main sanctuary is 65 feet tall, with a ring of skylights which allows natural light to be diffused through a screen and illuminate the sanctuary. Incorporating sustainable strategies related to lighting, landscaping, and materials, the building is expected to attain LEED certification.
A smaller mediation chapel will be used for daily Mass and for individual reflection. The two worship spaces will be served by common liturgical areas including a narthex, work and vesting sacristies, and a reconciliation room.
Pelli, whose firm Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects has designed some of the most famous buildings in the world, including the Petronas twin towers in Malaysia that were once the tallest in the world, expressed excitement at the opportunity to design a house of worship at Xavier.
“The idea of constructing a building with spiritual purposes is extremely attractive to me,” said Pelli, who himself grew up in a Catholic family. “This building will embody Drexel’s traits of modesty, simplicity and spirituality. It will make you feel totally uplifted.”
Xavier University of Louisiana is a private, co-educational institution offering a comprehensive liberal arts program and professional programs, including 38 undergraduate majors, five master’s degree programs and a doctor of pharmacy program. Xavier is the only historically Black, Catholic university in the United States and draws students from 39 states, Washington, D.C., Guam, the Virgin Islands and 7 foreign countries. For more information contact Xavier University of Louisiana, 1 Drexel Drive, New Orleans LA 70125, Phone: 504-520-7568, Fax 504-520-7933.