Sacred Heart Chapel is center-point of our monastic life, for it is here that we gather morning, noon, and evening to praise God, offer thanksgiving, and pray for the needs of the world. Completed in 1931, this structure features Neo-Gothic architecture and a native sandstone façade. There are two sets of stained glass windows. Most of the windows, including the triptych in the apse and the rose window, were created by The Munich Studio in Chicago, IL and are part of the original chapel construction. The clerestory stained glass windows were added in July 1954, designed by the Bernardini Studio in New York in conjunction with Sister Imelda McAninch and fabricated in Pietrosanto, Italy. The east-west orientation of the chapel is in accord with an ancient Christian tradition in which the apse faces the rising sun, anticipating the scriptural promise of Christ’s Second Coming.
In the nave of the chapel, the vaulted ceiling rises to 45 feet above the chapel floor. The choir stalls, added in 1938 and where the Sisters and their guests gather to chant the Liturgy of the Hours, are located to the eastern side of the main altar. Pews, also from 1938, fill the western side of the nave. This is where the Sisters gather with guests to celebrate daily Eucharist. Centrally located as the focal point of the chapel is a simple yet beautiful wooden altar, representing the Risen Christ who is at the center of our lives–offering and being offered for the glory of God.
The craftsmanship and beauty of the chapel are meant to move the human spirit toward praise of God, drawing minds and hearts to the Maker of everything good and beautiful. The many depictions of saints, angels, and images from the life of our Lord serve to instruct, inspire, and challenge us as day after day, year after year, decade after decade, we gather in this house of prayer and praise.
The Decision to Risk
Following the Silver Jubilees of the Community and the Academy, the Sisters decided to embark on their shared dream of building a new edifice for the praise and glory of God in 1929.
Daring to Proceed
On December 30, 1929, Mother Annunciata gathered the community for a meeting to decide whether to continue the endeavor of building the chapel in spite of the need to borrow a significant sum of money. The Sisters were committed to providing jobs to local laborers at the outset of the Great Depression
On June 6, 1930 a celebratory groundbreaking ceremony was held on the site of the new chapel building.
On October 19, 1930 two Sisters were photographed in the midst of the chapel construction site as they oversaw the work being done.
Blessing of Chapel Cornerstone
On December 14, 1930 Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen and other clergy from the Archdiocese of Mobile gathered with the Sisters to bless the cornerstone of the Chapel building.
Through 1930 and 1931 chapel construction continued in spite of the original construction company's financial failure and withdrawal from the contract. A new construction company stepped up in February of 1931 and signed a contract for completing the project.
Chapel Completion and First Mass
June 24, 1931 saw the celebration of three significant occasions--the final profession of Sister Placida, the first profession of the "Famous Eight," and the reception of the habit by Sister Mary Lourdes. The old altars and pews from the chapel in Ottilia Hall were moved the day before.
Formal Dedication of Sacred Heart Chapel
On October 11, 1931, Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen solemnly dedicated the chapel as a house of worship with a large crowd in attendance.
Originally the walls were not painted. There was a marble communion rail and tall canopies on the side altars. This photo shows the new choir stalls that were added in 1938.
First Renovation Begins
In 1938, new hand-carved pews and choir stalls were purchased for the chapel. A new wooden main altar was purchased to replace the much smaller one that had been brought over from Ottilia Hall. An iron baldachino was set up over the new main altar and smaller iron frameworks were set up behind the statues of Mary and Joseph at the side altars. Fabrics representing the colors of the liturgical seasons hung from the ironwork. The latter addition necessitated the removal of the tall canopies above the two side altars. A matching iron communion rail replaced the original marble one. Lighting improvements were made.
Completion of the First Renovation
Renovation activities were completed in 1942 when the new 4-rank pipe organ was finally installed.
Community in Choir in late 1940s
Following the election of the community's third prioress, Mother Mary Susan, plans for another chapel renovation began,
Renovation in Response to Vatican Council II
Early in the 1970's plans were underway to renovate the chapel in accord with liturgical changes that came out of the Second Vatican Council. In 1973 the renovation of the chapel sanctuary was completed. A new white marble altar adorned with Gothic arches replaced the large high altar and brought forward from the back of the apse so that the celebrant could face the assembly. The baldachino and the altar rail were completely removed. Also, the new ambo, throne of the Eucharist, and the presider's chair were made of the same pure white Irish marble as the altar. A hand-carved statue of the Risen Christ,affixed to a brass cross with inlaid onyx panels, was suspended above the altar. Hand-carved statues of Mary and Joseph were hung on the wall where the side alters were once located.
Chapel nave from the sanctuary 1974
Community In Chapel 1974
The renovations that took place in 1989 and 1990 brought the theological reflections following Vatican Council II to fruition. The sanctuary was extending into the midsection of the nave and the altar located between the choir stalls and pews. The chapel was painted once again from top to bottom and the carpet replaced. Most significantly was the creation of a Blesses Sacrament Chapel at the east end of the north side aisle. New wooden altar, ambo, presider's chair and cantor's stand were added that better fit the redesigned designed space.