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XU’s New Chapel has Long History

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The chapel’s intricately carved baldachin (an architectural feature, originally a cloth canopy, over a church altar) will be fitted with LED lighting and the bare wood beneath it will be covered with green cloth. CT PHOTO/GAIL FINKE

A first look at Our Lady of Peace Chapel

By Gail Finke

A tiny new chapel on Xavier University’s campus opened only days ago, but that’s in its present life. Before being moved to a spot at the end of XU’s academic mall, it was the site of decades of baptisms and weddings for the Williams family, who built it as a private chapel.

The family, prominent in Cincinnati business and philanthropy, donated and built the university’s much larger Bellarmine Chapel in 1962. Their own 22-seat stone chapel, built on their Anderson Township property in 1938, hosted many events before the last of the original residents passed away.

Tom Williams, the youngest of the six Williams children whose parents built the chapel, immediately thought of giving it to the university. “When he approached me, I wondered where in the world we could put a chapel,” said Jesuit Father Michael Graham, XU’s president, who reluctantly turned down the offer. But while Williams looked for another site, XU acquired more property, and when Williams came back, XU said yes.

The chapel, moved stone by stone in December, now anchors a long greenspace that ends at Bellarmine Chapel. “Bellarmine will still remain the ordinary home for sacraments here,” Father Graham said. But the Williams Chapel, Our Lady of Peace, will be open every day for private prayer and will be available for small events, including weddings.

“This is wonderful for the community,” said Norwood resident Elyce Feliz, a Quaker who stopped in the chapel last week on her way to her meeting house. “It’s good to have things like this. People will be drawn to it.”

When “Telegraph” staff visited on a rainy August Thursday, the final improvements to the chapel were being made. The original stained glass windows had been cleaned and restored and the Ohio company that had made them, now called BeauVerre Riordan Stained Glass Studio in Middletown, created new windows to match using the original glass it still had in stock. Inside, the intricately carved wood walls and ceilings (“We’re not 100% sure, but we’re almost 100% sure, that the brother of Charles Williams, who founded Western & Southern, did all the carving,” Father Graham said) has also been cleaned and lit.

A new fabric panel, custom-made in Italy, had just arrived, and Vice President for Facilities Bob Sheeran had brought the new crucifix. Custom made to match the new altar, the metal crucifix replaces a carved wooden one too delicate for use. The Williams family will get that back, Father Graham said – and will be welcome any time for special Masses and events.

“We had Mass here for them in July – about 40 of them, standing room only,” Father Graham said. “They’re very enthusiastic about its new lease on life.”

Scroll down for detail photos of the chapel. “The Catholic Telegraph” will share photos of the gardens and the completed interior in coming weeks.

Tiny Our Lady of Peace Chapel, photographed in the rain, faces XU’s Bellarrmine chapel. An English-style garden behind it faces the road. CT PHOTO/GAIL FINKE
The windows and carvings feature saints the six Williams children were named after. A family member may have done all the carving. CT PHOTO/GAIL FINKE
Bob Sheeran, XU’s vice president for facilities, looks a the new crucifix with the installer. Behind them is the panel of hand-stamped Italian fabric that will hang behind it. CT PHOTO/GAIL FINKE
The new crucifix and the fragile wooden original crucifix, wrapped up against the pouring rain, sit on the chapel’s altar. The new altar, which allows a priest to stand behind it, is made in part from the original marble cladding that covered a cinderblock structure. CT PHOTO/GAIL FINKE
XU’s president, Jesuit Father Michael Graham, gave tours of the chapel while it was being finished. CT PHOTO/GAIL FINKE
The original stained glass windows, which depict Mary and the saints family members were named for, were made by one of America’s finest stained glass companies. Still in business as BeauVerre Riordan, the company made new windows in the same style and using some of the same original glass. CT PHOTO/GAIL FINKE
New windows feature Jesuit saints and Our Lady of Guadalupe. CT PHOTO/GAIL FINKE
The rosaries on this statue belonged to Helen Williams. Helen and William Williams built the chapel in 1938. CT PHOTO/GAIL FINKE
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