"The greater the work the more
important it is to establish it on
a solid foundation. Thus it will
not only be more perfect; it
will also be more lasting.”

St. Louise de Marillac

“Be diligent in serving
the poor. Love the poor,
honor them, my children,
as you would honor
Christ Himself.”

St. Louise de Marillac

 

A Historic Recognition for Mount St. Joseph University

By Katelyn Rieder, Communications co-op

On March 8, 2024, the Mater Dei Chapel of Mount St. Joseph University was officially named to the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register is overseen by the U.S. Department of Interior and National Park Service, and serves to protect and preserve landmarks, historic sites, and more. Through this recognition, the site of the Mater Dei Chapel will be maintained so its cultural significance will live on for generations. To celebrate the historic recognition, Mount St. Joseph University and the Sisters of Charity came together on March 19, 2024, to honor the designation as well as the many women responsible for the chapel’s creation.

Sister of Charity Augusta Zimmer (former art department chairperson at the Mount) initiated the project back in the late 1950s. She was first missioned to the college in the early 1940s to a nonexistent art department. With her skill and love for art combined, she was able to build the department from the ground up. After only a few years of being established, S. Augusta and the college architect, L.P. Cotter, worked together on the plans for the chapel’s design, which included its high altar, stained-glass windows, mosaics and religious works of art.

S. Augusta was assisted by fellow art department members (Sisters Ann Austin Mooney and Loretta Ann McCarty), MSJ art students (namely Margaret Rolfes Brungs ’60, Judith Dettenwanger Ebbeler ’61, and Marlene Hoffman ’61), and several Sisters in early formation. S. Maureen Heverin was one of those young Sisters. At the time, students came to the Motherhouse campus for their university classes, as the university campus was not yet built. To get a feel for the culture, Sisters in formation were assigned to different university departments to minister as volunteers and assistants. S. Maureen happened to be assigned to the art department at the same time S. Augusta was leading the Mater Dei Chapel project.

Even though S. Maureen doesn’t consider herself to be an artist, she does have an appreciation for art, so the project provided great insight into the lives of artists. Among other things, she was instructed to place small stained-glass pieces into the larger windows that line the walls of the chapel. She reflected, “Being there and helping with all the work made me further appreciate the amount of work that goes into any artistic venture. It was a great opportunity.”

She continued, “The thing I think I appreciated most was even with my limited ability, [S. Augusta] always found something that we could do. She was so good at directing us and making sure that we were involved. She had a wonderful gift not only in artistry, but in inclusion.”

When S. Maureen learned that the Mater Dei Chapel would be placed on the National Register, her first reaction was excitement. “It deserves to be on there! I always smile when I think about the chapel and all the good experiences I’ve had with it.”

Sisters of Charity Associate Karen Elliott, C.PP.S., and chief mission and belonging officer at MSJU, has held an important role in bringing this recognition to fruition. She knows how important it is not only to the school’s history but also to women’s history. In a December 2023 article on the Mount’s website, she states, “The Mater Dei Chapel is unique to the United States in many ways, one being that no other Catholic college or university in the country was designed and created by their faculty and undergraduate students. Also in the 1960s there had been no chapels created by women. Our chapel was the first.”

The celebration of these well-earned accomplishments made by women is important for more progress to be made in terms of gender equality. As March is also Women’s History Month, the recognition comes at a most appropriate time.

“The chapel is a living testimony that there is no limit on what someone can achieve if they really put their mind to it and believe,” S. Karen continues in the article. “The Sisters believed they could do it and they believed in the students at the Mount. This provides evidence that we believe in the gifts and talents of our students, as we do today, as they did then.”

Photos courtesy of Mount St. Joseph University.

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