A Sacred Space

The newly renovated Saint Anne Oratory at the Carol C. Schaap Chapel is a beautiful, sacred space of worship and prayer for Hope’s Catholic community.

If you step into the newly renovated Saint Anne Oratory at the Carol C. Schaap Chapel in the basement of Graves Hall, where the former Schoon Meditation Chapel was located, you’ll find it to be a place of peace and quiet, of uncommon beauty — a place of palpable sacredness. As the Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids, said in the homily of his Mass of Blessing for the oratory, this space is “above all a place where Christ can be found, where Christ is present.”

A brief explanation about the name, Saint Anne Oratory at the Carol C. Schaap Chapel: In Catholic piety, Saint Anne is honored as the mother of the Virgin Mary; Saint Anne is also the patron saint of the principal donor, Carol C. Schaap, after whom the chapel is named. And during his homily, Bishop Walkowiak explained that an oratory is “a place for divine worship for the benefit of a specific community or a group of people,” adding, “We immediately think of the Hope College community and all those associated with it.”

It was for the benefit of this community that Paul ’67 and Carol Schaap served as principal donors, donating the lion’s share of the funds required for the chapel’s renovation. (In total, more than 30 benefactors contributed.) The project caught their attention in part because Catholics are the largest single Christian denomination on Hope’s campus. “I think that’s something that Hope College should be proud of,” Paul said, referring to the ecumenically Christian mix of Hope’s community.

The donation was also a celebration of Carol Schaap’s faith. Carol has been a faithful Catholic her whole life, and although Paul is not himself Catholic, the couple has attended Mass together since they were married 47 years ago. “I’m very pleased and honored to have my name associated with this particular chapel,” Carol said. “I’m glad we were able to support it and to be able to have a place of worship on campus for not only students but also for staff.”

Paul also fondly remembers his time as a student at Hope and, in particular, his love of Chapel services. “When I think back to what Chapel meant to me, I think of the Catholic students and staff and about what that experience will mean to them,” he said.

Recent graduate Kam Wilcox ’22 was thrilled to experience the Saint Anne Oratory before his time at Hope ended, and he spoke eloquently about the connection between the chapel’s beauty and its spiritual purpose:

“It’s a tradition in the Catholic Church, and in other Christian traditions, that we reverence God as Beauty itself,” he said. “We understand that there’s a connection between beauty and spirituality, between having a beautiful sacred space and prayer and spirituality. So Saint Anne’s is very much a visible sign that this place is different. This is a place to encounter God.”

Everything about the oratory has been designed for this purpose — encountering and worshipping God — by architects Christopher Fagan and Nicholas Rolinski. Both of them are graduates of the School of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame, and both have a passion and an obvious talent for designing spaces in the classical tradition. Rolinski, who lives and works in Holland, is also a part-time lecturer at Hope College.

“This is a place to encounter God.”

Kam Wilcox ’22

“Classical architecture is timeless. In the case of the chapel, we felt that the form of the Tuscan Doric order was an appropriate language,” Fagan said. The squat proportions of the Tuscan order, a subgenre of classical architecture, communicate that a great weight is being supported — in this context, implying the weight of Graves Hall above.

“We felt that using the same material palette as Graves, but elevating it to a classical style, was a deliberate move to subtly tie it to the Catholic Church in the Roman era and to that history of the early church, which was a much more humble time,” Fagan said.

Because the Saint Anne Oratory is in the basement, “we tried to connect ourselves back to the early Christian traditions,” Rolinski said. “We understood that these crypt chapels and small underground worship spaces when Christianity wasn’t even legal had something to offer in terms of the nature of the space.”

The renovated oratory is an expanded, well-proportioned, classically designed chapel with a stone floor, hardwood pews, and dark carpentry and millwork. The physical space is oriented toward a gold-plated tabernacle illuminated from above; the tabernacle houses the Blessed Sacrament — a consecrated host that, according to Catholic teaching, is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.

“It’s a beautiful space to encounter God in, and it’s a very different atmosphere than some of the other beautiful spaces on campus. Dimnent is this big, majestic place, but Saint Anne’s is a beautiful, intimate space,” said Father Nicholas Monco, O.P., chaplain of the Saint Benedict Institute. The Institute is a ministry of the local parish, St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, with a primary mission to serve Hope College.

In the ceiling above the tabernacle is a circular stained-glass window featuring a dove representing the Holy Spirit surrounded by symbols for the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). The stained glass is lit from behind by natural light from the Graves Hall windows and by some artificial lighting.

“The Holy Spirit is the power that transforms the sacraments, but also the power that unites us as Christians. The window also represents our love and commitment to the word of God,” said Dr. Jared Ortiz, professor of religion at Hope College and executive director and co-founder of the Saint Benedict Institute.

Set into one of the stone tiles on the floor is a quote from a thermodynamics textbook by Dr. Gordon Van Wylen, president of Hope College from 1972 to 1987: “Quite obviously it is impossible to give conclusive answers to these questions on the basis of the second law of thermodynamics alone. However, we see the second law of thermodynamics as a description of the prior and continuing work of a Creator, who also holds the answer to our future destiny and that of the universe.”

“The quote is a nod to our ecumenical mission and to the harmony we see between faith and reason,” Ortiz said.

The Saint Anne Oratory at the Carol C. Schaap Chapel will be primarily used for divine worship: Mass is celebrated daily in the chapel; all are welcome to attend. The space is also used for prayer and for public and private devotions, including Eucharistic adoration, which is when a person spends time in prayer and meditation to adore Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist.

“The experience of adoration was very beautiful and impacted me in a lot of ways. I grew deeper in my faith and in my relationship with the Lord, just sitting there in silence and meditating on the Eucharist in front of me in the chapel.”

Caryn Dannah ’22

“The experience of adoration was very beautiful and impacted me in a lot of ways,” said Caryn Dannah ’22. “I grew deeper in my faith and in my relationship with the Lord, just sitting there in silence and meditating on the Eucharist in front of me in the chapel.”

The oratory also contains a series of Byzantine-style icons created, or “written,” by local artist Amanda Fickel. “An icon is a religious image that’s meant to reveal some kind of truth about God and lead you closer to God through contemplation of Him and the lives of holy people who have dedicated their lives to God,” she said.

Fickel spends several months completing each icon. Four of the eight sacred images are already installed: Anne, Mary, and Jesus; Joseph and Jesus; Joachim and Anne; and Augustine and Monica. The remaining icons — Saints Benedict, Thomas Aquinas, Josephine Bakhita and Mary Magdalene — will be hung when they’re all completed. The chapel was designed to include the use of bays to create spaces suitable for displaying the icons.

Despite its modest size (it holds up to 46 worshippers) and humble location (in the basement), the chapel was designed to recall iconic Catholic churches such as Bernini’s Cornaro Chapel, Sant’Andrea della Valle and San Clemente.

“When we do projects, especially projects of this level of craftsmanship, we act as though this chapel is supposed to last for over 100 years,” architect Nick Rolinski said. “If you can bring meaning and sense of place and beauty into a space, it at least has a chance to last for the long haul.”

In that way, the Saint Anne Oratory at the Carol C. Schaap Chapel represents an investment for the future — for the Catholic community at Hope College, for the work of the Saint Benedict Institute, for the ongoing testimony of Carol Schaap and her faith, and for the worship and the presence of Jesus Christ in the people and place that is Hope College.

“I genuinely hope that it remains a space for people to encounter the Lord in the future,” Wilcox said.