While all of Carroll College’s campus dormitories currently house a chapel, none are large enough to accommodate Sunday Mass. Students, staff, faculty, and community members are welcomed to campus Mass; the numbers fluctuate, but though the current Campus Center holds an estimated 325 people, up to 350 people have attended Mass on a single Sunday night.
Having served as a theater in recent years, the existing structure that will house the new chapel currently carries a name describing its original purpose from 1917 — the “Old North Gymnasium.” The new chapel will be a visible, permanent center for Carroll College spirituality, with architecture rich in symbolism and meaning. As one of eight Diocesan Colleges in the nation, Carroll College nurtures a close connection with the Diocese of Helena and its presiding bishop. Therefore, the chapel will honor its traditional context next to the hallmark of campus, St. Charles Hall, but will also make apparent the College’s connection to the Helena Cathedral. Elements of the traditional will be interwoven with the contemporary, without the Chapel strictly being either one.
New design elements sympathetic to the vertical proportions, slender pointed arches, and feminine qualities of the cathedral are introduced to balance the heavy, masculine brown stone details of St. Charles Hall and the Old North Gym. The use of the pointed arch is re-imagined in the contemporary detailing of the new nave trusses. Brown and gray stone used in new ways on curving walls behind the sanctuary will paint a canvas for the centuries-old San Damiano crucifix.
The original locker room/laboratory extension provides the opportunity to create a necessary gathering/community space as a precursor to the worship experience, and the old, low stone arch that once served as an entrance becomes the perfect place for a beautiful art glass window behind the tabernacle, a terminus to the chapel axis. Beginning with the plaza steps, emphasis on symmetry, continuity of materials, and composed geometry will create movement from the outside spaces, through the community space, into the nave, and direct the eye upward to the crucifix above the altar. A lighting study was completed to test different configurations to the skylight to manipulate how light will be reflected around the altar and crucifix.
All of the chapel elements are designed to work in unison and to create beauty in the architecture that inspires contemplation which leads to action.