Envisioning The Chapel’s future

On July 17, 1898, the following article appeared in the Courier-Journal:
This afternoon at 2:30 O’clock the Rt Rev. William George McCloskey, Bishop of the Catholic diocese of Louisville, assisted by a number of his clergy, will lay the corner-stone of the new church of St. Philip Neri at Floyd and Woodbine streets. The church is to be of brick and will be a very pretty one. It will cost about $16,000.”


Q. Why are we looking at changes for the future?
A. $16,000 is merely a drop in the maintenance bucket these days!

By Tom Jones

When I first came to a potluck at the Catholic Worker four years ago, as an architect enamored with a wonderful 120-year-old campus full of possibility, I was immediately accepted by a warm group of friends. Over the next few years, I began to see the need and prospects of a bigger vision for this venerable place.

Of late I have been crawling through the past, sometimes literally, researching the church and rectory in both archdiocese archives as well as shimmying through crawl spaces and attics. At a recent architects’ seminar, I was teased by colleagues about the need to hire an intern for such duties. Little did they know I find communion with master-builders’ spirits’ in such places.

Looking at 20 years of Chapel News issues, I found a rich landscape of spiritual witness, community involvement and rituals that have taken place.  Even now I attend a regular concert series produced by Charlie Walsh, current chapel board president.

However, on the downside, becoming the venue for larger and higher quality events becomes problematic due to deferred maintenance, lack of accessibility or toilet facilities. 

The issue for the future becomes twofold. First, how can I help care for our “Gift of the Land.” Second, how can I help further the mission of the chapel in the spirit of its originating visionary, Father Vernon Robertson.

One of the issues I see in the raising of funding for maintenance, repairs and new initiatives becomes that of the ownership of the property. While all the entities involved have various abilities to fundraise, those donations are usually restricted to operations. Improvements to the property become the responsibility of the Urban Charities Trust Inc., which is land-rich but cash poor.  I also worry there is also the chance that the buildings could be sold off.

What are some possibilities?

With improved accessibility and toilet facilities, I view the chapel as comfortably entertaining larger more formal, regular events. It could become home to regular conference and lecture series on social justice, retreats and spiritual celebrations.

Yesterday I listened to the bountifully resonant tones of a Balkan Folk Choir echoing through the sanctuary.

Removing the pews and leveling the floor could allow for flexible seating arrangements that could accommodate these various activities.

The addition of a commercial-grade kitchen could help serve several possibilities, such as becoming an incubator for street food vendor businesses, assisting La Casita and Casa Latina in their daily serving needs or serving the regular events described above.

The roof area of the church and other campus buildings is massive and open to direct sunlight. Solar panels might supply much of the campus energy needs.

How will these decisions be explored and made?

A man named Joe Cunningham, signed his name and the date to the side of a rafter in the attic of the Chapel on Nov. 26, 1898, approximately 4 months after the cornerstone was laid and he was helping construct the roof.

The Chapel board has reviewed and discussed my initial brainstorming document with enthusiasm. Currently, I am working on measured drawings and doing research for a Master Plan. 

The bottom line remains that the big idea must evolve. I continue to brainstorm and dream, nurture and discuss with all interested parties.

What patterns from the past have born the most fruit? What new ideas might take flight? Invitations have been sent with the hope of a meeting with the Urban Charities Trust Inc. to discuss an instrument or mechanism by which our needs and dreams may be pursued.

Finally, I pray for the intercession of Joe Cunningham.  I never met him, but his name was memorialized on the side of a rafter in the attic of the Chapel on Nov. 26, 1898, approximately 4 months after the cornerstone was laid and he was helping construct the roof. He helped build it one brick, one stick at a time reaching for the sky. Help us, Joe, as we reach for the sky!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s