Before and After: Thomas Aquinas College Chapel in New England

More good news from Thomas Aquinas College (TAC), keepers of a great intellectual heritage as one of the world's premier Catholic liberal arts colleges.  Their recently acquired New England campus chapel has gone through a significant renovation that gives it a distinctly Catholic look, complete with an ornate richly carved 23-karat gold-leaf altar and reredos.  Just this year, in 2021 the interior chapel sanctuary has been completely transformed from a lonely shell into a stunning masterpiece.

This is a big change, considering the chapel had been built for non-denominational services, formerly belonging to the Northfield Mt. Hermon School, founded by a 19th-century evangelist named Dwight Moody. The new sanctuary shines, impressing upon all who visit a new visual focus, improving on the old academic Gothic shell while building upon a new hierarchy of visuals.  The sanctuary wall is now awash in gold, symbolic of heaven, displaying a splash of sunlight and golden stars made with beautiful stencil technique.

The story is quite interesting how the campus, located in Northfield, Massachusetts and dating to 1879, was donated to TAC.  In some ways it all began in 2005 when the Protestant school closed due to dwindling numbers, consolidating their operations into a nearby campus.  Shortly after, the Green family in 2009 (owners of Hobby Lobby, a privately held retail chain), purchased the campus with plans to update the property and give it new life.

The Greens invested $5 million in the hopes the property could be revived and serve as an orthodox Christian institution of higher learning.  After other deals fell through, the Greens donated the property in 2012 to the National Christian Foundation.  In 2017 the property was providentially given to TAC for the purpose of opening a new campus so as to continue in some way the original purpose for the school, the teaching and passing on of the Christian intellectual tradition, only this time taking it to a new degree. 

The chapel has since been renamed after Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  The colors of the Neo-Gothic sanctuary harken to the original icon kept in Rome at the similarly Neo-Gothic church of Sant'Alfonso on the Via Merulana, reflected in some ways by the hues of blue and gold.  The intense chapel renovation included moving the organ pipes that had before covered the sanctuary wall (the organ had been installed in 1997, a Hook & Hastings, Opus 1752 that had been originally built for St. Patrick's church in Baltimore, removed and sold after an unfortunate fire).  Needless to say, the renovation of the chapel was no small project, transforming the sanctuary into Gothic Revival splendor, with splashes of color and light.

The chapel renovation project and painting is the work of our good friends at Harrison Design and Canning Liturgical Arts, both experts on church renovations and art restoration.  While Canning played a pivotal role in the design and execution of the decorative painting on the interior, the interior architecture was thanks to Harrison.  Harrison Design's extensive contributions included the updated flooring pattern with wood inlay, the revised pew layout to accommodate liturgical processions, the new confessionals, new side shrine, new altar rail, chancel seating, steps, new altar and reredos, new sanctuary wall and ambulatory, along with the addition of two sacristies.  Congratulations to both firms for their quality work.    

Emblazoned atop the sanctuary entrance are the words of Our Blessed Lord to St. Thomas Aquinas, "Thou has written well of me, Thomas; what reward will you receive?"  Above the tabernacle is painted the reply of Aquinas: "Nothing except Thee, Lord." Above these quotations near the ceiling is an image depicting the Blessed Trinity.  All of this is highly symbolic and meaningful for the young and aspiring Thomists who study at the College.  

The new TAC East Coast campus and chapel compliments its historic main campus and baroque chapel in Santa Paula, California. To read more of the chapel renovation, see here and here.  

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