The 100th Anniversary of the "Our Lady of the Annunciation" Chapel at Nazareth Hall Preparatory Seminary

Romanesque chapel interior

"One afternoon, as we came along a dusty road, we saw Nazareth lying before us upon the slope of a valley, and surrounded by an amphitheater of hills.  The square white houses stood close together, amid vineyards and olive trees, and upon a distant ridge we saw a congregation of cypresses which everywhere in the Holy Land mark the footsteps of St. Francis.  From a distance, Nazareth is seen wearing the shining mantle of love and affection with which the Christian centuries have clothed it" (Source: This is the Holy Land by Fulton J. Sheen, p. 35).  


What's old is new again.  And in the the words of Ruskin: "Drawing may be taught by tutors; but design only by heaven."  

Nazareth Hall  - located in Roseville, Minnesota is a veritable jewel of architecture and a place of dazzling 1920s Romanesque-Byzantine beauty.  From the immense expanse of its massive entrance tower to the arched inner vault of its foyer, there is rich symbolism and didactic meaning everywhere.  

This year Nazareth Hall marks its centennial - it was constructed 100 years ago as the minor seminary of the Archdiocese of St. Paul.  For 47- academic years it operated until its closure in 1970, a casualty of the 1960s, a time when a flood of minors seminaries were shuttered amid a massive cultural shift in favor of change and modernity.  During the turbulent years of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the mood in church and society was agitated and abrasive.  "It was a period when merely to keep the house in order was a major accomplishment" (Journey Toward Fulfillment: A History of the College of St. Thomas, p. 404).    

The European-looking structure stands strong today after 100 years.  It has been described as frozen poetry - a rhyme in every line, grace and beauty, and meaning in every part of its stately structure.  The lines, both interior and exterior, move upward to God - a key feature of Catholic architecture, reflecting a verticality that reaches up to the heavens, drawing men's eyes upwards to the ultimate goal: the beatific vision in heaven (1 Tim. 6:16).

The art and beauty of Nazareth Hall help to dispose hearts to hope in the future life that is the consummation of the whole history of salvation.  The architecture and its message are filled with an inner eschatological expectation which enables us to think correctly about human and earthly goods by keeping them in proper perspective, while not despising them as worthless.  The Church is not of this world, she is inspired by no earthly ambition and she will be perfect only in Heaven, on which she has her eyes fixed and toward which she is journeying.    

Renaissance loggia in Florentine style

Indeed beauty has its own power to draw man's gaze to God and His truths.  Hearts soar in the chapel where everything points to the sanctuary, reflecting the Divine Liturgy by which Catholics enter into the heavenly liturgy which is so powerfully described in the Book of Revelation.  For generations sung Mass in Latin with Gregorian Chant was celebrated in the chapel with the giant reverberating swells of plainchant and sacred polyphony emanating from the choir loft, following the barrel vault to the marbled sanctuary, the meeting place between God and man at the altar of sacrifice.  

At Nazareth Hall art and architecture reach beyond the surface of the senses and touch the depths of the human soul.  Aristotle taught that all knowledge comes through the senses.  The Church in her wisdom has great sympathy for man.  Catholic architecture in tandem with Catholic worship caters to all the five human senses - touch, hearing, sight, smell, and taste - reflected in the fullest possible way in the liturgical experience that is the vision of the Revelation of St. John.   

The chapel was a big part of the life of the seminary students and it was the center of campus life.  The students prayed here multiple times a day and began each morning with 6:30 am Mass in the upper chapel.  This was a key part of the spiritual formation of the young men.  Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and His Body the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others (John 4:23).  Liturgical catechesis recalled to the young men daily the supreme event of the whole history of salvation, the event with which Christians are united by faith, namely, the Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ.    

Aerial photo of Nazareth Hall chapel and campus

Professor Ralph McInerny, a Minneapolis native and one of the most distinguished alums of Nazareth Hall, wrote of the chapel in his 2006 memoirs:   
"The chapel at Nazareth Hall was dedicated to the Annunciation and was a marble marvel, with stained glass windows and embedded stations of the Cross, and it seems now as if no time intervened as I moved with my class, year by year from the front pews to the back ones where the Sixth-Year men, the temporal lords of the school, knelt.  We gathered there each day at noon to recite the Angelus, then filed out in silence to the refectory.  After the meal, it was back to the chapel again for a brief thanksgiving.  And, of course our day began there.  We rose at six and Mass was at 6:30.  By eight o'clock, when the classes began, our day was well underway."  
Drawing by Nazareth Hall landscape architects, Morell & Nichols


Nazareth Hall Preparatory Seminary  was built by a pioneer evangelist, Archbishop Austin Dowling (1868-1930).  He was a New Yorker who is remembered as the first Bishop of Des Moines and the second Archbishop of St. Paul.  Dowling was a towering, impressive figure, a born teacher, a professor of ecclesiastical history with an eloquence to match his bearing.  He was by taste, habit, and profession a historian.  

During his 11-year tenure as Archbishop of St. Paul, he was determined to make the Faith relevant to the age through solid Catholic education.  While shepherding the Diocese of St. Paul on the upper banks of the rolling waters of the Mississippi, his first goal was to see a well-formed Catholic population.  One of his other aims was to see that the Church was beautified as a towering, eloquent, and awe-inspiring presence.  He brought to the table a broad appreciation of Church history and a highly developed aesthetic sense based on his great love for theology and history.  

The memory of Nazareth Hall lives on at class reunions

While still working toward the completion of the Cathedral of St. Paul with a uniformly high artistic standard, he also desired to build a minor seminary that would be visible, vibrant, and confident.  It would cover the four years of high school and the first two years of college, covering humanities, liberal arts, and philosophy studies.  Students would learn Greek and Latin.  Then they would graduate usually on to a major seminary, with six more years of formation; a total of twelve years for those who also attended the preparatory high school program.  This Tridentine-era educational structure of seminary formation was referred to as: "6-6."      

Having a strong commitment to education and having been a seminary professor in his youth, Dowling initiated construction of a seminary built on a lake in the wilds of nature, where boys could be formed in the school of virtue in the invigorating world of imagination and the great outdoors, giving deep insight into his advanced psychology of education.  There boys could connect with nature, an effective teacher, with every wild bird and wavelet on the lakeshore speaking of the glory of God and the beauty of creation.  No detail of Nazareth Hall, however small, was executed without first passing the scrutiny of Dowling's flawless artistic instinct which in the end suffused Nazareth Hall with warmth and serenity that still gives it fresh appeal today.  

Spring view across the lake

Bishop Grace, the first bishop of St. Paul, had purchased the suburban sylvan land where Nazareth Hall stands in 1866.  For the price of $800 he was able to purchase 42 wooded acres abutting scenic Lake Johanna  That was approximately $19 per acre.  Bishop Grace was from France and was already thinking of a future location for a seminary to be set in an idyllic bucolic spot amid a country background removed from the hustle and bustle of city life.  In 1915, his successor Archbishop Ireland purchased an additional 47 acres adjoining the acreage for $3,525.  That was $75 per acre.  That made a total of 89 wooded lakeshore acres on the pristine shores of a picturesque recreational lake.  The site brings to mind a poetic quote from Henry David Thoreau, "A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature.  It is earth's eye."  

Aerial image of the chapel in relation to the lake

The meandering shoreline of the property was a total of about sixteen or seventeen hundred feet.  Visitors today notice the campus includes a small island with an enchanting little chapel on it.  Originally this was not quite an island, but a narrow neck of land that was dredged to improve the flowage of the lake in the early 1920s.  Since that time the island is reached by a small bridge.  Indeed, no more charming a spot could have been chosen for a school or the retreat of a scholar. 

Monumental Size

On February 4, 1921 when the original construction contract for the 87-acre property was let to the Portland Cement Company of Iowa, it was for 25,000 barrels of cement to be used for construction.  The large multi-purpose building that was designed was actually six buildings in one.  It used 200 tons of reinforced steel, 600,000 bricks, and 200,000 red face bricks for the exterior.  Materials were used from all over the world in the chapel to symbolize the universality of the Church.  

In the first place, the dimensions were monumental.  The building’s extreme length from the apex of the apse chapel wall to the end of the gymnasium on the opposite side was 424 feet.  From this axis two large wings reach out, one running to the southwest, parallel with the lake some 225 feet.  The other, a rectangular wing of almost equal dimensions, included the construction of an adjoining convent building with its own small chapel. 

The Nazareth Hall building covers approximately 37,400 square feet of ground, totaling about 120,742 square feet.  The top lines of the building are of varying height, of two and three stories dominated by a 105 foot tower which stands as a widely visible landmark, seen from the public beach of Lake Johanna.  

Nazareth Hall was built with great speed.  When the cornerstone was laid on May 21, 1922 construction was already well under way with the foundation and first floor completed.  The hopes and dreams of the local Catholic community at the time are recorded in The Catholic Bulletin from May 27, 1922:

"This building has been fittingly called Nazareth Hall, which implies a special consecration.  Christ, in preparation for the exercise of His Priesthood, had the quiet and retirement of years at Nazareth.  There He grew in age and wisdom, worked, cultivated obedience which culminated in the obedience of the Cross, and willed to be protected by the authority of Joseph and consoled by the sanctity of His Virgin Mother.  Here the young men who are to become 'other Christs' will have their years of Nazareth.  They will learn to love obedience and they will grow in wisdom, worldly and divine.  As over the Nazareth of old, so over this the Spirit of the Most High will hover and brood and work out His mysterious wonders of grace."   

It continues, describing the purpose of the project:

"The purpose of this building is the highest that can engage the attention of the human mind.  Here are to be gathered strong, intelligent, innocent young men who will dedicate their physical strength, their mental powers and the innocence of their youth to the service of Almighty God.  Here they will be protected from the many and great dangers to which the youth of our day are exposed.  This preparatory seminary will be the garden for the body, mind and soul from which these young men will pass into the vestibule and sanctuary of the church."   

Construction was finally  completed on August 22, 1922, except for the chapel.  That was opened for the public to see during an open house on September 8-10, 1923.  By the weekend's close, about 15,000 faithful had come to visit and marvel at the new construction.  

On Monday, September 10, 1923, at 3:30 pm, Archbishop Dowling blessed the new building in an meaningful liturgical ceremony.  The Archbishop spoke of the originality of the building, that it was not an imitation of any one structure elsewhere.  It was built on original and familiar lines, but with new adaptions of them to meet the needs of the present age.  It was not the result of a multimillionaire, but of the dollars and cents donated by countless believers of all backgrounds.  

The opening celebrations are described in The Catholic Bulletin (Sept. 15, 1923):

"Last Saturday and Sunday were like days of pilgrimage to many of the faithful in the Diocese.  From near and far they fared, at the invitation of their revered chief pastor, to view and rejoice what may be termed a new shrine in the northwest - beautiful Nazareth Hall.  They came to see a notable achievement in the progress of a great educational and spiritual movement inaugurated three years ago.  For the most part they returned to their homes impressed and hallowed by a new sense of nature and wonderfully brought together to do service to the Most High."

The school opened on September 18, 1923, with 125 students enrolled.  The elaborate consecration of the chapel and its main altar was held in September of 1924.  The 12 decorative consecration crosses (which held beeswax candles), are still visible today on the walls of the chapel, indicating where Archbishop Dowling consecrated the chapel with holy oil with Prayers from the Roman Pontifical.    

Although the original estimate was $500,000 to construct Nazareth Hall, the final cost of the building was $1,200,000.  At the time of its completion it was debt-free.  This is truly remarkable.  The building was so well constructed and has been so well maintained that 100 years later it appears new from the exterior.  The narrow and thin red bricks set in white mortar with elegant limestone trimming and massive red tile roof provide a feast for the eyes, a beautiful expanse of design and an engineering marvel.  

Original architect's rendering

The Architects 

The architects were Maginnis & Walsh of Boston, founded in 1905.  Charles D. Maginnis (1867-1955) and Timothy Walsh (1868-1934) had an unparalleled skill in ecclesiastical design, evidenced in scores of churches across the Untied States, including their most monumental work, the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. that took them decades to complete.  Archbishop Dowling hired them to design and build Nazareth Hall.  

As the project was being completed in the spring of 1923, Dowling hired them to design a rectory and sacristy for the cathedral, as well as to complete the cathedral interior.  Later beginning in 1929 they designed the interior of St. Mary's Chapel at the St. Paul Seminary on Summit Avenue in St. Paul.  These architects were East Coast experts, with wide and varied experience of institutional buildings (boarding schools) where large groups of students would live, eat, and study with faculty and staff.  

The tower (air vents are not original - they replaced windows)

The architects surveyed the sight and seized the possibilities of the setting among the trees and lake side.  They effectively designing a building that would fit into the landscape, while giving attention to the conveniences of the lake view and breeze.  This bolstered the quality of life of generations who lived and studied on the shores of Lake Johanna.  The second story bedrooms of many of the priests enjoyed the lake view.  Near the library on the second floor were included rooms with lakeside views for Archbishop Dowling, where he would sometimes stay when he would visit.  These were converted in the rector's suite.      

The entire complex shows many innovations in structural engineering and design, with priority given to both aesthetic significance and practical functionality in every possible feature.  The local engineers and contractors on the ground were the Foley Brothers of St. Paul, specializing in schools and churches.  An article in the Catholic Bulletin records the event of the laying of the cornerstone on Sunday, May 23, 1922.  The school opened for class in September 1923.      

Cornerstone of the chapel, Eph. 2:19-21

Nazareth Hall was designed in the style of North Italian Lombard Romanesque.  It was fortuitously originally built as a series of buildings that were actually connected as one large building (a definite plus in Minnesota winters), designed to accommodate between 200-250 youths who lived and studied on the campus.  The approved design was from the beginning a building that was intended to enrapture the attention and imagination of young male students, thus the fortress theme with tower to inspire them to greatness and the noble pursuit of knowledge.   

Main entrance tympanum
The Flower Motifs in Stone and Tile

Over the arched entrance there is a flower motif of classical foliage - 10 flowers with the Archangel Gabriel at the top of the arch.  A similar motif is repeated countless times in the tiles inside the chapel (1 Kings 6:23-29).   In Sacred Scripture the number 10 indicates God's authority and completeness, a testimony of His creative power.  The flowers are in references to Our Lady, also having emblematic significance of the virtues.  

The exterior carven flowers and interior tiles reflect the rose (Rosa carina), an emblem of Mary's love of God, the white lily of Nazareth (Lilium candidum, or the Madonna lily), symbolic of her purity.  There is also the myrtle (Myrtus communis), symbolic of her virginity, and of course the marigold (Calendula officinalis), symbolic of her heavenly glory.  

Early Christians saw flowers and herbs as special signs from heaven, symbolic of the unfolding of the spiritual life.  From the earliest centuries they gathered flowers for church, placing them on altars.  For special occasions flower petals were strewn throughout the church and even woven into garlands and crowns for special occasions.  Floral patterns later appeared in vestments and in altar decorations.  As the centuries progressed, cultivation of symbolic plants associated with Mary and the virtues continued to spread to often new and enriching forms of artistic expression.  

These images of flowers in refence to Our Lady bring to mind a meditation in Nazareth of Fulton J. Sheen, making reference to several flowers named after the Mother of Jesus: 

"Opposite the monastery the friars have made a little garden which is well protected from the boys of Nazareth.  The gate is kept locked.  The only flower in bloom when we were there was, appropriately, the Mary-gold, which Shakespeare called, so charmingly, the 'Mary-bud.'  There could hardly be a better place than a garden in Nazareth to reflect upon the beauty and the variety of the bouquet which the piety and affection of gardeners, and of countryfolk generally, have dedicated to the Virgin.  There are, of course, Rosemary, the Madonna Lily, the Pink Armerica ('Our Lady's Cushion'), the Campanula (her 'looking-glass'), the Harebell (her 'thimble'), and Our Lady's Smock, mentioned by Shakespeare, 'When daisies pied and violets blue And lady's smock all silver white, And cuckoo buds of yellow hue Do paint the meadows with delights.'  In France foxgloves are sometimes called gants de Notre Dame; in England the Canterbury Bell was once named 'Our Lady's Glove'; the Fuschia is 'Our Lady's Ear-drops'; the Black Briony, 'Our Lady's Seal"; the Adiantum, or Maidenhair Fern, 'Our Lady's Hair.'  No doubt one could greatly increase in beauty and size this loving nosegay [bouquet of flowers]" (Source: This is the Holy Land by Fulton J. Sheen, pp. 38-39).  

The simple exterior, with belfry above the apse
The Main Entrance

Seizing the favorable contours of the location, the architects faced the structure to the northeast, with a full basement.  They were wise to situate the main entrance at the base of the gigantic 40' x 40', 105’ tall tower facing the lake view, with a recessed carved portal of Indiana limestone.  

Over the exterior door visitors are greeted with a semi-circular tympanum, the central piece of art on the exterior.  It shows a carved figure in high relief – in the style of the art of the catacombs – with Christ the Good Shepherd depicted as a boy standing between two palm trees with two sheep resting at his feet.  The setting allowed the boys to put themselves in the picture, identifying with the Puer Nazrenus (the boy of Nazareth).    

Carved in the Latin on the stone interval are the words from Sacred Scripture (John 10:7): AMEN, AMEN, DICO VOBIS QUIA EGO SUM OSTIUM OVIUM (“Amen, Amen, I say to you, I am the Door of the sheep”).  Further it reads (Matt. 11:29-30): VENITE AD ME QUONIAM IUGUM MEUM SUAVE EST ET ONUS LEVE ("Come to me because my yoke is sweet and my burden light").  

"NAZARETH HALL" is carved in the limestone above the entrance.  On either side is a simplified rendition of the Jerusalem Cross, representative of the five sacred wounds of the passion of Christ.  On either side are carven reliefs of Mary and Joseph, in reference to the Holy Family.  The sturdy pillars that mark the entrance are supporting images above the capitals that represent the four Gospels, emblematic of the flowering of Christianity atop the pagan rubble of ancient Rome.  

Main entrance tympanum in Bedford limestone, used for monumental public structures

This door leads into the entrance stairwell, with a painted image above the entrance/exit of the Transfiguration of Christ on Mt. Tabor, where the countenance of Christ changed and His raiment became a radiant white, revealing His divinity only to a few chosen and fortunate followers (Luke 9:28-36).  This precious oil on canvas painting reflects the luminous palette of a local artist by the name of Rubins of Minneapolis.  He painted the canvas in his studio in marouflage technique; it was later attached to the wall where it has remained to this day.  It is the only painting in Nazareth Hall and the last thing visitors see as they exit, opening the doors to the blinding light of day.

This leads the visitors up as they continue to ascend to a large rotunda room with an exquisite narthex/vestibule under an elegantly designed arched ceiling.  Such a room alone is a work of inestimable artistic significance.  Four giant supporting columns in each corner support the tower of immense weight.  Such mathematical proportions have been met that the ceiling of the room has never cracked.  This room, which is illuminated by a large and elegant mullioned window, serves as a visiting room or reception and overflow from the chapel.  The window reflects the triune theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (1 Cor. 13).  

Overlooking the entrance vestibule was a six foot tall freestanding statue of Our Lady in the attached hallway, seen below in a historical photograph and today (since about 1974 it has been kept as an outdoor garden statue at the Regina nursing home in Hastings, MN). The statue was made in a rare technique of the time that made statues from crushed stone composite that was poured into a mold and finished by hand. Mary's gaze is directed to Christ as He raises His hand in the act of imparting a blessing on all who pass by. Hopefully the statue will one day be restored to its original niche according to the designs of the original architect and artist. 

This entrance vestibule is the only entrance into the chapel (except through the sacristy and choir loft) and it also leads into the main building with quick access to the dining hall for meals and receptions.  

Symbolic main entrance, where class photos were taken every year

The Chapel Interior

The chapel was designed to seat some 300 and was dedicated as the Chapel of the Annunciation, a fitting title, since it would recall to generations of students within its walls the Annunciation of Mary, which betokened the origin of the priesthood of the New Law.     

The chapel was unique in its day and decades ahead of its construction in many "modern" ways.  For example, there was only one altar (no side altars).  The altar was free-standing (without a reredos attached to the back of it).  There was no altar rail.  There were no confessionals.  There was no pulpit.  There were only three statues in the chapel.  There was only one sacristy.  The choir loft was small.  Lastly, there were no choir stalls.     

The Nazareth Hall Chapel was laid out with a wide center aisle for processions with two narrow side aisles, framed by heavy supporting columns from which the arched ceiling springs.  The ceiling vault is supported by these massive polished marble columns with foliate capitals, supporting the arches opening to the side aisles.  The spanning arches are adorned with ornamental tile panels.  All of this lends to perfect acoustics, designed for an age before the advent of microphones and sophisticated interior church sound systems.   

The walls were lined with red Numidian marble and stand out to every visitor.  This is an extremely rare marble, imported from Algeria where the Romans had mined it themselves in ancient times.  In the late 1800s those same mines were rediscovered and when the chapel was built, full advantage was made of this recent discovery as with many other period building projects of the same decade.

Bells believed to be from Nazareth Hall Chapel

The Ceiling

The main body of the chapel was finished in stone and tile with an elegant arched barrel vault ceiling in "Gustavino" style, lending a Mediterranean look designed according to the brilliant Gustavino tile arch system (with interlocking terracotta tiles).  This was a version of the Catalan vault invented for modern construction and patented by the brilliant Spanish architect and builder Rafael Gustavino. 

Below are images done in a local study of the "Gustavino" style ceiling of the chapel and its foyer, similarly seen in the Chicago style Hamm Building in downtown St. Paul (1919) at the Our Lady of Victory Chapel at St. Catherine's University (1923). Similar work can also be seen in the Minnesota State Capitol. 

Both similarities and differences can be admired and studied in these insightful images.    

A magnificent view of the three ceilings, all in St. Paul, Minn.


The Gustavino style ceiling

The Batchelder tiles in the ceiling arches

The Sanctuary

The sanctuary has an Alpine green marble floor, with walls covered in red Numidian marble, uniting the décor of the sanctuary with that of the rest of the church in unbroken unison and color.  The polished marble was cut in Africa and shipped to Minnesota and installed in matching pairs in "butterfly" fashion.  The massive white pillars were shipped from Italy similarly across the ocean and transported by train.  

The semicircular apse gives rise to a hemispherical vault or semi-dome that was originally covered in gold-leaf, symbolic of heaven.  Carved above in Latin are the words of the Benedictus, also known as the Canticle of Zachariah.  These words sent a strong message to the boys who studied here as it was an invitation for them to be prophets of Christ, announcing the kingdom to all.  

The Canticle is a song that was sung each day at Lauds (morning prayer) in the Divine Office.  It is taken from Luke 1:76-77.   This ancient antiphon is a hymn of praise, quoted from the Latin Vulgate translation of St. Jerome: ET TU PUER PROPHETA ALTISSIMI VOCABERIS PRAEIBIS ENIM ANTE FACIEM DOMINI PARARE VIAS EIUS AD DANDAM SCIENTIAM SALUTIS PLEBI EIUS IN REMISSIONEM PECCATORUM EORUM ("And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways: to give knowledge of salvation to his people, unto the remission of their sins").

This song is believed to have been first introduced by St. Benedict (cf. The Rule of St. Benedict), introduced by the saint into daily prayer for his monks.

Ensconced on the sanctuary walls can also be seen an aumbry, a small cupboard built into the wall that was locked with a key.  It was inscribed with the words Olea Sacra.  The aumbry held holy oils, and probably in this case only the Oil of the Sick, given that Nazareth Hall did not have parish status.  Nevertheless, this would have been for the use of faculty priests in case of an emergency to anoint anyone in danger of death (James 5:14-15).  On the opposite side a cubby-hole can be seen cut in the wall.  This was a credence table, where the cruets holding water and wine and the lavabo dish and linen towel were kept for Mass.  

Altar missal used by the priest, with words of the opening antiphon carved above the door of the sacristy

A highly symbolic gesture above the sacristy entrance are the words said by every priest and altar boy by during the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, taken from Psalm 42 (Vulgate edition): INTROIBO AD ALTARE DEI, AD DEUM QUI LAETIFICAT JUVENTUTEM MEAM ("And I will go in to the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth" (Psalm 43:4).  Above the sacristy door can be seen an empty niche that once held a statue of St. John the Baptist, a saint of renowned stature (Matthew 11:11).  As the first New Testament Prophet, he points the way to Christ.      

On the altar was a beautiful bronze tabernacle with matching bronze crucifix on a stand with six large candlesticks and two small candlesticks (location today unknown).  The crucifix was flanked by two small statues in a golden finish, angels kneeling in adoration at the foot of the cross (Ex. 25:18-19).  

Image of the rear of the chapel, with choir loft

The Choir Loft

The acoustics in the chapel are optimal.  The organ loft recedes into the tower and shows in the chapel as a semi-circular bay corresponding to the semi-circular frame of the sanctuary.  It is a surprisingly small choir loft, large enough for a small chant schola and mixed choir.  Interestingly, the choir loft was designed so that it can only be reached via the second floor dormitory wing, across from the old priest faculty lounge (probably so that clergy could access the chapel at night, praying in the loft with ease from their living quarters).  

The original pipe organ was unfortunately removed at some point and replaced with an electric version.  The hushed silence of the choir loft brings back memoires of Monsignor Richard Schuler, PhD (1920-2007), a native of Minneapolis, who had been on the faculty of Nazareth Hall from 1945-1955 where he taught Latin and music.  One of his great joys was conducing music and playing the organ in the Nazareth Hall Chapel.   

Crypt chapel sanctuary windows in the lower apse

The Lower Chapel

The crypt chapel cannot be overlooked.  It, too, was a beautiful worship space with a low ceiling and its own sacristy.  Confessions were also heard here, making it a spiritual center of campus life (John 20:23).  This unique worship space was designed to be partially underground, reached by a majestic vestibule area (under the upstairs foyer) as well as its own staircase connecting it to the upper sacristy.

In the chapel there were nine matching altars.  In the middle was a sanctuary with an altar, and six stained glass windows in the apse.  Four were representative of the four Gospels and two of ecclesiastical authority - one window boasts the arms of the reigning Pontiff at the time of construction, Pius XI.  The other displays the armorial crest of the local Archdiocese of St. Paul, with symbols of St. Paul and the Mississippi River.  

There were rows of four altars on either side of the chapel, situated in deep reveals that support the chapel columns above.  They were lined up in the Benedictine tradition for daily private Low Masses to be celebrated pre-dawn each morning.

Every boy had a missal or prayer book, such as this

  The resident priests on faculty celebrated their simultaneous morning liturgies here, in the monastic vein - Low Mass whispered at side altars served by students who were well-trained altar servers.  The silence was broken by the ringing of a hand bell at each altar to signify the most sacred moments.  (One of the few places where this can still be seen in the US is the FSSP seminary in Denton, Nebraska.) 

The lower sacristy had vestment cabinets with assorted Gothic Revival style vestments and several chalices.  Priests vested here as did the servers.  A connecting room had a long rope attached to the exterior bell in its own tower.  This is where the bell was rung by hand by gleeful students who took turns at appointed hours for the privilege to ring the bell.   

The last remaining crypt chapel altar, an eloquent testimony of the past

The altars were made of matching light, smooth Mankato limestone, each with an altar frontal with a hand-carved religious monogram motif and two columns to support the immense top mensa, all of the same color stone.  

Inside the top surface of each consecrated altar slab mensa was a "sepulchre," a small square opening or cavity that held relics (2 Kings 13:20-21, Acts 5:15-16, Acts 19:11-12).  These were embedded inside the altars by Archbishop Dowling when he consecrated them in an elaborate ceremony of dedication in 1923.  The main altar in the crypt sanctuary had its own wrought iron sanctuary furniture, since 1970 kept in the Maria Hilf Chapel of the church of St. Agnes in St. Paul.

The original crypt chapel furniture

The crypt chapel by its design and low lighting contributed to the ambience of a Roman catacomb.  It also had its own organ console.  The aesthetically-minded iron lighting in the crypt as in the main chapel, chandeliers from the ceilings and sconces on the walls, were the work of the John S. Brandstreet and Company studios, a local business founded in 1901 by a man who helped found the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Original crypt chapel credence table

The simplicity of the chapel was well suited to boys' imaginations, evoking the crypt of a castle.  In retrospect, even today it brings to mind a strong nostalgia for preindustrial era worship spaces that are cozy and give a sense of belonging.  The crypt chapel was busy every morning with the dozens of morning Masses, with hundreds of Masses being celebrated here nearly 50 years.  This is were boys learned to serve Mass well from experience, inspired by the reverence of the priests at the altar.   

Original crypt chapel kneeler

 There is an old legend, European in origin, that angels guard forever on earth the location where Holy Mass has been celebrated.  If this is the case, a flock of angels surely guard the crypt chapel, where the one and only, once and for all sacrifice of Christ on Calvary has been commemorated countless times, cultivating the interior life of the servers and priests, molding and guiding priestly spirituality at the foot of Mt. Calvary.   

Confessions were heard only in the crypt chapel, on the right side after entering.  In later years confessionals were also included in the back of the chapel in St. Austin's House, dedicated in 1961.  

Lectern from Nazareth Hall, kept at All Saints church in Minneapolis

The Furniture and Interior Woodwork 

The expert millwork, skilled interior carpentry, interior hardwood flooring, sacristy finishing, pews, doors, and wooden sanctuary furniture were the product of the Villaume Box & Lumber Company and Osgood & Blodgett MFG. Company.  Both companies were owned by a French immigrant, Eugene Villaume, who was born in St. Michael, France in 1853, came to St. Paul in 1873 and worked on Nazareth Hall in the 1920s before his death in 1933.  

The wooden furniture appointments show delicate millwork, evidenced in the original furniture seen below, commissioned for the Nazareth Hall Chapel in the 1920s.   

The sedila seen today, from the Nazareth Hall Chapel

The Villaume business was located in West St. Paul.  Their motto was: "If it can be manufactured from wood, we can make it."  While making all things of wood, the business specialized in high quality interior trim and finish for schools, churches, and homes.  Their other projects for the Archdiocese at that time included a recent St. Joseph's Hospital addition as well as St. Columba School in St. Paul.  Another local church they made custom pews for was the chapel at Hamline University in St. Paul.

The benches, kneelers, and chairs came from the Nazareth Hall Chapel and entrance foyer

The furniture of the Nazareth Hall Chapel has survived and since 1970 has been kept in the sanctuary of the church of St. Agnes in St. Paul.      

The original sanctuary chair from the Nazareth Hall Chapel

The original kneelers from the Nazareth Hall Chapel
The Windows

The window ornamentation is exceptional, by the Charles J. Connick Stained Glass studio in Boston.  The windows were the last part of the chapel completed, between 1923-1925.  With glass, lead, fire, and brush, the artistic vision of the windows compliment the sacred space and enhance the worship experience.  The windows were made using an ancient technique of fired and painted glass.  Master artist Connick supervised the creation of the widows himself, creating 18 windows for the upstairs chapel, 24 for the basement crypt chapel, 9 for the convent chapel, and 7 more for the island chapel.  

An window from the crypt chapel

The stained glass windows in the chapel cost $6,000 each when they were commissioned.  The windows are in groups of two with alternating background designs, a foliated scroll motif contrasting with a more formal rectangular pattern.  In the latter, large standing figures are represented in the upper portion of the windows. 

The subjects were chosen fittingly for their significant to boys discerning a possible call to the priesthood.  Episodes from the life of Christ showcase youthful characters that predominate the themes.  The windows on the right of the chapel depict Old Testament scenes from Adam to David.  The ones on the left depict New Testament scenes from the life of Christ.  

The serene beauty of the composition and positioning of colors is best appreciated and experienced as the sun rises on the East side of the chapel, illuminating the New Testament, while setting on the West side of the chapel, symbolic of the fulfillment of the New Testament and the fading away of the Old. 

The stories begin with eight Old Testament scenes that are depicted in the windows nearest the sanctuary in the southwest corner.  They can be followed toward the entrance: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, and David.  

The stories of salvation history continue around the northeast wall with ten New Testament scenes taken from the life of Christ.  They finish at the altar on the opposite wall.  They depict Mary, Mary with the Archangel Gabriel, the birth of Christ, the Adoration of the Shepherds and Magi, John the Baptist, Jesus as a young man, Jesus in His early ministry, Jesus healing young people, Jesus with the little children, and the young boy with the loaves of bread.  

The artist signed his work in the crypt chapel

The mullions, vertical dividers between each of the windows, show interiorly as well as exteriorly in the limestone with carved capitals.  

In 1937 Connick published his magnum opus, a best-seller for Random House, New York

The Statues 

True to its modern feel, the Nazareth Hall Chapel only had three statues.  Two of them are see here below (the third was of St. John the Baptist). They were carved from wood, slightly larger than life-sized, with faint color schemes.  Both statues are masterpieces, showing well the flow of garments and even the veins in the sturdy hands of Joseph.  

To inspire the student body, Mary holds the posture of acceptance, reflecting the moment of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26).  Joseph indicates with his hand over his heart for the boys to follow his chaste example.  

There is an old legend among the Christian community in Nazareth that engagement was not made with a ring.  Instead, when the lily would bloom every year around the end of March, the man would propose to his love with a fresh lily for her to be his betrothed.  The lily remains the perennial symbol of purity.

Since 1971 the statues have been kept at St. John Vianney College Seminary on the campus of the University of St. Thomas.  Hopefully one day they will be restored to their original place of dignity in the Nazareth Hall Chapel. [Editor's note: the statues were touched up in 2022 and placed in the new chapel at St. John Vianney College Seminary that was dedicated in 2023.]

Upon close inspection the statues, although in mint condition, have what appears to be some slight cracks.  This is because they were not carved from solid blocks of wood (to avoid worse possible cracking over time).  Instead they were made from several planks that were glued and pressed together to form the block for the sculptor.  Indeed, this technique has proven the test of time.  

Statues of Mary and Joseph from the Nazareth Hall Chapel

Mary and Joseph, from the Nazareth Hall Chapel

The Main Altar

The whole scheme of the chapel was conceived to lead the eye to the altar, the main focus of  the church and the climax of the decorative scheme.  The 9' x 3' altar was from the Daprato Studios in Chicago, designed and fashioned in Italy, made of Carrara marble from Pietrasanta, Tuscany.  The altar has a Neo-Paleo theme, depicting a snow white marbled flowering of wheat and grapes coming from an urn, symbolic of Christ, the Tree of Life.  

These ornamental floral designs in marble are framed by an inlaid golden mosaic in the background, intended to reflect the light of heaven.  Two peacocks eat from the tree, imbibing from the Tree of Life, an image influenced from early Christian art in a Roman catacombs.  In ancient Christian art the peacock was a Christian symbol of eternal life, representing immortality, because it was believed that the flesh of a peacock did not decay.  

The altar was a stunning site atop the green floor representing the earth, raising the eyes to the golden ceiling of the apse, reminiscent of heaven.  This scene was beneath a blue-lined baldacchino of hand wrought bronze, explained in the following section.  

Below is an explanation of the importance of the altar in every Christian temple:

"The Christian altar is a table on which the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered.  Of all the accessories of Christian worship, the altar has always ranked first in dignity and importance.  Indeed, strictly speaking, the church is built for the altar, not the altar for the church.  The supreme act of Christian worship can...never be offered up without an altar...  The altar is the raison d'etre of the church.  It should be made its focal point.  In the Latin rite the essential feature is a stone slab, containing relics of a martyr, and consecrated by a bishop..."  (Churches: Their Plan and Furnishing by Peter F. Hanson, p. 60).  

The original altar, from Nazareth Hall Chapel

The Baldacchino (Altar Canopy)

A striking bronze baldacchino was placed over the altar with hints of Art Deco (in some ways it resembles a similar one found at Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C., designed by Rambusch Brothers, masters of liturgical design).  From the marbled predella floor, four brass columns and arches with beautiful threading and relief bands swept upward to form a canopy over the altar of sacrifice, echoing images from the Old Testament.  

Original baldacchino, from Nazareth Hall Chapel

The form of the baldacchino was adopted by the architects to heighten the experience of the interior by framing the sanctuary to match the vault of the ceiling.  This draws attention to the altar of sacrifice while incorporating an old custom from Old Testament temple worship, reflecting the connection of sacrifice in the Old Law, fulfilled in a more perfect manner of the one sacrifice of Christ in the New Law.  

The arches and legs of the baldacchino were made in 12 brass sections.  Its dome was made of wood in several panels, with a plain blue top.  Underneath the dome is a gold starburst where a sanctuary lamp was attached by a chain, symbolizing the true, real, and substantial presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle attached to the altar.    

The top surface of the baldacchino was covered with painted decoration.  On the outer face at the summit of each arch were depicted four seraphim; of the nine choirs of angels, those are considered the closest angels to God (mentioned in Isaiah 6:1-8).  

On the front face are the Latin words from Luke 1:35 spoken by the angel: Spiritus Sanctus Superveniet In Te Et Virtus Altissimi Obumbravit Tibi ("The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee").  On the Gospel side face is another quote taken from the angel in Luke 1:28: Ave Maria Gratia Plena Dominus Tecum Benedicta Tu in Mulieribus ("Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women").  On the Epistle side face is a quote from Luke 1:35: Ideoque Et Quod Nascetur Ex Te Sanctum Vocabitur Filius Dei ("And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God").  There is no inscription on the backside.  

Sacristy entrance and chapel exterior, Nazareth Hall

The Decorative Tiles and Stations of the Cross

In the Nazareth Hall Chapel (and refectory, on the ceiling beams) there are whimsical twenties decorative tiles (and Stations of the Cross in relief) that are unmistakably the product of the Batchelder studios in California.  Because of this tilework the chapel commands a special name-brand recognition.  

Ernest Bachelder (1875-1957) was a leader in the American Arts and Crafts movement who reached his zenith in the 1920s.   He was a distinguished tile maker, art educator, and designer.  He lived in California, but worked nationally on hundreds of projects.  After he worked on the Nazareth Hall Chapel, his most notable Twin Cities project was the interior of the Our Lady of Victory Chapel of St. Catherine's College in St. Paul (1923).

An example of the Batchelder tiled Stations of the Cross

Batchelder was able, as no other, to articulate the philosophy of Arts and Crafts to American architects and artisans.  His highly distinctive tiles were hand-crafted using a special process known as "engobe."  While every tile manufacturer has their own trade secrets and formulations, Batchelder chose soft color schemes and matte finishes that gave a faded effect of old age, extenuated here devotional images of the cross and flowers.  The tiles can be seen in the "intrados" or inner curve of the arches along the ceiling. 

Tower of David Batchelder tile

The California made glazed tiles custom crafted for the Nazareth Hall Chapel are mainly monochromatic and multi-hued, made with a primary wash of faint color, most often pale blue.  The designs draw on Medieval themes and include Byzantine motifs such as flowers in honor of Our Lady and geometric versions of the cross, such as the Rose of Sharon (Song of Solomon 2:1).  

Four of the tiles with corresponding images on them are embedded in the sanctuary wall, with writing on them.  One reads Foederis Arca (Ark of the Covenant), anther Turris Davidica (Tower of David), another Stella Matutina (Morning Star), and finally Domus Aurea (House of Gold), all ancient titles of Our Lady, taken from the Litany of Loreto. 

All four titles have rich meaning.  Below are explanations for two of them, to give a sense of the theological reasoning:  

The image of the Ark of the Covenant brings to mind Psalm 132:8: "Arise, Lord, come to your resting place, you and your majestic ark."  Several analogies can be established between Mary and the Ark.  The Ark was the throne of God (Mary is the true Christophoros, "bearing Christ").  The Ark contained the tables of the law (Mary's womb bore the one who is the Law of the New Covenant).  The Ark was precious and beautiful, resplendent with gold (Mary's soul is adorned with the beauty of her virtues).  The Ark was a warranty for victory (Mary has been victorious in the battles for God).  The Ark found a place in the inner sanctum of the temple, etc.     

The image of the Tower of David shows a sturdy tower on solid foundations.  This symbol is taken from the Song of Songs (Canticles 4:4), applied to Mary.  Using Psalm 61, the illustration paraphrases the following verse and attributes it to Mary, the original tabernacle that held Christ: "You are a tower of strength against the foe" (Psalm 61:4).       

The Stations of the Cross are in cocoa-brown color; a remarkable example of the use of ceramic tiles made in a bas-relief mold.  They stand as a preeminent example of Batchelder's work.  The Nazareth Hall Chapel's innovative design with Batchelder tiles defines the signature Craftsman style harmonized in ecclesiastical architecture of the roaring 1920s.  

Matching vestments and canopy from Nazareth Hall

The Sacristy and Precious Vestments

The upper and lower sacristy were maintained by the nuns.  The attached convent chapel also had its own tiny sacristy.  The priests who celebrated their daily morning Masses in the crypt chapel vested in the lower sacristy along with the altar servers.  Some of the original richly created dark oak cabinetry and consoles remain.  The sacrarium was removed in recent years when new cabinets were installed for the sound system.  

Most of the vestments and the cassocks and surplices of the servers at Nazareth Hall were sourced locally and came from the E.M. Lohmann Company, located for many years on Sibley Street in downtown St. Paul.  Lohmann's provided modern Neo-Gothic vestments that were mostly of light silk materials, usually made in France or in their downtown atelier.  The above photos are examples of vestments that came from the sacristy of Nazareth Hall, kept since 1970 at the church of St. Agnes in St. Paul.     

Antique vestment thought to be from Nazareth Hall

 The Bell of the Chapel

Nazareth Hall had only one exterior bell - a small bell.  The bell was not in the main tower, but in its own little tower, an extension from the chapel, uniting it to the sanctuary.  The bell was rung from a small room connected to the lower-level sacristy, containing the rope that hung from the ceiling.  It was rung for special occasions, as well as the beginning of Sunday services.  

The bell was "baptized" (blessed) by Archbishop Dowling, in a meaningful ceremony that recalled the purpose of the bell -- to sound the hours and call the faithful to prayer.  The bell is inscribed with these words in Latin: Nobis Pueris Ut Olim Virginis Beate Gabriel Dic Ave.  This translates into: "Gabriel, say 'Hail' to us children, as once you (did) to the Blessed Virgin." 

In other words, the sound of the bell is poetically an invocation to the Archangel Gabriel to annunciate to the students, as he did to Our Lady in Nazareth, the plan for the Incarnation which is an invitation to participate with the same "fiat" of Mary (with a willing and docile "yes" to God's plan).  

The Gospel reading of the feast, sung in Latin, taken from Luke 1:26-38

The Patronal Feast

The patronal feast day of the chapel was March 25, the 1st class feast of the Annunciation on the liturgical calendar.  Each year on this day a special celebratory day was held at Nazareth Hall, complete with a beautiful liturgy celebrated in white vestments with extra solemnity.  This added a welcome respite to the fasting and penance of Lent. 

The feast of the Annunciation commemorates the announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to Our Lady that the Divine Son of God, the Word, would assume human nature in her virginal womb.  It is for this event the chapel is named.    

The Collect of the feast was sung by the priest in Latin at the altar, addressing the opening prayer to God the Father: "O God, You willed that, as the message of an angel, Your Word should take flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary; grant to Your suppliant people, that we, who believe her to be truly the Mother of God, may be helped by her intercession with You.  Through the same Christ Our Lord.  Amen."  

The Chapel Name - Our Lady of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38)

Mary is united in an ineffable manner with the Lord, being His Virgin Mother.  She occupies in the Church the highest place after Christ, yet very close to the Christian faithful.  The gift of Christ's Spirit is manifested in her in an altogether singular manner, because Mary is "full of grace" (Luke 1:28).  The Holy Spirit has fully manifested His gift in her, for she was completely conformed to her Son, the Lord of all and conqueror of sin and death.  

Because she has the ancient title of "Mother of God" (Theotokos in Greek), she is mother to us in the order of grace, a type of the virginity and motherhood of the total Church.  Mary in a certain way unites and mirrors within herself the central truths of the faith and she summons believers to her Son and to one sacrifice on the Cross for the salvation of men.  Therefore the Church which honors the faithful and other saints who are already with the Lord and interceding for us, venerates in a most special way Christ's mother, who is also the Church's mother.    

Many theologians have written on the theme of the Annunciation.  St. Alphonsus Liguori touches on it in his discourse 4 On the Annunciation of Mary: 

“WHOSOEVER shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:12).  These are the words of our Lord, and cannot fail. Therefore, God having determined to become man, that He might redeem lost man, and thus show the world His infinite goodness, and having to choose a Mother on earth, He sought amongst women for the one who was the most holy and the most humble. But amongst all, one there was whom He admired, and this one was the tender Virgin Mary, who, the more exalted were her virtues, so much the more dove-like was her simplicity and humility, and the more lowly was she in her own estimation.  'There are young maidens without number: one is my dove, my perfect one' (Cant. 6:8).  Therefore God said: This one shall be my chosen Mother.  Let us now see how great was Mary’s humility, and consequently how greatly God exalted her. Mary could not have humbled herself more than she did humble herself in the Incarnation of the Word; this will be the first point.  That God could not have exalted Mary more than He did exalt her; this will be the second" (Source: The Glories of Mary, pp. 312-313).  

The story of the Annunciation reads thus: 

"In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.  And the angel being come in, said to her: Hail, full of grace: the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.  Who having heard, was troubled by his saying, and thought within herself what manner of salutation this should be.  And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.  Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus.  He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever.  And of his kingdom there shall be no end.  And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done?  Because I know not man.  And: the angel answering said to her: the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.  And therefore also the Holy [One] which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.  And behold, thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: because no word shall be impossible with God.  And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word.  And the angel departed from her" (source: The Divine Armory of Holy Scripture, p. 78). 

 As the event of the Annunciation is one of the key moments of salvation history, it cannot be overlooked.  Convert to the Catholic Faith and reputed mystic Adrienne von Speyr believed that the consent of Mary was not only necessary when the Archangel Gabriel visited her before the Incarnation, but also that it is repeated at every Mass.  

[Editor's note: As an interesting point of modern science, it turns out that all pregnant women carry some fetal cells and DNA from their babies (this is free-floating DNA in the mother's blood plasma that comes from the pre-born baby).  This means that Mary is the only person who had some of Christ's actual DNA from His blood in her; a fascinating point for meditation.]   

1961 Graduation Speech by Monsignor Francis Gilligan, PhD, pastor of the Church of St. Mark in St. Paul

Prominent Grads

Nazareth Hall produced many eminent graduates of great learning and holiness.  These fine men of leadership received their spiritual and liturgical formation at Nazareth Hall.  A few Twin Cities natives come to mind.  Archbishop James J. Byrne was the first St. Paul native named archbishop and was later a Council Father at Vatican II.  He was one of the first students at Nazareth Hall after his studies at Cretin High School.  He was ordained priest in 1933 and was in 1937 named Dean of the College of St. Thomas and in 1945 a professor at the St. Paul Seminary.  

There was also the great Fr. George Welzbacher, a towering intellectual force in the local community.  Ordained priest in 1951, he was one of the finest, best-liked, and most memorable professors to ever teach in the aulas of the College of St. Thomas.  He attended Nazareth Hall from 1940-1945 during the dark years of the Second World War. He is still living today, age 94 and will forever be remembered as a classicist and revered professor of history.  There was also Msgr. Clarence Steiner, ordained priest in 1944, who also spent six years at Nazareth Hall.  He went on to be one of the most gifted of confessors of penitents in the city of St. Paul; a man who mirrored the mercy of God and will forever be remembered as a holy man and a friend of the sick and poor.  

One of the more prominent lay graduates was Dr. Marcus Berquist, who moved to California and became one of the founding members of Thomas Aquinas College, recognized by many as the finest liberal arts colleges in the country today. His interest in philosophy was kindled during his time at Nazareth Hall when he heard a lecture delivered there by the renowned Thomist, Dr. Charles De Koninck, who was visiting from the Université Laval in Quebec. Not a few Nazareth Hall graduates went on to study philosophy in Laval for their graduate degrees. 

The Closing of Nazareth Hall

From 1923-1970 Nazareth Hall was in operation as the Archdiocesan minor seminary.  When vocations plummeted in the wake of Vatican Council II and the identity of the priesthood began to fall apart amid the tumult of the radical 1960s cultural and sexual revolution, the property was sold in haste in 1970 to Northwestern College, today known as Northwestern University.  

The 87-acre campus was purchased from the Archdiocese for $2,579,000.  In the fall of 1972, after over $1 million in major remodeling and refurbishing, classes began at the new campus with 186 students and 11 faculty members.  In 1973, Moyer Residence was completed to house female students.    

The disappointment and agony among many priests and Catholic faithful (who had paid out of pocket with donations to build and support the endeavor) over the sale was palpable for years.  The decade before the sale, a new $1.7 million new building was constructed on the campus for high school commuter students.  In June 1970 Archbishop Binz made the decision to close the school and in November 1970 the school and campus were sold.  

The beauty of Nazareth Hall rightly disposes hearts to hope in the future life that is the consummation of the whole history of salvation.  Towards this goal Christians tend with filial confidence, with hope and holy fear of divine judgment.  Thankfully Nazareth Hall although no longer in Catholic hands remains a Christian institution, producing a new generation of Christian leadership, even producing a significant number of converts to the Catholic Faith.  

The 2006 edition of the Northwestern College magazine

In Retrospect and Prospect  

It is a joy to see Nazareth Hall being preserved for the next generation.  Northwestern is to be commended for the exceptional job they have done in preserving the historic buildings.  Preservation is a costly endeavor.  Kudos to the current and past presidents, faculty, staff, and alumni who have taken great pains to maintain this precious inheritance, a shared beacon of artistic patrimony.  

No one has done more in recent decades to promote the art and magnificence of Nazareth Hall than my good friend Dr. Mark Baden, PhD.  Dr. Mark is a distinguished and well-liked retired professor on the Northwestern campus, an accomplished scholar and friend to all.  He is a stalwart ambassador of Christ, a long-time professor of Art History at the University of Northwestern.  Dr. Mark is well-respected by all the alumni who visit and he has filled an important role as history docent, tour guide, mentor, and conservator for nearly thirty years.

Thanks to Dr. Mark's efforts, in June 2004 Northwestern received a Campus Heritage Grant from the Getty Center in California.  The grant fortuitously enabled Northwestern to dig into the history and broaden the opportunity to restore and preserve the historic elements of the beloved buildings.  The grant also provided sufficient funds for the establishment of a Preservation of Campus Heritage Committee, which has played a crucial role to help direct the conservation of the historic property.      

All visitors can appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of Nazareth Hall, built for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.  For seven decades now co-ed/non-denominational students have been studying here, roaming the halls, and praying in the chapel.  Some of them have been inspired to do research into the art styles and architectural techniques seen at Nazareth Hall.  Many have also been inspired to choose to be wed in the chapel, making it a popular wedding venue.  I pray God's blessings upon all who pray here that all might be one and I join my prayers every time I visit (John 17:21): Ut Unum Sint.  

This image depicts the old and new minor seminary of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.  Nazareth Hall was replaced with St. John Vianney, founded in 1968 and built in 1982.

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