New Chapel for St. John Vianney College Seminary with Works by ALBL Oberammergau

It is with great joy that St. John Vianney College Seminary (SJV), in St. Paul, Minnesota, has built and dedicated a fitting new 3,500 SF chapel as part of a 20,000 SF addition. This project was many years in the making, designed under the fatherly guidance of superiors and with the support of friends, parents, students, and alumni. The style is a conglomeration of elements from the Romanesque, Renaissance, Byzantine, and the Arts and Crafts movement with the addition of a whimsical Baroque-styled tabernacle door. 

The design is well suited to the age of restoration in which we live, after the liturgical and architectural confusion of the waning modernist movement. The aesthetic reflects well the objective value of beauty as a theological category and the good taste and sensibility of the next generation of Catholic leaders. It mirrors the solid mentality and developmental state of the young men at SJV discerning a possible call to the priesthood. 

The realization of this project recognizes the hopes and dreams of many who lived and studied at SJV over the years, including the great Fr William Baer. He was the former rector of SJV who envisioned a new chapel and predicted there would be a great revival of Catholic architecture on a scale that had not occurred for many years. Fr. Baer had studied architecture in his youth and pursued that profession in Baltimore before he responded later in life to his call to the priesthood. He arrived at SJV as the newly appointed rector in the Holy Year 2000 and spoke almost immediately of his dream for a new chapel that would befit a seminary.    

On April 20th of this year the new chapel was dedicated, a distant dream finally realized for many. Hearty congratulations to the rector, Fr. Jonathan Kelly, and to all students, faculty, and staff...past, present, and future. The new chapel is nothing short of a triumph. 

Today SJV is one of the largest minor seminaries in the nation with 92 young men from 16 different dioceses. Of the approximately 1,500 alumni, there are about 500 ordained priests. SJV was founded in 1968 to educate college-age men discerning the priesthood while studying at what is now the University of St. Thomas (UST). 

Construction of the current building as a residence for the college seminarians began in the fall of 1982 on the campus of UST. The five-story $2.5 million dorm was built on the edge of the campus in an area previously occupied by tennis courts and a parking lot. The residence was built to house some 120 seminarians and 4 resident priests. The original chapel was functionalist in style, a box structure with burnt orange carpet, no kneelers, and a wooden tabernacle kept in a separate room.

Because the temple informs the city, plans have been in the works for years to build a proper chapel. The previous chapel was demolished in early 2022 and construction began in earnest to replace it with a new chapel attached to the previous building. The addition includes not only worship space, but also additional rooms for meetings and living quarters for resident priests and visiting clergy. 

SJV partnered with Finn Daniels ArchitectsStudio io Liturgical Design and Consulting, and Zeman Construction. Needless to say, all did a wonderful job. Key interior features were created by our good friends at ALBL Oberammergau. Three icons were produced by Markell Studios. The stained-glass windows were crafted by Gaytee-Palmer Stained Glass Studio in Northeast Minneapolis. 

Below are images that depict the architect's rendering of the project on both the inside and outside, with two colorful outdoor mosaics.   

Architect's rendering of the exterior of the chapel

Architect's rendering of the new main entrance of the chapel

Architect's rendering of the interior plan of the chapel

Architect's rendering of the interior of the chapel with rood screen

Highlights of the new chapel include a unique rood screen, a rare sight in North America and a common feature in late Medieval architecture. This was created by ALBL Oberammergau, a family owned woodworking company in the Bavarian Alps. The rood cross has a 50" hand-carved corpse that was created in Germany from linden wood and finished with oil paint and gold gilded details. The cross is designed to be seen from below, looking up. The rood beam includes a quote from St. Jerome's Vulgate (Mark 1:11) that reads in Latin, quoting a voice that came heaven: TU ES FILIUS MEUS DILECTUS IN TE COMPLACUI ("Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased").

The corpse of the rood cross, hand-carved of linden wood in Germany
On either side of the rood screen are relief carvings of angels, seen below. The two 4' tall angels were entirely carved by hand and carefully painted with oil gold color and 23.75-karat gold gilded details.

The angels in relief
Additionally, above the exit is a Renaissance painting of the Annunciation that was created by a local iconographer by the name of Nick Markell. This image is the last thing seminarians see as they exit the chapel. It reads: AVE MARIA, FIAT MIHI ("Hail Mary, let it be done to me"). This is fitting as the Chapel at Nazareth Hall Preparatory Seminary (the precursor to SJV) was dedicated to Our Lady of the Annunciation (100 years ago this year). Two icons in the sanctuary, also by the same artist, were created in a unique style known as Beuronese, pioneered locally many years ago by an Austrian born monk-artist who painted the chapel at St. John's Abbey, Br. Clement Frischauf, OSB (1869-1944). The images depict the Transfiguration and the Baptism of Our Lord. He further painted the Stations of the Cross and images of St. John Vianney and St. Paul. 

In addition, the wooden 1920s Byzantine-Romanesque statues of Our Lady and St. Jospeh that came from the main chapel of Nazareth Hall Preparatory Seminary have also been incorporated in the new chapel. The hues and distressed coloring style of the statues reflect the Batchelder movement of the 1920s that originated in California. The statues are believed to have been made in Massachusetts.  

The beloved statue of the Blessed Mother from Nazareth Hall

The woodwork reflects in some ways the chocolate-colored, dark brown stained wood interior of the main chapel on the campus of UST, the chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas. This similarity in wood is seen as visitors enter the narthex of the UST chapel, with the rich wood paneling and trim standing out as well as the broad ceiling beams and their curved terminals, evidenced in both the vestibule and overhanging choir loft balcony. This is reflected in the new chapel's coffered ceiling and corbels, the curved, bracket-like projections that support the arches and fame the sanctuary. Clerestory windows shine light down on the sanctuary and nave. 

The new chapel entrance

One of the most noteworthy features of the chapel is the 13' 9" Renaissance style ciborium that covers the tabernacle. This worthy addition was made in Germany of linden wood with hand-carved "temple of the winds" capitals. Gilded details were finished in 23.75-karat gold. It was designed by Studio io and created by ALBL Oberammergau. It is topped with a Latin cross on an octagonal base, reflecting early Church baptistries and a common shape of baptismal fonts (in reference to the Resurrection of Christ). A silver sanctuary lamp is suspended from the inside top of the ciborium where a sunburst is depicted with three connected rings, symbolic of the Blessed Trinity. The sheer height and size of the ciborium can be seen in the image below.  

The team that created the ciborium in Oberammergau, Germany

Detail of the ciborium, hand-crafted in Germany

The inside of the ciborium, with reference to the Blessed Trinity

The tabernacle was also created by ALBL Oberammergau in their studio in Germany. It has four columns that mirror the altar. It is topped with a cross and four finials, representing the triumph of the cross over the four corners of the earth. The tabernacle was gold-gilded in Germany with 23.75-karat gold leaf. 

The bas-relief image on the door was hand-carved in Minneapolis by a local Twin Cities woodcarver, Paul Sirba. This image depicts a pelican, an early Christian symbol for the Eucharist, feeding its young with its own flesh. It is the only Baroque image in the chapel. Paul Sirba is the nephew of Fr. Paul Sirba (later bishop of Duluth) who was one of the best-loved resident faculty members at SJV in the mid to late 1990s. 

Both the tabernacle and ciborium are housed in a delightful niche in the sanctuary wall, a small apsidal alcove that is decorated with gold-leaf and a band of green laurels with blue borders, crowned with a painting of the Holy Spirit on the half-dome at the top of the apse. 

The tabernacle, with bas-relief image by local sculptor, Paul Sirba

A delightful Renaissance motif on the inside of tabernacle

The sanctuary furniture is also from ALBL Oberammergau of matching linden wood, stained in dark brown with gold gilded details. The celebrant's chair has a framed Greek cross and a Romanesque motif. The pews are being constructed of the same wood, with seating for nearly 200. Also there are matching Stations of the Cross and two new confessionals. The chapel includes a choir loft with organ. The organ is from Lewtak Pipe Organ Builders, made in North Carolina.  

Additionally, there are 20 new custom designed stained-glass windows by Gaytee-Palmer, a local stained-glass company founded in 1918. The 4 windows in the sanctuary are of angels holding various sacred items associated with the celebration of Holy Mass, including a chalice, paten, and burning incense. The remaining 16 windows are of various saints that are grouped in three and include Mother Teresa of Calcutta who visited the Twin Cities more than once. 


The celebrant's chair, made in Germany

The altar was designed by Studio io in the style of the Italian Renaissance and was crafted by Vetter Stone in Mankato, Minnesota. It is highly symbolic the altar was made of local Kasota limestone. It is classical in design and free-standing. The Mankato stone brings to mind the other buildings on the UST campus, in Collegiate Gothic style, also made with Mankato stone facings that characterize UST architecture. The lectern matches the altar and both will have mosaic designs added to them from Lenarduzzi Mosaici in Italy. Inside the consecrated altar mensa was placed in the sepulchre a first-class relic of St. John Vianney from France.  

The altar made of local stone from Minnesota

The new sanctuary

The nave and choir loft

Minor seminaries exist to nurture young vocations. This goal is stated in Optatam Totius: "In minor seminaries, which are built to nurture the seeds of a vocation, students can be conditioned to follow Christ the Redeemer with a generous and pure heart" (Art. 3). Needless to say, the chapel of a seminary is of paramount importance and exists as the spiritual heart of the community. The sacred liturgy "must be regarded as the primary and indispensable source of a truly Christian spirit" (Art. 16). On average seminarians spend a couple hours per day in the chapel. 

Archbishop Hebda at the dedication Mass

Priestly formation is an exciting prospect. Every priest knows himself, by divine election, to be a mediator between God and man. For this reason the formation of priests is so important and continues at SJV where men are taught to be both priest and victim. Let us be grateful for this wonderful new monument to God, where saints have walked. 

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, came to SJV for a visit on February 12, 1984. He prayed in the former chapel and celebrated Mass across the quad in the UST chapel. Also, Blessed Solanus Casey walked these grounds, when he came to visit his brother at nearby St. Mark's parish. It is believed he stayed as a guest in the old infirmary building, the oldest building on campus, located next to SJV.

The total cost of the building addition (including the chapel) was about $13.5 million, plus another $1.5 million for furniture, fixtures, equipment, and artwork. All the necessary funds were raised. To donate to SJV, please click here.


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