The History of Christ the King Chapel
By John J. Hurley '78
In 1947, Fr. Raymond Schouten, a 1927 graduate of the college, became the 19th president of Canisius College. At that time, Canisius consisted of Old Main, begun in 1911 and completed in 1912; the Villa, the football field and field house, built in the late 20's; and the Horan-O'Donnell Science Building, begun in 1938 and completed in 1940. With Loyola Hall, the on-campus residence hall of the Jesuit priests, completed shortly before Christmas of 1949, Fr. Schouten turned his attention to the spiritual needs of the Canisius community.
He visited Catholic colleges in the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast and pronounced the chapel facilities at the college as very poor. He surveyed 25 Catholic colleges and learned that 24 had a suitable college chapel and the 25th was preparing to build one. He resolved to build a chapel for Canisius. "The spiritual need of the student body should be the main purpose and consideration of a Catholic college," Fr. Schouten told The Griffin in February, 1951.
In 1949, the college retained the prominent Buffalo architect Duane Lyman to design a chapel in the Romanesque style. Lyman was the designer of such noted Buffalo landmarks as the Saturn Club and the 800 West Ferry building. Ground was broken in March 1950 at the north end of the campus. "The physical location of the chapel on the campus symbolizes its importance," Fr. Schouten explained in the Canisius Alumni News in July of 1950. "The chapel will be the focal point of campus life."
He boldly predicted that the completion of the chapel would be "one of the most wholesome things that has happened in the history of Canisius." Work proceeded rapidly on the Chapel and the cornerstone of the building was laid in October 1950 on the feast of Christ the King. The cornerstone was blessed by Bishop O'Hara in a ceremony attended by Mayor Joseph Mruk, State Senator Walter Mahoney and Canisius alumnus Msgr. Lodge McHugh. Senior Class President Edward Fox, who later became Dr. Edward Fox, was also present and reflected the deeply religious nature of the student body whose memory of the recently-ended war was still painfully fresh. He told the guests:
Today in a world filled with moral decay, atheistic principles and so-called institutions of learning whose sole aim is to cast God out of our lives and replace Him with materialistic ideas, we find it in our power to give Him a new resting place, a new place where He can be honored.
The chapel was completed in the Summer of 1951 and was dedicated on the feast of Ignatius Loyola on July 31, 1951. In addition to architect Lyman, the project contractor was John W. Cowper, whose company is now part of the Ciminelli Company that is currently working with renovations on campus. Pike Stained Glass of Rochester constructed the windows. The total cost of the Chapel was $439,992. The Chapel, which seats 492, is constructed of granite with lighter trim of Indiana limestone. The archetypal pattern and the overmastering symbol of the chapel is a cross formed by the intersection of the nave and the transept. The stone cross above the entrance is the ancient Celtic cross, the Cross of Iona, dating back to the earliest days of Christianity in Ireland and Britain.
There are five rose windows in the Chapel, one in the West over the entrance, one each in the North and South transepts and two smaller roses in the North and South walls near the West Rose. The West Rose has at its center Christ the King crowned. The 12 petals radiating outward glow with symbols of the 12 Apostles. The two smaller rose windows in the North and South walls contain symbols of the Passion and of four Old Testament prophets: David, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. In the center of the great rose window in the North transept is the Nativity under which are stained glass panels of the Joyful Mysteries. The petals of this rose are inscribed with symbols of the Litany of the Blessed Virgin. Finally, in the South transept are the Glorious Mysteries in four stained glass panels underneath the rose window. The center of that window depicts the Pentecostal descent of the Holy Spirit upon His Apostles and the petals of the rose contain symbols for the seven Sacraments, the three theological virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity; for the Church; and for Prayer and Good Works). In the stained glass windows on the left hand side of the altar are the Joyful Mysteries and the Glorious Mysteries are on the right hand side. The Sorrowful Mysteries which are nowhere to be seen in the Chapel but are suggested implicitly by the 14 simple unadorned crosses which serve as stations of the cross.
The Chapel is home to many happy occasions for Canisius alumni each year, among them many weddings and baptisms. Members of the Canisius family retain first priority in booking events in the chapel and reservations are taken 18 months prior to a wedding. The Chapel has also hosted sorrowful occasions when a beloved member of the Canisius family passes away. Former Canisius College President Rev. James M. Demske, S.J., was waked in the Chapel in 1994 and a funeral Mass for former Director of the Archives, Rev. John Garvey, S.J., was held in April 2001.
The chapel has been a wonderful addition to the Canisius campus. Former English professor Dr. Charles Brady adequately stated the significance of Christ the King Chapel when he wrote:
A College Chapel is a college room transfigured, as a Christmas tree, a wedding, a birthday party transfigure an everyday room….There is a peculiar bouquet, an individual cachet, a personal quality about hearing Christ's Mass in one's own Chapel within the familiar precincts of one's own college. It is like entertaining the King in one's own house, not attending his levee in one of His official throne rooms.
For more than 60 years, Christ the King Chapel has provided Canisius students, faculty, staff, alumni and Jesuits with a familiar place to celebrate their Catholic faith through the Sacraments and through private prayer and reflection.