The work to preserve Duchesne’s chapel has begun thanks to a gift from an anonymous alumna. This effort will ensure the chapel remains a viable worship space for years to come.
With soaring ceilings, brilliant stained-glass windows, and calming presence, the chapel is the physical and spiritual center of life at Duchesne.
By 1909, the construction of the new Saint Cecilia Cathedral suffered frequent delays due to various issues. In those stoppages, Reverend Mother Anna Hoban saw an opportunity for Duchesne. She requested a meeting with project architect, the renowned Thomas Kimball, to ask him to design a new chapel for the school and convent.
What he created has become a cherished space with a design that beckons to students and visitors. Work will begin this summer to preserve the chapel and Kimball’s original design intent for decades to come.
“Our goal is to preserve this space while ensuring that it is still capable of holding our growing student body for Mass and other important gatherings,” Brudney said.
Preservation plans include repairing damaged plaster, increasing seating, improving lighting, and enhancing architectural features to highlight the history of Duchesne and the Religious of the Sacred Heart.
“Starting when I was a student here, I have always felt drawn to the chapel. Walking into it from the hallway gives me this calming feeling of being enveloped in God’s love,” Brudney said.
The Chapel preservation is made possible thanks to the generous gift of an alumna who wishes to remain anonymous. Her $1.8 million investment in A Bold Step Forward has enabled work to begin this summer.
She directed her gift toward the Chapel preservation because it is physically and spiritually the most important part of the campus.
“It has meant so much to me in my life, and my family’s life, that we would be honored to do this.” she said.
To ensure the result honors the sanctity of the space and Kimball’s original design intent, Duchesne retained Brother William Woeger, an expert in sacred space design and construction, to assist with the project.
He is a member of the De La Salle Brothers of the Christian Schools and has served as a consultant/designer on dozens of Omaha-area churches including the renovation of Saint Cecilia Cathedral, Saint John’s Church, and Saint Robert Bellarmine, along with projects across the Midwest.
“He is, simply, the best person to work with on a project like this,” Brudney said.
Woeger describes his work as an exciting process which can result in a unique outcome expressive of a particular community’s identity and understanding of itself as a worshiping assembly in the Roman Catholic tradition. He intends to use existing material when possible, to convey the history of the space and of Duchesne while also communicating the presence of God.
“The walls speak, and if they speak, what is the story they tell? The story they tell is really the story of the Madams of the Sacred Heart coming here to establish the school on the edge of the frontier,” he said.
Niches on the sides of the chapel depicting Saints Madeleine Sophie Barat and Rose Philippine Duchesne will be enhanced to better tell their stories and the history of the RSCJ in America.
“I think that’s one of the big draws when students opt to come here because they’re intrigued by the story. And a chapel is a metaphor for the whole school,” he said.