Joseph Pronechen of the National Catholic Register writes about the recent work done on Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel at Thomas Aquinas College Northfield, Massachusetts. It is one of the few New England examples of a Protestant chapel redesigned into an ornate, Catholic-style one.
The Neo-gothic building has already won several architectural rewards since its completion in 2021, and many alumni couples have already hosted weddings at the chapel. Highlights include a triumphal arch above the altar and a mosaic near the main entrance in the style of 15th-century artists.
The complete transformation of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel earned Harrison Design, the architect and designer of the renovation, the 2022 Bulfinch Award for the category of ecclesiastical design from the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. Of course, the greatest reward is that the beautiful chapel dedicated to the patroness of the school facilitates reverent worship and prayer for the students and faculty. Today, a commissioned mosaic of Our Mother of Perpetual Help appears on the façade above the main entrance.
Built in 1909 on the campus formerly known as Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies and named Sage Chapel for the benefactress’ late husband, railroad executive and congressman Russell Sage, the chapel for Protestant worship was built of Rockport granite and is designed in a popular variation known as Neo-Gothic.
With the chapel’s change of name came the plan to transform the interior into a truly Catholic chapel while retaining the beautiful Neo-Gothic interior architecture. David Riccio of the award-winning John Canning Co. said that the community wanted “an unapologetically Catholic interior.”
Architect Charbonneau explained that the general style of the tabernacle’s many carvings and details “match the interior of the chapel perfectly, and we used that tabernacle as a reference for the design of the reredos.” Considering the overall design of the sanctuary, Charbonneau said, “We made every effort to make people think this has always been there.”
In all aspects, the architects worked to make sure the chapel had proper focus.
“Space acknowledges the presence of Christ,” Charbonneau said.
High above the altar on the sanctuary’s triumphal arch, there appears, in Latin, the words spoken by Jesus and the answer given by Thomas Aquinas during a well-known apparition to the saint: “Thomas, you have written well of me. What reward would you receive?” The saint’s answer: “Nothing but you, O Lord.”