The interior of the new chapel. Sheila Butler | Courtesy


After four years of planning and fundraising, Hillsdale College is finally ready to break ground on the con­struction of Christ Chapel on April 6 fol­lowing spring con­vo­cation.

“The ground­breaking will be a cel­e­bration of the original and con­nected pur­poses of our college — civil and reli­gious freedom, high learning, and the Christian faith,” Pres­ident Larry Arnn said in a campus-wide email announcing the cer­emony. “Cel­e­brating the ground­breaking at con­vo­cation is par­tic­u­larly fitting, as the building will supply a beau­tiful site for that cer­emony.”

The college recently reached $24 million in pledges and cash for the project, sur­passing the $23.8 million it wanted prior to beginning con­struction on what is to become one of the most sig­nif­icant buildings on campus, Chief Admin­is­trative Officer Rich Péwé said. He said he hopes the college will have the entire $28.6 million by this time next year.

“We will con­tinue to work to raise the remaining amount needed for the building and the oper­ating endowment,” Péwé said in an email.

The ground­breaking at the site of the future chapel between the Grewcock Student Union and the Dow Lead­ership Center will occur after the 11 a.m con­vo­cation at College Baptist Church, starting the two-year con­struction.

With room for up to 1,400 people, the chapel will provide space for con­vo­ca­tions; orchestral, choir, and other large music per­for­mances; major lec­tures; and com­mencement, if needed.

“The chapel will leaven all the central pur­poses of the college,” Provost David Whalen said in an email. “It will be a place set aside for prayer and worship, it will bring the college together for learned reflection, it will be a home for music in both prayer and per­for­mance, and it rep­re­sents the grat­itude of a people who are free. Few things bespeak so much, and this is one of the reasons the chapel should be so beau­tiful and so central.”

Music department chair James Holleman said the chapel will help with sched­uling as well as provide new oppor­tu­nities for the department such per­for­mances with both the orchestra and choir.

“There are many aspects of per­forming in the Chapel that I am looking forward to: The sheer beauty of the space and warm acoustics will make for an excellent aes­thetic for our sym­phony orchestra, choirs, faculty chamber ensembles, student chamber ensembles, and guest artists,” Holleman said.

Although thou­sands of people’s dona­tions have sup­ported the effort, Jack and Jo Babbitt, who sug­gested the name Christ Chapel for the building, led the ini­tiative, donating the original $12 million, after vis­iting campus and hearing of the college’s future plans to build a chapel.

“It was inter­esting to me to think that as you look at the campus, you didn’t see the promi­nence of a place to worship where they could go and just have a quiet med­i­tation time with the Lord,” Jo Babbitt said in a pro­mo­tional video about the chapel project. “To me, the future is now.”

Duncan Stroik, pro­fessor of archi­tecture at Notre Dame Uni­versity and 2016 Arthur Ross Award for archi­tecture done in the clas­sical tra­dition, designed the 27,000-square-foot chapel. He has received awards for his designs of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel in Santa Paula, California,and the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaCrosse, Wis­consin.

Stroik said he wanted the chapel to be a “cousin” to Central Hall, bal­ancing its Ital­ianate archi­tecture with the colonial styles of early American churches that heavily influ­enced the designs for the inside of the building. One such inspi­ration was Christ Church in Philadelphia, Penn­syl­vania, where the Founding Fathers wor­shipped during the Con­ti­nental Con­gress.

“We wanted to create an archi­tec­tural con­sti­tution by looking back and finding those prin­ciples that are timeless and true,” Stroik said.

Even the location harkens to the founding period, Stroik said. Although he and the college con­tem­plated many dif­ferent loca­tions, they decided upon com­pleting the fourth, far side of the Quad. When laying out the Uni­versity of Vir­ginia, Thomas Jef­ferson built the most prominent building on campus, which held a library and class­rooms, at the end of a Quad.

“I thought that res­onates with Hillsdale,” Stroik said. “We wanted to beautify that Quad, to make it even more beau­tiful and noble.”

Stroik said it was a “thrilling” project that came with its own chal­lenges, since the college requested that it fit nearly all of the stu­dents yet feel com­fortable sitting a few hundred. He said he used columns to create the feeling of an intimate envi­ronment with room for more seating in the bal­conies above.

“I’m very excited to see how you use it,” Stroik said. “That’s a crazy idea, to make it com­fortable for 300 and the ability to hold 1,300.”

Today, few chapels are built on college cam­puses, Stroik said, adding that the con­struction of one on Hillsdale’s campus is a symbol for its mission to protect freedom of speech and religion.

“We are designing it for the people and for the trinity and for God,” Stroik said.

Christ Chapel will also house two pipe organs. The first is being made in Tacoma, Wash­ington, by Paul Fritts. Fritts is known for applying his­torical organ building prin­ciples in crafting his own instru­ments.

The new building will also have a smaller chapel for other reli­gious ser­vices.

Tra­di­tionally, Hillsdale College has had places to hold ser­vices. It built College Baptist but has since broken ties with the Free Will Bap­tists and out­grown the space for campus-wide events. It also has a small chapel in the Knorr Student Center.

Arnn told The Col­legian the chapel is another step toward restoring the college to its original prin­ciples.

“The two chief ways of knowing are reason and faith,” Arnn said in a news release. “There has never been a great uni­versity that was not heavily con­cerned with the question of God. There has never been serious Christian prac­tices that were not heavily con­cerned with learning. This chapel will be a daily reminder of this central fact. It will be where the entire Hillsdale College family can learn, grow, and find inspi­ration.”