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.”