Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas will be delivering a speech at the dedication of the campus’ new Christ Chapel at its opening ceremony in early October, President Larry P. Arnn announced this past Parents Weekend.
Arnn and faculty agreed that Thomas is an appropriate speaker for the dedication ceremony, due to his relationship with the college in recent years, coming as the 2016 commencement speaker where Arnn awarded Thomas an Honorary Degree, his service to the public, and his upstanding character.
“We are related in that he is widely admired here,” Arnn said in an email. “I personally think and have thought for a long time him the best public servant of our time.”
Arnn said he invited Thomas to speak at the ceremony through a letter more than a month ago and received a response from Thomas a few weeks later. From the invitation letter, Arnn said he expects that Thomas will speak about topics related to faith, freedom, and learning and may ask for suggestions not included in the invitation letter.
“In inviting the Justice to speak at graduation a few years ago, in granting him an Honorary Degree, and in inviting him to speak at the chapel dedication as well, the college clearly shows just how highly it regards Justice Thomas,” Provost David Whalen said. “He is a credit to the country and its deepest principles. It is fitting that one so faithful and moved by gratitude for his faith should speak at the dedication.”
Although an official date for completion has not been set, the college administration and contractors have agreed finishing touches on the chapel should be completed by early October, although there is still a lot left to be done, according to the project’s architect Duncan Stroik.
“We’re very excited about it,” Stroik said. “They have been working very hard and overtime. We have many suppliers around the country and around the world, and they are doing a great job with great quality.”
Stroik said his job includes designing the chapel and assisting the owner and contractor in foreseeing and reviewing the design of the chapel, but he does not have any control over the construction’s schedule.
“The thing that is a challenge to balance is schedule and quality,” Stroik said. “It’s like writing a paper. You can rush, but it won’t be done well. We want to provide excellence within a deadline.”
Stroik said this spring, the front portico will be constructed, along with the completed copper domes that will connect to the two towers. Sometime this spring and summer, two arcades will also be added, which will connect to the Grewcock Student Union with covered entrances to the sides of the chapel, providing multiple ways of entry.
“Reflected on the exterior, some elements speak to Central Hall, and some participate in the greater tradition of architecture,” Stroik said. “When designing the chapel, we looked at the great tradition of early American Christian churches on the East Coast, being derived from the great churches by Sir Christopher Wren and Gibbs in London, England.”
As for the chapel’s interior, Stroik said the internal structure and plaster should be completed by the end of spring, while they will be working on the chapel’s marble floors and stained glass until its opening. This summer, they will be installing the chapel’s organ.
“The chapel is a complicated building with lots of reference points, such as early American churches, English churches, and buildings in the nation’s capital, which tie Hillsdale to the nation’s capital,” he said. “The capital’s pedagogy today is the American Constitution and progress, and the chapel makes those connections. We wanted to connect the chapel to local things but even further to tradition of sacred architecture and specifically civic architecture in the nation’s capital.”
With this unique architectural connection, Thomas as the choice for the chapel’s opening is appropriate, since he is a public servant and upholder of justice in the nation’s capital, according to college administration.
“Though he is not a clergyman, he nevertheless stands as an excellent embodiment of both high learning and the profound embrace of revelation,” Whalen said. “We are grateful he will join us that day.”