Located on the south campus of the University of St. Thomas overlooking the Mississippi River is the stately and beautiful St. Mary’s Chapel, the iconic symbol of The Saint Paul Seminary. St. Mary’s Chapel was completed in 1905 and remains the primary place of worship for our priests, seminarians, graduate lay students, faculty and staff. Friends and supporters of the seminary, including the University of St. Thomas community, are welcome to attend daily Mass Monday through Friday at 11:45 a.m.
Because St. Mary’s Chapel is canonically designated as an oratory, sacramental weddings or baptisms may not be performed here. To inquire about the use of St. Mary's Chapel, please contact the seminary reception desk: (651) 962-5050.
The Saint Paul Seminary was brought to life by the generosity of James J. Hill and the vision of Archbishop John Ireland as a firm foundation for its long history of preparing priests and other leaders for the Church.
St. Mary’s Chapel was included in the original seminary plans drawn up by architect Cass Gilbert in 1891, but it was not completed until 1905. Clarence H. Johnston, a well-respected Minnesota architect, was chosen to design the chapel. Construction was completed by the Lauer Brothers, a local building firm.
Archbishop Austin Dowling oversaw the artistic decorating of the chapel in the 1920s by the Boston ecclesiastical firm Maginnis & Walsh. He specified the spiritual themes for both the exterior and interior of the chapel. The Annunciation scene over the exterior portal portraying Mary’s humble acceptance of God’s plan for her life was chosen by the archbishop as a model for seminarians to emulate on their path to priesthood. The intricately carved exterior is made of large stones that reflect the earthbound, solid, fortress-like quality of Romanesque-Byzantine architecture with a touch of Renaissance and Gothic features.
The interior has the traditional design features of the basilica style of early church buildings. It has a flat, wood-beamed ceiling and a long nave with side aisles, apse and sacristies adjoining it. The richly colored stained glass windows and murals were created by artist Bancel La Farge of New Haven, CT, who was the son of American muralist, John La Farge. His designs for the murals were influenced by the Byzantine style he studied on his travels to Ravenna, Italy, and the Middle East. The prominent rose window contains the symbols of the four evangelists set among a floral and acanthus leaf design.
The seminary chapel was renovated in 1988. The primary design was created by liturgical consultant Frank Kacmarcik and the architectural firm was Rafferty, Raffferty and Tollefson, Inc. of St. Paul.
The chapel supports a wide variety of liturgical events, from daily worship for the resident seminarians and priests to full community gatherings and larger public occasions. A 22-stop tracker pipe organ from The Noack Organ Co., Inc., of Georgetown, MA, was installed in 2000. The organ, dedicated to the glory of God, serves the liturgical life of the seminary in a continuation and renewal of the long tradition of excellence in worship at The Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity.
The chapel is the heart and soul of our community. If you visit the chapel, we hope you will take time to reflect not only on the chapel’s artistic beauty, but more importantly, on its strongest legacies: an enduring tradition of faith and yielding to the will of God.
This brief history is an edited excerpt from a guidebook entitled “Saint Mary’s Chapel of The Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity: An Historical and Artistic Guide” by Noreen Waters. This book is available for purchase at the seminary reception desk.