What do an upcoming anniversary, the election of Pope Benedict XVI and a seminarian who also happens to be a professional artist have in common? They all came together to propel the construction of a new chapel that’s going up at Holy Apostles College & Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.
Basilian Father Douglas Mosey, president-rector of Holy Apostles, likens the three forces to streams converging to form a river marking the anniversary in a significant way.
First stream: the 50th-anniversary jubilee, which will reach full flow in May 2008. Founded in 1957, the seminary-college is now using the original chapel that was once the tool shed of a private hospital that stood on these rustic grounds. Only a sanctuary was added when the Catholic institution moved in.
“We need a more signature building so that, when people come here, the architecture will tell them what we’re all about,” says Father Mosey. And what is that? “Forming priests in the mind and heart of Jesus Christ.”
Second stream: the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as the 265th successor to St. Peter. The seminary uses The Spirit of the Liturgy, written by the Holy Father in his pre-papal days, as its fundamental text on liturgical theology.
“One of the book’s strong emphases is the importance of the cosmic dimension of the liturgy, bringing heaven and earth together,” Father Mosey says. Benedict notes, for example, that the rising sun is a natural image pointing to the supernatural resurrection of Christ. Thus the geographical orientation of Christian churches in much of history: They faced toward the east to greet the rising sun and the Risen Son. So, too, the new chapel in Cromwell.
“After Benedict’s election as Holy Father and the fact he has been the major influence on our liturgy-theology program,” explains Father Mosey, “there is a desire to take seriously his encouragement to return to the ad orientem direction whenever possible.”
By happy circumstance, the campus of Holy Apostles is located on the western rim of the Connecticut River Valley. “We have a clear and beautiful panorama of the eastern horizon,” says Father Mosey. “On clear mornings there’s a beautiful, unobstructed view of the sunrise.”
Third stream: Brother Paulus Tautz, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal living on campus the last four years as a seminarian. A gifted artist with extensive formal training, he was once a sculptor for Europe’s oldest porcelain studio in Meissen, Germany. Since arriving at Holy Apostles, every year he has sculpted a bronze statue for the campus. So far he has completed St. Francis, St. Clare and St. Joseph.
Naturally, Father Mosey asked him to design the new chapel — and to do so in accordance with the mind of Benedict XVI and consistent with the ancient Catholic tradition.
“He came up with a remarkable design of sacred architecture,” says the rector. That statement is backed up by the scale models and 3-D computer renderings Brother Paulus has produced. These show an octagonal chapel with copper dome and hand-carved interior woodwork.
“I wanted to do something old and something new,” explains Brother Paulus, who points out that one of his goals as a Catholic artist is to help people experience God through man-made beauty. The friar designed the chapel with echoes of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, a few baroque flourishes and even some touches of Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) Church in Barcelona.
Why an octagon? Because that shape is “an ancient form of the Christian Church,” answers Father Mosey. With a side to represent the Eighth Day — the day of the Resurrection — the octagon has been a common design for Christian churches and baptisteries.
Inside the Cromwell chapel, scores of wood beams descend in waves from the cupola and dome to symbolize the flames of the Holy Spirit falling from heaven. Brother Paulus called upon woodworkers and artisans he knew in Germany.
These wavy wooden flames are part of the “something new” the artist mentioned. They were inspired by Gaudi, the Spanish architect who noted that nothing in nature is perfectly straight or square. “The idea is that grace comes down,” says Brother Paulus, “and we respond.”
There are curves and angles recalling early Eastern churches, too, and the sense of movement associated with Baroque design. Baroque statues frequently twist and bend, notes Brother Paulus, because the artist wanted to express that “something extraordinary, something dramatic” is taking place.
All these classical themes and motifs should be well represented in the bountiful liturgical art and stained-glass windows Brother Paulus is designing to complement the architecture. Already he has lined up artists and artisans.
The most complicated of the stained-glass windows is 20 feet by 16. This will serve as the eastern, or main altar, window. With the sun rising, the window will radiate another Catholic dimension. In a dramatic image, the hands of God the Father will send down the Holy Spirit toward the tabernacle, where Jesus is really present.
“I want the people to come into the chapel and have tears in their eyes,” says Brother Paulus. “I want them to have an experience of the transcendence of God.”
“We Franciscans love the Incarnation,” he adds. “Look at St. Francis and the crèche, where we see and touch Christ. Architecturally, we have statues, icons, sacraments. These things touch people. People can touch them. It’s very Catholic.”
“The idea is for people to touch Christ,” says Brother Paulus, who looks forward to celebrating Mass with the carpenters and artisans when he’s ordained this spring.
The goal is to have the chapel (seating capacity: 200) dedicated during the anniversary year. Holy Apostles is near its enrollment capacity of 72 seminarians plus 200 lay and religious students who attend classes. Father Mosey is now trying to raise the $3 million it will take to complete the chapel.
Once the main structure is completed in Germany — walls, rafters, dome — it will be shipped and assembled here. John and Jim Sullivan of Sullivan Brothers Church Restoration Co. in Wolcott, Conn., are already hard at work as project managers.
“God is calling me to build up the body of Christ spiritually,” says Jim, who is studying for the diaconate in the Archdiocese of Hartford. “Little did I realize that our company would be building the Church on earth physically, too. For us this is a privilege and a joy.”
Workers in the Catholic firm pray together in the office three times a day. Jim points out they’ll continue praying each day, for the Lord to guide them and Brother Paulus on the Holy Apostles chapel project.
“We’ll be praying for all the decisions, from tones of woods and marbles, colors and tiles, right down to the pieces of hardware,” says John. “We’re concerned every detail of the project moves where the Holy Spirit wants it to move. He’s driving the ship.”
That’s why the three streams are converging so well so far. No floods. No dry seasons. Brother Paulus observes: “I see God’s hand in all of this.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.