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Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018 12:12 am

Opening doors to beautiful windows

Open house at Sacred Heart Convent Chapel

Sacred Heart Convent Chapel is in its glory when the entire congregation gathers for community meetings and celebrations like this one in 2016.
Photo courtesy sacred heart convent


You’ve likely driven by the Sacred Heart Convent Chapel many times without realizing you are passing by an architectural gem filled with spectacular stained glass. The Sacred Heart Convent, on West Monroe Street between Amos and Lincoln avenues, is the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield and retirement home for their senior sisters. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Sacred Heart Convent Chapel, the Dominican Sisters are sharing this spectacular chapel with the public. A full day of activities, including chapel tours, exhibits, children’s activities, a lecture about the art and architecture of the chapel and evening prayer service are planned for Sunday, Oct. 7.

If you are interested in art, stained glass, architecture, local history, contemplative and beautiful spaces or want to learn more about the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, take time on Oct. 7 to experience this hidden gem which is rarely open to the public. Sister Beth Murphy, OP, is director of communications for the Dominican Sisters. She says, “Our chapel was completed in 1968 and is a magnificent example of liturgical art and architecture inspired by the theology of the Second Vatican Council. It is a joy to be able to share our sacred space with the public. We hope many people of all faiths will feel welcome to join us for this special day.

Detail from the Rosary mosaic in the chapel’s sanctuary. Mosaics were designed by Deprato Studios, Chicago, and executed in Pietrasanta on the northern coast of Tuscany. They were shipped in numbered sections and assembled on-site by Deprato craftsmen from Chicago.
Photo courtesy sacred heart convent
“Spaces we occupy deeply influence who we are,” says Murphy. “This beautiful space has informed our life and prayer of the Dominican Sisters for the last 50 years.” Upon entering the chapel with its 40-foot vaulted ceiling, the light reflecting through the magnificent stained glass windows provides an immediate impression of beauty and a sense of place for contemplation. Each of the windows is unique. Within the seemingly abstract stained glass windows are stories and symbols that relate to the four pillars of Dominican tradition: prayer, study, preaching and community life. Some of the topics depicted in the windows are charity, humility, meditation, sacrifice, acceptance, strength and fraternal life.

The chapel is a majestic setting for 4,000 square feet of sculptured, slab glass windows in 43 different bays, designed by the prolific French glass artist Gabriel Loire, who died in 1996 at the age of 92. Loire designed windows for more than 800 churches and secular buildings worldwide with more than 250 in the U.S. The Sacred Heart Convent Chapel is among the largest of Loire’s churches in the U.S. Loire was one of the most prolific glass artists of the 20th century during his 74-year career. He founded the Loire Studio in Chartres, France, which is still in operation.

Loire’s windows in the Sacred Heart Convent Chapel reflect the values and virtues of Dominican life. Loire’s daughter was a Dominican nun, and this relationship inspired Loire to take on this project for the Dominican Sisters of Springfield. Says Murphy, “Loire took his knowledge of the Dominican Sisters and poured it into the design of the stained glass in our chapel.”

Marble and Venetian glass mosaics, designed by Lawrence Campbell at the Daprato Studio in Pietrasanta, Italy, are other remarkable artistic features of the chapel. The mosaic behind the altar depicts Dominican saints. Embedded in the mosaics are the words Pro Mundi Vita “For the Life of the World,” and Ora Pro Nobis “Pray for Us.”

There are no theater-style pews facing the altar of the chapel. Designed in the monastic tradition where psalms are sung and verses chanted alternately from side to side, the seats on the left and right sides of the chapel face each other.

John Shafer is a Springfield architect and president of Shafer Architects. He says the Sacred Heart Convent complex is “very well done with a high level of craftsmanship. The design has its roots in the International Style, but I like to think of the complex as a ‘midcentury modern’ design. The design vocabulary is modern, with quality materials and details and enough traditional elements to make the complex functional as well as beautiful. The architects were Hadley and Worthington of Springfield. In addition to the chapel, I particularly like the courtyards and the arcades, along with that wonderful serpentine brick wall along Monroe Street.”

Loire was known to say “La paix donne la joie (Peace gives joy).” Sister Beth Murphy says her own appreciation of the beauty and symbolism of the stained glass in the chapel has continued to grow over the many years she’s been a part of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield. She looks forward to sharing the joy of this chapel with the public on Oct. 7.

Oct. 7 – 50th anniversary celebration of the Sacred Heart Convent Chapel

1237 W. Monroe Street, Springfield
Free, donations welcomed

Exhibits open 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Chapel tours at 11:15 a.m., noon, 12:45 p.m.,
1:30 p.m., 2:15 p.m., 3:00 p.m.
Preregistration for tours is recommended but not required

5:30 – 6:15 p.m.
Reading Light: The Art and Architecture of
Sacred Heart Convent Chapel
Presentation by Anthony Rubano, project director, Illinois Historic Preservation Office
Doors open at 5:15 p.m.; light hors d’oeuvres provided
Preregistration recommended but not required

6:30 p.m.
Solemn Evening Prayer
Visitors are welcome to join in the singing, chanting and responses during the 30-minute prayer service, or simply sit and soak in the beauty and surroundings of the chapel.

For more information and to register, go to

Karen Ackerman Witter is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about interesting people, places and organizations in Springfield.


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