Luke Pappaspanos, Staff Writer
If only walls could talk what historical truths would be uncovered. Since 1916, when the Provincial House Chapel was completed, over 100 years of events have taken place within its walls.
The roots of the Provincial House Chapel on the South Campus of the University of Missouri–St. Louis began in the 1600s in France. St. Louise de Marillac and St. Vincent De Paul formed the Daughters of Charity in Paris in 1633. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton founded the American version of the order in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1821. The order was previously known as the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph; in 1850, they joined with the Daughters of Charity. In 1910, St. Louis was chosen to begin a new chapter for this community of Catholic sisters.
To instruct young women joining the Daughters of Charity or other religious orders, Marillac College was built. The college combined a liberal arts education with instruction of novice, young sisters. The chapel, Marillac Provincial House, was named in honor of St. Louise de Marillac, the founder of the community. The official name was The Chapel of Mary Immaculate of The Miraculous Medal when it was owned by the sisters. Two years after the groundbreaking, Sept. 27, 1916, the building was consecrated.
Architecture firm Barnett, Haynes & Barnett of St. Louis built the chapel from brick, stone, marble and hardwood. The firm is well-known for many other Missouri landmarks, for example, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch building and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. The hammer beam roof inside the chapel was constructed from oak. A sequence of carved beams and arched rafters interspersed with rounded crosses pointing north, south, east and west line the high ceiling. Cathedral stained glass windows provide a celestial glow to the chapel and were created by stained glass artist Franz Xaver Zettler of Munich, Germany.
As time went on women were not choosing to join Catholic religious communities so Marillac College closed. Beginning in the mid-1970s, UMSL purchased the grounds and buildings to accommodate their growing number of students. The Marillac Provincial House was sold in 1998. The chapel saw the removal of its original stained glass windows, the marble statue of St. Louise, the Stations of the Cross and other religious items. The main altar originally had 10,000 pieces of marble; it was simplified. The Catholic chapel was switched to a nondenominational venue to make the perfect setting for most marriage ceremonies.
Couples desiring to get married and UMSL students that have access to the Provincial House Chapel are able to visit. The first wedding took place in 2000, since then many weddings have been celebrated. The coordinator for University Conference Services Allyson Bowes provides information about chapel provisions or wedding preparations. Oct. 29, 2018, Bowes provided a special tour of the chapel. The historic structure is steeped in European architecture beginning with the deep red entry tiles, the while marble aisles, the carved wooden ceiling arches, the balcony, white brick walls and decorative windows.
Bowes explained, “There are 45 weddings a year. The bride and groom are able to use the pipe organ and/or piano, but need to supply their own musicians.” She said, ‘‘When the sisters owned the chapel, they built the area around the altar—the Holy of Holies. The section can be closed off if the bride and groom choose.’’
In the courtyard, wedding photos can be taken inside the exquisite gazebo with its white carved pillars and black wrought iron dome. There are only a few dates left in 2019 for someone’s magical wedding to take place in the Provincial House Chapel. March through October are the only months available for weddings and requests are now being scheduled for 2020. For information about weddings or to arrange for a tour, contact Bowes at http://www.umsl.edu/~umslconf/.
The UMSL website has a virtual tour, but it is not at all the same as physically walking on the marble floors and looking up at the carved beams spread across the ceiling. Seeing the sunshine filtering through the diamond stained glass windows reveals an impressive palace of enchantment. The Provincial House Chapel will continue to hold memories inside its brick walls; if only those walls could talk.