The Chapels of Notre Dame: A Q&A with Vice President Dr. Affleck-Graves

Central to the landscape of the historic University of Notre Dame's campus in Indiana—arguably one of the most beautiful in the world—are the chapels. From the magnificent Basilica of the Sacred Heart in the center of campus, to the modest but beloved Log Chapel predating the founding of the University, sanctuaries abound in Notre Dame's common spaces, academic buildings, and residence halls. In all, fifty-six chapels are located throughout Notre Dame's campus, built as far back as 1831.

In The Chapels of Notre Dame, a beautiful new book from the University of Notre Dame Press, the University's most sacred spaces are brought to life in rich color and story. Authored by well-known Notre Dame professor Lawrence S. Cunningham and with dramatic photographs by University photographer Matt Cashore, the book captures the centrality and significance of Notre Dame's chapels in the spiritual life of this 170-year-old university.

In his Foreword to the book, Executive Vice President Dr. John F. Affleck-Graves says: "From the building of the rustic Log Chapel to the most recent residence hall chapels, designated places of worship have reminded the Notre Dame family that the love of God is the first commandment."

We spoke with Dr. Affleck-Graves this week about the "divine" inspiration behind the book and some of his favorite stories from the chapels of Notre Dame. Dr. Affleck-Graves has been at Notre Dame for twenty-six years.

How did the idea for this book come about?

I've done many benefactor presentations over the years, and when I get to the part on campus facilities, I always talk about the chapels on campus and how beautiful they are, and show pictures. After one particular presentation on a Saturday afternoon, the group came up to me the next morning, and said they had been praying the rosary together and that they all had this simultaneous thought that we should do a book on the chapels and share the stories of the chapels and the role that they play in the life in our campus life with a much broader community. So we just started talking from there.

You've toured all fifty-six chapels on campus and have said that each chapel has its own unique characteristics, creating a special liturgical experience. Can you give a few examples of how the liturgical experience is affected by the particular chapel's setting?

Yes, absolutely. Each residence hall has a chapel and students attend Mass in these chapels on Sunday evenings. The layout of the chapel allows for lots of different forms of liturgical experience. Some of them are in the round; some are more formal. We have a lot of music, performed by the students, so these chapels allow for students to see others doing the music and their friends praying . . . it's a very family-oriented, warm, close type of mass in the residence hall chapels .

In the academic buildings—many of which have Mass every day—it's a little different. It's an opportunity for our students and our faculty to pray together, and for a student to see a faculty member they may respect and admire also have a faith aspect to his or her life. Those services tend to be smaller—maybe only 10-12 people at the Mass—but very intimate. And it's a completely different experience from a residence hall Mass.

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The Chapel in Stinson-Remick Hall; Photo by Matt CashoreAnd then of course we have the Basilica, which is very formal. We have a lot of wonderful formal Masses in there. These are very big Masses, with 800-1200 people, and a formal liturgical choir, and often we have incense. You see more of the traditional, formal Mass in that context and it just works beautifully. So there are different ways people have a liturgical experience in these chapels.

How are these chapels part of the school's spirituality?

As Fr. John (Jenkins) says in the Afterword of the book, it's important to study our religion and to believe in our religion, but you also have to practice your religion. The role of the chapels is to show how they are integrated into every aspect of your life: your residence life, your work life, your academic life, your social space, and of course, Sunday Mass. So throughout every aspect of your life, your religion is with you.

Does each residence hall have its own chapel, and how important is the notion of sacred space to your students?

With one exception, there is a chapel in each of the twenty-seven residence halls. And it's a very special place in each hall, both as a community gathering place to pray on a Sunday evening, but also as a place where one may go for a moment of reflection or a quiet moment of thanks, when something great has happened in your life. It's also a gathering place for when tragedy happens. It wouldn't be unusual if when something happened to a student—such as the death of a brother—to have a Mass that evening and for it to be overflowing.