Seattle University’s Chapel

Seattle University’s Chapel December 30, 2011

Where snobby Jesuits can go to console themselves about being so superior to the rest of the disappointing Church:

Broadway & Madison: What’s something the average faculty or staff member might not know about the chapel?

Father Cobb: Non-Catholics might be consoled to know that in 1995 we asked Steven Holl to design a chapel that would be “engaging for people of all faiths or no faith or faith-under-crisis.” The poet Rilke once advised that when people disappoint you, you should turn to nature because nature will not disappoint you, and I feel something similar about the Catholic Church. When it disappoints you, which is likely to be every day, you can turn to places such as the chapel where God’s saving presence seems tangible and life-giving.

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  • Show me a picture of St. Patrick’s or Chartres and I can figure out on my own the purpose of the building; here I had to be told this place was a chapel. That’s probably why the snobby love modern art and architecture: its meaning isn’t easily grasped so an enlightened mind must explain it to the numbskulls.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    Well, OK, . . . but, when all is said and done, where do you go when the chapel at Seattle U. disappoints you?

  • Chris M

    Where do you go when Fr Cobb disappoints you? You know.. like you were expecting him to be an actual Catholic Priest and not an Episcopalian.

  • Michaelus

    Still building weird Le Courbusier clones and then giving each other awards for them. It goes without saying that the building is completely empty in the photos. Our local 19th century gothic church usually has some little old lady saying a rosary or a few ragged guys from the shelter sitting in the pews.

  • Matt B

    And it has a reflecting pool to boot!

  • Brian Edward Miles

    Huh, looks like a robot you might see in some lame 70’s sci-fi flick.

  • Ronald King

    My daughter and my wife drove me to Mass there during my 6 week chemo and radiation stay at SCCA. I found the building, parishoners and priests to be very soothing and intimate. We sat by the pool after Mass and had the most peaceful experience together. Christ dwells in that Chapel and where He is there is Love and I experienced His Love in that beautiful place. There seems to be snobbery present in the criticisms.

    • Roberto

      I am sure that Jesus is present in any consecrated church, and He told us that He is there whenever 2 or 3 are gathered in His name.
      Also, matters of esthetics are hardly a good reason to accuse one another of heterodoxy.
      But Mark’s comment was not about the chapel; rather it was about Fr. Cobb’s remarks. Whatever you may think of the Company of Jesus in general, a Jesuit who claims that the Catholic Church disappoints him every day and that he needs to retire to a place that he contributed to design is, well, disappointing! Exactly because we expect more of the Company.

      • Rosemarie


        Yeah, that’s what annoyed me most about the article. Not so much the architecture but the attitude toward the Church.

      • Ric Dykstra

        To be honest, both modern arcitecture and the Church have disappointed me! My parish church looks like any austere Protestant meeting hall. If you were blindfolded and taken into the building, you would not know it is a Catholic Church when the blindfold was removed! There are no statues, paintings, vigil lights, sanctuary lamp, Blessed Sacrament, or confessionals. There are NO external inspirations!
        As for the Church, so many needless changes have been made! Change after change, that never seems to end! Certainly some of the changes are terrific-and others totally unnecessary!

    • I don’t think anyone suggested that it was impossible to experience Our Lord’s love even when the architecture fogs it. But the eucharist is Our Lord’s gift that reveals what he thinks of us. What our liturgy, music, and buildings do is reveal what we think of Him. And what this building reveals is–not much that can be taken seriously.

      • Ronald King

        This is your feeling and what you believe. I respect that. Our Lord doesn’t need a building nor music nor liturgy to know what we think about Him.

  • Dale Price

    The reflecting pool is a nice touch, in my view. At least it has a crucifix?

    But, overall, yeah–this is Van Halen III Catholicism: We’re Artistes Now, You Sad, Sad Fanboys.

    • Van Halen III? And you’re saying? 🙂

    • Oh, you’re being way too hard on VH III. That was a decent album and VH should have had a bright future with Gary Cherone. Not sure what went wrong. That guy’s got pipes like almost nobody in rock ‘n roll anymore.

  • SKay

    Well–thank goodness he has the building.

    Perhaps he could just rephrase his thought.

  • Jacques Van Blokland

    I went to Mass at the chapel while attending the Chesterton conference a couple years back. Some people liked it, some people were annoyed, and I was amused. I felt it was the architectural equivalent of your dad doing The Macarena at a wedding reception in an attempt to appear hip.

  • B.E. Ward

    It’s pretty bold talk from someone involved in an organization bankrupt from over 400 abuse claims.

  • fr. richard

    Heh, heh. Well, since I doubt I’ll ever have read another quote from him, I’m glad to say that Fr. Cobb will not be disappointing me every day; just this once. That’s consoling.

  • Andrew

    Could be worse, for some reason this is a big deal:

    I live in L.A. and go to Mass at the Cathedral about once a year. It’s kinda grown on me, kinda. That said, I find a greater sense of Catholic tradition and devotion at the Getty Center when they roll out any one of their sizable collections of illuminated manuscripts than the Cathedral of the (one of the?) largest diocese in the U.S.

    • Disgusted in DC

      That “Haute Sphere” is so artistically fraudulent that one wonders where to begin. Where the “artist” supposedly sees the Nativity, I see the hatching of Mork’s spacecraft/egg.

      The pomposity of Father Dodd is beyond the pale of disgusting. He is just asking for a rag-tag group of vigilante “defenders of the magisterium” styling themselves as “Occupy Catholic Seattle University,” to take over the chapel and “defiling” it with the most tacky Sacred Heart paintings, Infant Jesus’ of Prague, portable Lourdes grottos, and plaster statues of St. Martin de Porres imaginable. That’ll teach that asswipe Father Dodd a thing or two.

  • Joe

    I just took the virtual tour of the Chapel. I actually think its pretty cool. I loved the cut glass and the sanctuary kind of reminded me of the catacombs. To be honest while I love traditional theology and philosophy I think the Church needs to keep challenging it’s self artistically. I love all the classic Church architecture but I don’t see why there can’t be a new school of architecture in our own period. In our modern age being over whelmed with images it makes sense that an architecture would arise that takes advantage of Natural light and subtle soft curves the way this Chapel does. I think this type of building would be better received if the Jesuits weren’t such snarky snobs. Although I don’t like the flimsy alter and the creepy tree in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. It reminds me of Judas hanging himself.

  • Ronald King

    I can’t believe what the critics of the chapel are writing! Do you see what you are saying about the Jesuits? Do you have any insight into what you write? It is filled with contempt.

    • Thomas R

      Jesuits have done some great science and they still have some great people. That being said they do seem to contain an element that’s like the vanguard/main-force of kooky avant-garde, relativist, or excessively experimental priests.

      • Ronald King

        What is the evidence of your statement?

        • Confederate Papist

          Where have you been, Ron? If you’ve been on this site for longer than a month you should at least be familiar with what was said. I’ve been there too…I once thought that the Jesuits the creme de la creme until one of my friends who went to a Jesuit high school told me these guys are across the board, the majority of which were the avant-garde types.

        • Thomas R

          I’d admit it’s mostly the Jesuit universities I’ve looked into. I could give you some site links if you wish. It seems like Fairfield, or something, has a big Gay-Liberation type element.

          Possibly when you go outside academia Jesuits are just like any other order. I don’t really know enough to say. I like some things about the Jesuits. Like the science and I’m interested in learning more of the meditation/spiritual-exercises stuff they did. But they do have some pretty “out there” people.

        • Elizabeth D

          I recently read a good 2 book set “The Re-Formed Jesuits” by a Jesuit priest, about the ways the Order changed after Vatican II, it is a very objective history, praised by other Jesuits, which has a lot of evidence of the kooky, avant-garde, relativist and excessively experimental among the Jesuits.

  • Arnold

    The exterior of the chapel is rather ugly. The interior is better but still not that attractive. I think that even a Quaker would feel at home there if the crucifix and portable altar were removed. I looked for the stations of the cross but couldn’t see them. Maybe they are not mandatory in chapels? This space will look so dated in another 10 years or so when there will be pressure to include works of religious art to beautify the interior. I think icons and some frescoes might help considerably.

  • Well, Ronald, it might be a generational thing. Baby Boomers absolutely love mazes and reflecting pools and talk about being disappointed with the Catholic Church, and the upcoming generations of Catholics don’t. Actually, there may be a post in that, as in:

    Boomers love: Thomas Merton, Jesuits, Mass by the swimming pool

    Post-Boomers love: Father Z, the FSSP, Mass in a neo-Gothic church miraculously untouched by post-1965

    • Ronald King

      What generalizations and superficial at that.

      • Joe

        The pre-sixties Merton is actually pretty good

      • Hee hee hee hee hee!

    • Margaret Catherine

      Hmm. Love neo-Gothic; but have no desire to attend a Latin Mass in that setting or any other; think I’d take the Jesuits over Fr. Z…or at least his commentators. But that could partly be from having the privilege of knowing several young, orthodox, post-Boomer Jesuits. What generalization do they fit into?

    • Thomas R

      Although I’m a bit “Neo-Traditional” and post-Boomer, I’m not sure I’m that obsessed on the architecture or undoing everything from Vatican II. And “Seven Storey Mountain” was pretty good. I mean I don’t know what odd things he got into later, but in his beginning anyway he doesn’t say anything I found shocking or overly hippie/60s-counter-cultural.

      Still I am skeptical of much “modern architecture”, although I want to say again I’m not opposed to architecture changing. The early Christians certainly weren’t worshiping in a Gothic, let alone Neo-Gothic, anything. So I don’t see that there’s anything necessarily wrong with doing something 21st century with the architecture within some limits. It’s just much of this particular design is a bit too angular and abstract to me. Possibly if I actually was there, experiencing it, I’d feel different but I don’t know.

      • Confederate Papist

        You can be a traditionalist and like V-II, I think. The problem was the *implementation* of V-II, not V-II itself. I used to be anti-V-II myself, but if you really take the time to look into it and realise that the implementation in the English speaking world was completely horrible, then you can appreciate what they were doing at that time. Forty years is a long time and it will take a long time to get where V-II wanted for us to go in the first place. It’s up to us Gen-Xers and our progeny.

        • Thomas R

          Thinking on modern architecture and the Church how do post-boomers view Gaudi? Looking at Sagrada Familia I’m not entirely sure what I think to be honest, but from what I can tell his intent was reverential.

          • Elizabeth D

            I think that church is fascinating and I would love to see it. It is both highly creative and deeply respectful of tradition. Part of what makes it a great church is that it is full of catechesis and meaning. The art and symbolism is a whole education in the Catholic Faith.

    • Elizabeth D

      I am 33 and definitely like Fr Z, FSSP, Mass in an untouched neo-Gothic church, and dislike Merton (like others say, his earliest work is okay), wary of Jesuits (but there are good Jesuits, Fr Fessio, Fr Schall, the late Fr Hardon, etc), please do not celebrate Mass by the swimming pool.

  • Mike

    Where do I when jesuits disappoint me?

  • Rosemarie


    I guess I lost my gusto for criticizing modern church architecture when Rod Dreher used his “Our Lady of Pizza Hut” quip as a partial excuse to leave the church. Just paint a mural of angels behind the altar, move the tabernacle to the center, add some icons and a rack of votive candles before each icon or statue and it will be half decent.

  • Deacon Nathan Allen

    That chapel is one of the ugliest slabs of damnation ever foisted off on a Catholic community. The altar is a square block of wood that looks more like a butcher’s block or a kitchen island than anything, and the overturned bowl of yoghurt spilling down a pillar that’s supposed to represent the Blessed Virgin Mary has to be seen to be believed. That architects would give each other awards for designing things like that, and that academics would crow over the score they made by having a bulding designed by one of these “starchitects”, reminds me of the story of the Emperor’s new clothes. When will someone let out a huge belly-laugh at the absurdity of the whole thing?

    • nate

      Well said. It’s terrible, terrible, terrible. I think we should start belly-laughing…now?

  • nate

    Wretched, that chapel. Awful.
    But the worst thing about this is that Father Cobb had to go and bring in Rilke, one of my favorite poets.

    I love the fact, Mark, that you are pointing out yet another craptastic aspect of Seattle U. The best thing though: Seattle U. advertises on Patheos, and I’ve even seen their ads on this very blog. Lurv it.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    So just how old are you, Mr. King?

  • Ronald King

    I am 64 years old.

    • Bruce

      What a surprise

      • Dale Price

        Hey hey hey–no call for that.

        I don’t care for efforts to contort Catholic spirituality into postmodern forms, but Mr. King has been there, and he has the right to his opinion.

        • S. Murphy

          Hear, hear.

          Well said.

  • quasimodo

    A chapel in the Jesuit tradition.

  • ds

    Haters gonna hate.

    • Ronald King

      That is true, ds.

      • “Haters” is the new “fool,” it seems, so when you call someone a “hater” you are calling him a “fool” or whatever dehumanizing insult is de rigeur (e.g. “racist”, “bigot”).

        As far as I can tell, what the younger Catholic on this stream are objecting to is A) modernist church architecture, B) modernist theology, C) disloyalty to the Church and D) a Jesuit modelling the stereotype of Jesuits as out-of-date new age relics of 1971, which not all Jesuits are, of course. There’s no hate involved, so don’t pretend there is. There is, of course, a certain amount of youthful impatience from Catholics who did not, like our 64-year-old critic, have the luxury of a childhood in a confident cultural Catholicism. The events around and after Vatican II (if not Vatican II itself) shattered that for the following generations, and we are trying to piece Catholic culture and confidence back together.

        • Bruce

          Well said, Seraphic. Very well said!

        • Ronald King

          You describe my generation as having “…the luxury of a childhood in a confident cultural Catholicism.” Not in my experience is that true. It was authoritative. autocratic, legalistic and fear driven with a lack of a focus on love. We left the Church just because of the leaders’ inability to love. We left because we were created to love passionately and there was no passion for love. However, you want to interpret history is up to you. I lived it and I know for a fact about the hypocrysy and sin that existed in the Church at that time and it is just being brought into the open now. How do you know there is no hate involved within your psyche. I know hate is a strong word, so perhaps I can use anger instead. I am not pretending when I use the word hate. I would presume that your naivete is due to your lack of knowledge or experience with intense human emotions on a daily basis which I have had professionally for over 30 years of facing the hidden pain, fear and rage/hate of those who have been harmed by callous, ignorant, selfish, prejudiced people. Now I could be wrong about that but we will see. Vatican II was a step out of the darkness into something new which had the hope to bring light into the world. It is still a work in progress.

          • Hmm. Boiler plate Boomer. Fortunately, there were enough war babies and old-fashioned, non-hip Boomers to understand that faith is more than good feelings and that passions should be at the service of the intellect and the will (not vice versa, heard of Thomas Aquinas?) and to pass on their love for Christ and His Church to their children–and converts–so that ANY adults under 50 still go regularly to Mass on Sundays.

            It is so ironic to be spoken down to by a member of the aging generation that rejected so much of what its parents and grandparents valued, all in the name of “youth culture.” Those who are now in their 60s dominated the cultural landscape as soon as they were born, and many of us younger people are tired of this. We hear the same stories over and over–not from people born before the Second World War, who had a lot more to complain about and yet didn’t, but from those born immediately after.

            So surely you can understand when we get bored of singing from your hymn sheet and get curious about what songs generations previous to yours liked to sing. A tradition that is only 45 years old is not much of a tradition.

            It’s a testament to the mid-century Church that a few experimental theologians and those who followed obediently after thought the Church could survive their experiments, even at a time when the sexual revolution was turning society upside down and “no-fault divorce” was making life a nightmare for children.

            And, yes, the Church will survive but when you compare the number of adult converts today to the numbers before Vatican II, it is to weep. And any American Boomer who went to parochial school can rattle off the Baltimore Catechism and laugh derisively at how simplistic it all was. But they should ask their grandchildren, also in parochial schools, the answers to same questions. The state of catechism might make them weep.

            The Second Vatican Council was a pastoral meeting of bishops, not the Second Coming. It certainly didn’t clear up hypocrisy or sin. Some of the horrors coming to light now were perpetrated by Boomers on post-Boomers; in fact, such cases seem to have peaked in the 1980s. Hopefully sunlight and a rather stricter, less tolerant attitude towards men seeking ordination will do more than “the spirit of the Council” did to solve those problems.

            • Ronald King

              You have no idea what you are talking about. You did not live my life. You assessment is ignorant, prejudiced and superficial. My father was in the 1st Marine Division in Guadal Canal and he worked first in the coal mines, then became a carpenter to support his 6 children. I worked with him in the summers and was going to join the Marines in ’65 when he told me not to and encouraged me to join the Air Force. His values are my values and he taught me to take a stand against something that was wrong. They did not complain but they suffered in silence a lot or at times with rage. I had friends that were severely beaten by their father. My mother’s best friend’s husband who I thought was a good man and a veteran beat her and the kids as I was told only 3 years ago. They were silent alright and so were their wives and the children were enraged by the constant stress at home. I know about that time.
              You are wrong in your assumption. Now we could have a continuing discussion on this on your web site if you wish.
              When you get bored singing it is not the music that bores you it is only because your faith is boring and dependent upon something outside of you. Remember, the Kingdom of God is within you. I will talk about the passions and the intellect if you want since I have studied both for over 30 years. So pull out you Aquinas card and I will pull out my interpersonal neurobiology card and we will see how they match. Why do you think no-fault divorce became popular? It came about because what was modeled at home for a marriage was a hidden disaster of fear and repressed anger from a generation of veterans and their spouses that experienced post traumatic stress and the damage that does to parent child bonding and identity formation. Sooner or later the rage that was not able to be expressed at home will get acted out where it is relatively safer.
              The intellect must have the correct information to deal with the passions. Do you understand the dynamics of suffering in human relationships? Or do you get bored and angry with boomers who have the loudest mouths and get the most attention.

              • WSquared

                “When you get bored singing it is not the music that bores you it is only because your faith is boring and dependent upon something outside of you. Remember, the Kingdom of God is within you. ”

                …er, actually, our faith is indeed dependent upon something outside of us that nourishes it– namely Christ building up His Church and feeding us through the Eucharist. That’s why the Kingdom of God is within us, at least when we receive it worthily. And without Him, we can do nothing.

                It is rather presumptuous of you to call that external source “boring.”

            • Rosemarie


              >>>We hear the same stories over and over–not from people born before the Second World War, who had a lot more to complain about and yet didn’t, but from those born immediately after.

              Actually, I’ve heard people born in the 1920s and 30s similarly complain about the state of the Catholic Church in the US prior to Vatican II. Not just Boomers.

              >>>And any American Boomer who went to parochial school can rattle off the Baltimore Catechism and laugh derisively at how simplistic it all was.

              Can they? I’ve been told (by those who lived back then) that Catholic kids would just memorize sections of the Baltimore Catechism for the quiz and then promptly forget it afterward.

              Oh, it’s a great Catechism, don’t get me wrong; I use it with my own son. Yet rote memorization just engraves truths in the brain, not necessarily the heart. If religious instruction was so hunky dory in the 1950s, then why did everything go so very wrong during the next decade? Why did so many kids who had memorized the Baltimore Catechism end up rejecting the Faith it explained so well? Was it due to some personal malice in the Baby Boomer generation, or were there other problems behind the scenes in the Catholic Church in the USA at the time that led to the collapse?

  • Convert_1995

    I have nothing against the architecture or liturgical elements of the chapel. But I will admit to being offended by Fr. Cobb’s comment that the Catholic Church will disappoint me every day. His perception that the Church is disappointing is not true to my experience. His comment is disappointing!

  • Ronald King

    I am not offended by Fr. Cobb’s comment. I agree with it. Our Church may have the fullness of the truth but the mystery of God’s Love within the Church and outside have yet to be realized and lived out day to day. As a matter of fact Fr. Cobb should have added that he was also disappointed in himself just as I am in myself for not loving others as God desires me to love them thus harming myself, the Body of Christ and the world. May your New Year be filled with God’s Love every moment so that others who do not feel God’s Love experience it through all of us.

    • Thomas R

      The “which is likely to be every day” part is at least a bit much. I mean if it disappoints a person every day why would one even be in it?

      • Ronald King

        Because the foundation of the faith is based on God’s Love and therefore, beautiful. When God’s Love is experienced within the Church why leave? This is where God directed me to be. Like I stated my disappointment arises when I see myself and others within the Church not loving as God intends us to love and this is on a daily basis. If one is self aware one will be very conscious of this failure to love from moment to moment. I have been consciously aware of this since 1974 and one path that brought me to this point is the path that Merton was exploring in his later years. When God revealed His luminous light of love to me and told me that He loved me Christmas of 2004 it was one of the miracles that directed my return to the Church after a 40 year absence at Easter of 2005. My life and my vocation seems to have been directed to the search for love and the knowledge of what is or is not love and the effects of each on self and others. The decision to stay in the Church is to stay where God has directed me to be and the purpose for the years I have remaining to live will be revealed as long as I seek a deeper understanding of God’s Love and our part in expressing that Love. So everyday I am disappointed and at the same time thankful.

        • Thomas R

          Oh okay, I think I can see what you’re saying. Still it does sound like a statement open to being misconstrued.

          • Ronald King

            I agree with you Thomas, It seems that to focus on God’s Love when experiencing a situation or reading a statement clarifies whether or not we are influenced by God’s Love or primitive human reactions. If I am honest with myself then I will understand what is God’s and what is mine.

  • Fr. J

    Radically liberal Jesuits never fail to disappoint me.

  • MF

    And then there’s this new chapel at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, CA, which I had the privilage of attending for my daughter’s graduation in 2010. Quite a difference, I think.

  • Coast Ranger

    According to the original story by Mike Thee, “Holl designed the chapel as ‘seven bottles of light in a stone box,’ which produces a variety of striking illuminations throughout the day. The space channels an appearance and disappearance of natural light that represents the concept of consolation and desolation, a key element of Ignatian spirituality.”

    Exactly. That’s the problem.

    Here is the bankruptcy of modern architecture, ecclesiastical or not. It starts with abstract concepts, like “consolation and desolation,” and tries to embody them in something that has no correspondence with human nature: “seven bottles of light in a stone box.”

    Architecture that does not correspond with human nature and actual concrete physical nature but instead tries to invent itself by combining abstract ideas with abstract forms fails. Only intellectuals can convince themselves otherwise.

    Architecture that is satisfying to human beings corresponds to something in human nature. One of these things is bilateral symmetry. We like bilateral symmetry because that is how we are made. Actual bottle shapes and an actual stone box could be satisfying. But a building like this chapel, which might as well be a random assemblage of geometric shapes and curved surfaces, is about as satisfying as an amoeba.

    A way to test this it to take the virtual tour of this chapel and of the Chapel of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity at Thomas Aquinas College in Ojai and then ask yourself how you feel about each one.

  • Ronald King

    Isn’t it all personal and doesn’t it all just pass away? Except Love.

    • Bruce

      Since your generation typically doesn’t believe in sin, do you?

      • Thomas R

        I get what you’re saying, but is that entirely fair? I mean I was fairly anti-Boomer for a long time, but in some ways that’s abstract. A generation isn’t a person or a monolith. My Boomer uncles aren’t really like the stereotyped “Boomer” and maybe most of the generation aren’t either. I imagine the “Greatest Generation” produced a share of libertines, bohemians, and relativists too. I know my generation has people less concerned with guilt or sin than most any Boomer.

        So is there really evidence that Boomers “typically don’t believe in sin”? They might have been less likely to believe in it than any generation, but does that mean it’s “typical” of them?

        • Bruce

          Is it typical of them? Yes.

          • Ronald King

            You do not know what you are talking about Bruce. Thomas I appreciate your intellect and openness.

      • Ronald King

        Bruce, since you do not know anything about me or my generation and are spreading false statements about my generation then I think you are committing a sin. Do I believe in sin? What do you think?

  • Diane

    I laughed where he said he wanted a place where God could hold “office Hours”. Do I need an appointment and does God only “work” from 9-5?

    • Flo

      Diane, No and No….

  • Joseph Condon

    Mr. King, those were beautiful words. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

    • Ronald King

      Thank you Joseph for your kindness. All glory to God.

  • Bruce

    Jesuits need to be suppressed or completely disbanded. They serve no purpose anymore.

  • Dave

    I have been to the chapel at Seattle University five or six times. It is truly beautiful! I wish we had more spaces like that chapel.

    I also know Fr. Cobb from my days at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma. He is a great priest and an honest man. We – – and the Jesuits – – are fortunate to have him.

    Bremerton WA