The Saint Paul Seminary was founded through the generosity of James J. Hill and the vision of Archbishop John Ireland to establish a firm foundation for its long history of preparing priests and other leaders for the Church that continues today. Saint Mary’s Chapel was included in the original seminary plans drawn up by the architect Cass Gilbert in 1891 but it was not completed until 1905. Clarence H. Johnston, a well-respected Minnesota architect was chosen to design the chapel and the
construction was completed by the Lauer Brothers, a local building firm. In 1988 the seminary chapel was renovated to
bring the chapel into compliance with the liturgical directives of
Vatican II. The primary design was created by liturgical consultant Frank Kacmarcik and the architectural firm was Rafferty, Raffferty, and Tollefson Inc. of St. Paul.
Archbishop Austin Dowling oversaw the artistic decorating of the chapel in the 1920s by the Boston ecclesiastical firm Maginnis and Walsh. He specified the spiritual themes for both the exterior and interior of the chapel. The Annunciation scene over the exterior portal portraying Mary’s humble acceptance of God’s plan for her life, was chosen by him as a fitting model for seminarians to emulate on their path to priesthood. The richly carved exterior is made of large stone materials that reflect the earthbound, solid, fortress-like quality of Romanesque-Byzantine architecture with a touch of Renaissance and Gothic features.
The interior has the traditional design features of the basilica style of early church buildings. It has a flat, wood-beamed ceiling, a long nave with side aisles, apse, and sacristies adjoining it. The richly colored stained glass windows and murals were created by artist Bancel La Farge of New Haven, Connecticut, who was the son of American muralist, John La Farge. His designs for the murals were influenced by the Byzantine style he studied on his travels to Ravenna, Italy and the Middle East. The prominent rose window contains the symbols of the four evangelists set among a floral and acanthus leaf design.
The chapel supports a wide variety of liturgical events, from daily worship for the resident seminarians to full community gatherings and larger public occasions. A new 22-stop tracker pipe organ from The Noack Organ Co., Inc., of Georgetown, Massachusetts was installed in 2000. The organ, dedicated to the glory of God, serves the liturgical life of the seminary in a continuation and renewal of the long tradition of excellence in worship at The Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity.
The chapel is the heart and soul of our community. Whether visiting the chapel in person or viewing our virtual tour, we hope you will take time to reflect not only on the chapel’s artistic beauty but more importantly on its strongest legacies - the long tradition of people’s faith and their yielding to the will of God.
To request the use of St. Mary's chapel complete the on-line registration form and our Director of Worship will be in contact with you shortly. Note: Because St. Mary’s Chapel canonically is designated as an oratory, we may not perform sacramental weddings (or baptisms) here.