Administration gives approval to revamp chapel, meet needs of all

In a letter sent to Student Body President Matthew Conklin, University President John Bardo gave approval to make changes to Grace Memorial Chapel, also known as the Interfaith Prayer Space.

The chapel sits about 200 feet north of the Rhatigan Student Center and is a place of worship for students. For some time now, concerns have been raised about whether the space accommodates all faiths. Now that the plan has an approval for change, the chapel will undergo some reconstruction to make it usable for students, faculty and staff of all religions.

Change coming to Interfaith has been something Conklin and Student Body Vice President Brandon Baltzell have worked on since they ran for election to Student Government Association’s highest offices last spring. Over spring break, Conklin said he sent a formal request to Bardo, asking for redevelopment of the chapel.

“They hadn’t received a formal document with a ‘check yes or no’ type of situation,” Conklin said. “I sent that and some supporting materials that have been covered before.”

Last week, Conklin received a reply from Bardo regarding the chapel. In it, Bardo wrote that Harvey Grace, whose husband the chapel is named for, specified in her will that the chapel was given to the university as an all-religions chapel.

“From a university perspective, so long as the basic structure of the chapel is not changed, removing pews should not present a problem,” Bardo wrote.

Bardo tasked Wade Robinson, vice president for Student Affairs, with reconstituting the Grace Memorial Chapel Use Committee to oversee the process and finalize all plans. The committee consists of students, faculty and staff who have been a part of the process from the beginning.

Robinson said he met with members of the committee individually last week and brought them up to speed on what the restructuring will look like. He and Conklin then met with Physical Plant and Facilities employees to work out the logistics of the process.

Robinson said he was pleased with Bardo’s response to Conklin’s proposal.

“We knew that the proposal was a good one,” Robinson said, “[it] met the requirements of what the will said and what the usage committee said in 1963, and Matt had done great homework. All of those concerns were addressed, and we’ll move ahead.”

Both Conklin and Robinson said they anticipate a dedication ceremony late in the semester, sometime during the last week of April or first week of May.

As an adviser to SGA, Robinson said his main objective was to support what Conklin and Baltzell and other students wanted. He described his role as being a facilitator.

“I’m glad they’re able to achieve one of the goals they set out to do, because we want Student Government to be successful,” he said. “I’m proud that they’re able to achieve one of the many things they set out to do when they started.”

Bardo wrote in his letter that any further modifications to the chapel would need to be reviewed and approved by Tony Vizzini, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, after consultation with general counsel Ted Ayres and the director of facilities planning, Eric King.

For now, though, Conklin said he is happy with the restructuring coming in several weeks.

“I’m hopeful,” he said. “I’m excited. It was a lot of work to get to this point.”