‘Absolutely gorgeous’: St. John’s Catholic Chapel at U of I is renovated, blessed

The newly renovated interior of St. John’s Catholic Chapel at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign is seen from the choir loft as those who filled it for the Oct. 8 Mass of Blessing come forward for Communion. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

By Tom Dermody

CHAMPAIGN — Calling the newly renovated St. John’s Catholic Chapel “absolutely gorgeous” and congratulating all involved in the $2.5 million project, Bishop Louis Tylka on Sunday blessed the church that since 1928 has been a place of encounter with Jesus Christ for tens of thousands in the heart of the University of Illinois campus.

“Look what God has provided through the generosity of so many,” said Bishop Tylka in his homily before a packed assembly at the Oct. 8 Mass of Blessing.

Bishop Louis Tylka sprinkles holy water on the walls of St. John’s Catholic Chapel at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign during ceremonies at the start of the Mass of Blessing for the renovated chapel on Oct. 8. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

“Countless students have gone before and many more will come after,” he continued, lauding the mission of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, the largest campus ministry of its kind in the nation. “This chapel, this Newman Center, will be a constant reminder and invitation to come and encounter Jesus Christ.”

As the Mass began, Bishop Tylka — who was principal celebrant of the 10:30 a.m. Mass — sprinkled holy water on the chapel’s walls. He would later also offer a prayer of blessing for the baptistry, now relocated in a larger gathering space in the vestibule.


“This is something that has been in the planning stages for a couple of decades and it is a joy to bring it to completion,” said Father Robert Lampitt, head chaplain of St. John’s Catholic Newman Center, at an outdoor lunch and reception following the Mass.

Among the most striking aspects of the renovation, begun last December, are a new color scheme and stencil work. Now encircling the chapel interior high on the walls are words from the first chapter of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory as the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”

The sanctuary walls now feature repetition of three-color stencils calling to mind the Newman Center’s patrons: the coat of arms of St. John Henry Newman and a heraldic eagle, a traditional symbol of St. John. The temporary altar of repose was replaced with a new marble one reminiscent of the original high altar.

Daprato Rigali Studios was the designer and project manager of the renovation, which also included:

  • repair of plaster cracks and water damage
  • improved sound system and lighting
  • refurbished pews and new, better soundproofed confessionals
  • new Stations of the Cross — cropped images of the original stations which now hang in St. Mary’s Cathedral
  • organ cleaning and restoration, with a new console on order, and
  • the placement of the Newman Center’s statue of St. John Henry Newman in a side shrine.


The Mass of Blessing took place on the eve of the Feast of St. John Henry Newman, the English priest and theologian whose writings inspired the Catholic campus ministry centers that bear his name. The offertory and recessional hymns — “Complete They Work, O Lord” and “Lead, Kindly Light” — were based on his texts.

Bishop Louis Tylka uses incense during a blessing of the baptistry at St. John’s Catholic Chapel, now located in the vestibule. Also pictured are, from left, Mass concelebrants Father Matthew Hoelscher, assistant chaplain; Father Brian Geary of the Archdiocese of Chicago; Father Robert Lampitt, head chaplain; and Father Alexander Millar, assistant chaplain. Laura Nussel holds the prayer book and next to her is Phillip Lee, director of the diocesan Office of Divine Worship. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

In addition to Father Lampitt, concelebrants of the Mass included Father Matthew Hoelscher and Father Alexander Millar, assistant chaplains, and Father Brian Geary, a priest of the Diocese of Joliet who is a University of Illinois and Newman Center alum and is among the donors to the renovation project.

Also speaking at the outdoor reception were two other donors: John Beyer, a 2004 University of Illinois graduate with a degree in microbiology, and Hannah Bernstein, a current junior majoring in landscape architecture.

Beyer called St. John’s Chapel “my favorite place.”

“It was here I began to realize what a gift my faith was,” he said, thanking Father Lampitt for his leadership and calling him “a tireless advocate of the faith.”

Bernstein said the chapel has become “the center of my college life” and added its beauty was a reason she came to the University of Illinois from her family home in Seattle.

“Congratulations on your efforts on renewing this wonderful worship space,” said Bishop Tylka at the reception. “But more so, my prayers are with you as you continue — as Catholic Illini — to bring others to Christ Jesus.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Many more photos from the Mass of Blessing and reception have been posted to The Catholic Post’s Facebook page.

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