The History of Christ the King Chapel at Canisius College

By John J. Hurley '78, President, Canisius College

In 1947, Rev. Raymond Schouten, S.J. became the 19th president of Canisius College. At that time, Canisius (located in Buffalo, NY) consisted of just three buildings. With Loyola Hall, the on-campus residence hall of the Jesuit priests, completed shortly before Christmas of 1949, Father Schouten (a 1927 graduate of the College) turned his attention to the spiritual needs of the Canisius community.

He visited Catholic colleges in the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast and pronounced the chapel facilities at the College as very poor. He surveyed 25 Catholic colleges and learned that 24 had a suitable college chapel and the 25th was preparing to build one. He resolved to build a chapel for Canisius. “The spiritual needs of the student body should be the main purpose and consideration of a Catholic college,” Fr. Schouten told The Griffin, the College’s student newspaper, in February 1951.

In 1949, the College retained the prominent Buffalo architect Duane Lyman to design a chapel in the Romanesque style. Ground was broken in March 1950 at the north end of the campus. "The physical location of the chapel on the campus symbolizes its importance," Fr. Schouten explained in the Canisius Alumni News in July 1950. "The chapel will be the focal point of campus life."

He boldly predicted that the completion of the chapel would be "one of the most wholesome things that has happened in the history of Canisius." Work proceeded rapidly and the cornerstone of the building was laid in October 1950 on the feast of Christ the King. The Canisius Senior Class President, Edward Fox, reflected on the deeply religious nature of the student body whose memory of the recently-ended war was still painfully fresh. He told the guests:

"Today in a world filled with moral decay, atheistic principles and so-called institutions of learning whose sole aim is to cast God out of our lives and replace Him with materialistic ideas, we find it in our power to give Him a new resting place, a new place where He can be honored."

The Chapel was completed in the summer of 1951 and was dedicated on July 31: the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola. The total cost was $439,992. The Chapel, which seats 492, is constructed of granite with lighter trim of Indiana limestone. The archetypal pattern and the overmastering symbol of the Chapel is a cross formed by the intersection of the nave and the transept. The stone cross above the entrance is the ancient Celtic cross, the Cross of Iona, dating back to the earliest days of Christianity in Ireland and Britain.

In his essay, “Chapel for Collegians: An Explanation of the Meaning of the Chapel and Its Symbols,” longtime Canisius English professor, Charles A. Brady, Ph.D., described the five rose windows in the Chapel. The West Rose has at its center, Christ the King crowned. The 12 petals radiating outward glow with symbols of the 12 Apostles. The two smaller rose windows in the north and south walls contain symbols of the Passion and of four Old Testament prophets: David, Ezekiel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. In the center of the great rose window in the north transept is the Nativity, under which are stained glass panels of the Joyful Mysteries. The petals of this rose are inscribed with symbols of the Litany of the Blessed Virgin.

Finally, in the south transept are the Glorious Mysteries in four stained glass panels underneath the rose window. The center of that window depicts the Pentecostal descent of the Holy Spirit upon His Apostles, and the petals of the rose contain symbols for the seven Sacraments and the three theological virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity; for the Church; for Prayer; and for Good Works). In the stained glass windows on the left hand side of the altar are the Joyful Mysteries, while the Glorious Mysteries are on the right. The Sorrowful Mysteries are nowhere to be seen in the chapel but are suggested implicitly by the fourteen simple unadorned crosses, which serve as stations of the cross.

The Chapel is home to many happy occasions for Canisius alumni each year, among them weddings and baptisms. The Chapel has also hosted sorrowful occasions, when beloved members of the Canisius family have passed away. Former Canisius President Rev. James M. Demske, S.J., was waked in the Chapel in 1994, and a memorial Mass for former President, Rev. Vincent M. Cooke, S.J., was held there in August 2016.

The Chapel has long been a wonderful addition to the Canisius campus. Dr. Brady captured its significance when he wrote:

"A college chapel is a college room transfigured, as a Christmas tree, a wedding, a birthday party...an everyday room..There is a peculiar bouquet, an individual cachet, a personal quality about hearing Christ's Mass in one's own chapel within the familiar precincts of one's own college. It is like entertaining the King in one's own house, not attending his levee in one of His official throne rooms."

For more than 65 years, Christ the King Chapel has provided Canisius students, faculty, staff, alumni and Jesuits with a familiar place to celebrate their Catholic faith through the Sacraments and through private prayer and reflection.