Saint Mary’s College High School, founded in San Francisco, California in 1863 and located in Berkeley since 1927, has been without a formal place of worship since its original campus building, De La Salle Hall, was demolished in 1973 as a possible earthquake hazard. For the past forty-five years, the school has made use of classrooms, the auditorium, a small chapel in the Christian Brothers’ residence, and other campus spaces for liturgies and prayer services for the school community that currently numbers nearly 700. Now, thanks to generous gifts from the extended Saint Mary’s family, a beautiful new Student Chapel has risen on a quiet, tree-lined hillside above Berkeley’s Codornices Creek at the entrance to the historic Peralta Park campus, the third home to Saint Mary’s since its founding.
On Sunday, April 8, following nearly two years of construction, the new Saint Mary’s Student Chapel was blessed and an opening Mass was celebrated by Bishop of Oakland, Michael Barber, SJ, with concelebrants Bishop Emeritus John Cummins, AFSC, an affiliated member of the De La Salle Christian Brothers, and school alumni Father Jayson Landeza ’79 and Father Robert Carleton, MM ’54. The gathering included major donors, Brothers from around the District of San Francisco New Orleans, school trustees, alumni, students, faculty, staff, parents, friends, and neighbors. The morning Mass was followed by a luncheon for donors and an afternoon open house which drew many more visitors.
Among the honored guests were many whose generous support made the chapel possible. In thanking them, school president and Class of 1966 alumnus Brother Edmond Larouche, FSC remarked, “It has been the understanding from the beginning of this project that this chapel is a gift to the students of Saint Mary’s. We hope that the students will find the chapel to be a place they seek out for prayer, meditation, and solitude to nourish their spiritual life.”
The chapel is named for Remond Sabatte, Saint Mary’s Class of 1941, who, until his death in 1985 was a devoted supporter of his alma mater and of the Catholic Church in the Oakland Diocese, especially active in the Knights of Malta, Serra Club, and Family Aid-Catholic Education (FACE). The Sabatte family, with eleven members who are alumni of the high school, were lead donors to the project and several members were on hand for the opening Mass.
Student representatives expressed the thanks of the entire student body, noting that the chapel’s location at the entry to the campus is an immediate and visible sign of Saint Mary’s Lasallian Catholic identity. Bishop Cummins reflected on the new chapel’s place in the long and storied history of the school site, the high school’s importance in Berkeley’s Catholic history, the many vocations from the school, and the long history of the De La Salle Christian Brothers themselves in the Catholic education of young people in the San Francisco Bay Area. This August, the Brothers will mark 150 years since their arrival in San Francisco to take over management of Saint Mary’s College and its high school and grammar school departments on Old Mission Road.
A procession from the school amphitheater to the chapel entrance preceded the Mass. There, Bishop Barber blessed and opened the chapel gates. The gathering made its way past a small reflecting pool and Lady of Guadalupe Grotto and entered the new building, where the centuries-old prayer of Saint John Baptist de La Salle, repeated each day in thousands of Lasallian communities around the world, is inscribed on the entryway floor: “Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.” Members of the school’s chorus and Campus Ministry team led the guests in song and prayer.
The 4,400-square foot chapel seats 200 and is made entirely of white concrete poured into frames built deep into the natural hillside. The school will continue to use the auditorium for larger liturgies.
The design team from Mark Cavagnero Associates Architects of San Francisco and the construction team from Roebbelen Contractors of El Dorado Hills were honored during the April 8 Mass. Brother William Woegger, FSC of Omaha served as Liturgical Design Consultant. Brother also consulted on Oakland’s Cathedral of Christ the Light. Cushing Associates of Pinole, California provided project management.
“The design of the chapel utilizes simple forms and materials that distinguish it from the cluster of buildings that make up the campus, built over the last 70 years,” reads Cavagnero’s web page about the project. “The one-story structure is housed under a flat roof and is punctuated by a vertical element that slopes from 20 feet to 38 feet tall on the eastern elevation; a narrow window within this form allows morning light to imbue the sacred space of the sanctuary. Windows to the south and west visually connect the chapel to the existing mature trees and adjoining meditative garden to give the relatively compact building a greater sense of connection with its surroundings.
The simple building palette of natural concrete lends the chapel a sense of permanence and serves as a backdrop to the play of light and shadow from the surrounding landscaping. The architecturally-exposed, cast-in-place concrete is carefully articulated and composed to reinforce the rhythm of the aluminum curtain wall window system.”
One of the final additions to the outside of the structure was the large aluminum cross placed into the 38-foot tower, with inner edges finished in red for Saint Mary’s school colors, red and white.
The white concrete interior of the chapel is offset by a large and vibrant mural comprised of colorful prints of paintings by French contemporary artist Jean-Marie Pirot, known as Arcabas and renowned for his works in religious institutions in France, Germany, Mexico, Canada, and the United States. Each print depicts an event in Mary’s life taken from scripture: the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, the Wedding at Cana, Crucifixion, Descent from the Cross, and Pentecost. The altar and altar furniture were designed and crafted in Omaha, and the Beuronese-style corpus on the altar cross is Linden wood, a custom-carved original piece by Italian Master Carver Stefan of Stuflesser Art Studio, Ortisei, Italy.
In the meditative garden outside the main entry is a set of bronze Stations of the Cross designed by Afton, Minnesota liturgical sculptor Andrew Bonnette, replicas of those at the Cathedral of Christ the Light. The Virgen de Guadalupe mosaic in the chapel grotto is by Oregon muralist and mosaic artist Hector Hernandez, whose deep devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe is beautifully evident in his work. Hernandez traveled to Berkeley for the chapel opening.
The first gift to the chapel project was made in April 2010 by Mrs. Patricia Mooser to honor her brother, Class of 1944 alumnus Jim Ryan. Eight years later, following fundraising, city meetings, design approval, an August 2016 groundbreaking and construction start, and four months of delays caused by excessive winter rains in 2017, the Saint Mary’s Student Chapel is a reality.
In his homily, Bishop Barber spoke about the importance of Catholic education. “A good Catholic high school prepares you for life; life on earth and life in heaven. Today we bless, consecrate, dedicate, and set aside for sacred use this chapel.”
“It’s already a beautiful building,” Barber said, commending those whose efforts led to its creation. He continued, “We’re going to make this a holy place,” and reminded the gathering of the words at the chapel entrance, to always remember the holy presence of God.
The Christian Brothers’ devotion to Mary and to the school that has borne her name for 155 years is their legacy. The joy of so many to see the finished chapel and to know their gifts are part of this legacy was evident at the opening Mass. Brother V. Kenneth, FSC spoke about the cornerstone that features the name of his mother, Mary Curley, for her legacy gift to the project. “During my thirteen years at Saint Mary’s High,” Brother Kenneth reflected, “my dear mother visited me from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania three times. She loved the place, so when the time came for the Chapel to become a reality, I could think of no better way to have my own mother honored and remembered. What a privilege to be able to do this for her in a Chapel bearing the name “Mary.”
On May 6, Saint Mary’s Class of 2018 held a senior family Mass in the chapel and the following day the first after-school communion service took place.
Story contributed by Jeanne Gray Loughman, Communications, Saint Mary’s College High School.