A New Chapter for the Chapel

The Chapel glistens during summer months

The Library of Congress website shows a picture of the Western Reserve Academy Chapel taken in 1934. Back then, a huge curtain hung over the front of the chapel, casting a shadow over the podium. A few years after the picture was taken, Headmaster Joel B. Hayden had a large Palladian window installed to breathe life and light into the chapel.

Nevertheless, from 1964 until 2021, a huge pipe organ replaced that window. However, the decision was made to recoup the past, restoring Headmaster Hayden’s vision of an eastward facing window. The window was replaced exactly as it was when it was removed, excluding the cross once hanging in front of it. This fall, the $1.2 million renovation of the Chapel was completed by an expert construction crew headed by Mr. Jeremy Paul, WRA’s Assistant Director of Facilities Projects. WRA students and faculty stepped back inside the Chapel for Morning Meeting on Friday, October 22th.

The renovations were made to accomplish a multitude of goals: to “refresh the space while updating some aspects to make it more usable for our community and to bring the building into compliance with the American’s with Disabilities Act” according to Mr. Paul. The issue of updating a space versus maintaining both it and its history lies at the center of the chapel renovation.

Is preserving or restoring the past more important than paving new roads for the future?

All the way back to its 1836 construction, the chapel was built by Simeon Porter and his father, Lemuel, to replicate the New England Federalist style. But as the chapel’s usage has expanded and WRA’s influence has grown, the chapel was consistently updated to reflect the needs of the community. According to history teacher Mr. Hoffman, Mrs. Buck’s plan is to “embrace [and] honor the past, but [to] also look toward the future.” This seems to be echoed in Mr. Paul’s statements on “refreshing” the space as well as updating it. These renovations have been a long time coming. According to Mr. Vince, both former Heads of School, Dr. Flannagan and Mr. Burner, had expressed interest in restoring the chapel, specifically with the eastern window’s replacement in mind.

As a tribute to the chapel’s 185-year history, many relics of the past are now being kept in the Chapel, including the first window from the front of the Chapel, as well as the old clock bell which was stored in the fireplace in Hayden Hall. The original window was returned to the school by Katie Hoy, wife of the late George Hoy, former Board of Trustees member.

These mementos will be on display to show how far the community has come, as well as a reminder of the past—to understand it and learn from it, a common theme at WRA.

The school imposes this duty on the students: to learn from the past and to grow from it. Students must seek that ‘truth’ proclaimed by our motto, Lux et Veritas, ‘light and truth’. That ‘light’ is reminiscent of that 1934 photo and now shines on today’s community.

Jacob Coblentz ’22

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