St. Joan of Arc Chapel Restoration

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The St. Joan of Arc chapel is currently undergoing restoration

The St. Joan of Arc Chapel, a center piece of Marquette University’s campus, is the oldest structure in Milwaukee and dates to the early 15th century. However, the chapel is currently a large construction zone.

For Jillian Haygood, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, the chapel represents faith and hope. She said it is crucial to restore the chapel because of its history and what it represents for the Marquette community.

“It is important to keep the legacy and history alive. It is a symbol of hope and long-suffering. It signifies that hope is never lost,” Haygood said.

Although it is a construction zone and she cannot visit the chapel currently, Haygood said “Faith and hope is something I take with me everywhere, and the chapel is a good reminder of that.”

Lizzy Ibitoye, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, sees the chapel as a symbol of unity across different religions and faiths.

“I feel as though St. Joan of Arc’s chapel has become a staple of the Marquette campus. Whether or not you practice the Catholic faith, it’s a place that everyone has access to for peace and quiet,” Ibitoye said.

Ibitoye said she misses being able to sit in the garden of the chapel throughout the day and experience nature.

“It’s outdoors space had a beautiful garden with seating that I took advantage of in between classes. While I know the construction is temporary, I look forward to the day when we can get back to the space,” Ibitoye said.

As of today, the St. Joan of Arc Chapel is still under reconstruction. This process is “very complex and like moving an elderly person. There can be many delays to the time frame,” Maher said.

The chapel originated in France, specifically in the village of Chasse in the Rhone Valley. After many centuries, the chapel deteriorated. Gertrude Hill Gavin, the daughter of an American railroad magnate, acquired the chapel and shipped it to Long Island.

Gavin, being devoted to Joan of Arc, named the chapel St. Joan of Arc. Joan of was a French heroine of the Hundred Years War. She was convicted of heresy and burned at the stake at 19 years old.

In 1962 Marc Rojtman and his wife, Lillian, bought the chapel from Gavin. Almost destroyed by a fire, the Rojtmans gifted the chapel to former Marquette president Rev. Edward J. O’Donnell, S.J. The Rojtmans believed that at Marquette the chapel would be “appreciated for its historical and artistic value functionality, and unique status it would confer upon the university.”

When Marquette received the gift, workers spent nine months carefully dismantling the chapel and shipping it to Milwaukee. When the stones arrived in Milwaukee, the chapel was reassembled and given modern updates such as radiant floor heating and electricity. By 1966, the chapel was open on Marquette’s campus.

A historic structure report was conducted spring 2020 on the chapel which intended to conserve it. The report revealed that the roofing, security and temperature control — which is vital to the longevity of the structure, needed immediate repair.

“St. Joan of Arc Chapel is a historical treasure and the spiritual centerpiece of our campus,” University President Michael Lovell said.

Father Michael Maher, an associate history professor at Marquette University, said the chapel is valuable to Marquette University and reflects its values.

Prior to the restoration, the chapel hosted regular masses, tours, candlelit vigils and political protests.

“It supports the religious identity, it is a place of community and is a gathering place,” Maher said.

Marquette is accepting donations toward the restoration of the St. Joan of Arc Chapel. Gifts of $25,000 or higher are eligible for recognition in the newly installed Gratitude Garden on the chapel grounds.

This story was written by Hannah Hernandez. She can be reached at hannah.hernandez@marquette.edu.