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Harvard Catholic Center chapel rededicated to women Doctors of the Church

  • Quotes from women Doctors of the Church decorate the back wall of the renovated chapel of the Harvard Catholic Student Center. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault
  • Students pray in the Harvard Catholic Student Center’s Chapel of the Women Doctors. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault

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CAMBRIDGE -- "Where are the women?" visitors to St. Paul Church often ask when they see the stained glass windows, which depict nine male Doctors of the Church. Now, parishioners can answer, "In the chapel in next door."

Doctors of the Church are saints who contributed to Catholic theology through scholarship. When St. Paul Church was built in 1923, no female saints had been honored with this title. St. Teresa of Avila was the first, so named by Pope Paul VI in 1970. Since then, Sts. Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, and Therese of Lisieux have also been granted this designation.

Now, the chapel in the Harvard Catholic Student Center, originally built in 1991, has been renovated and renamed in honor of these four women.

The chapel renovations were a gift of the Harvard University Class of 2018 students who are active in the Catholic Student Center and their families. The space was redesigned by Father Kelly and St. Paul Parish member Francesco "Chip" Piatti, a professor of architecture. The renovations began in January 2018 and the chapel was dedicated in May.

"It had unofficially been called the Chapel of the Women Doctors, but we decided to make that formal," Father William Kelly, the pastor of St. Paul Parish, told the Pilot. The name is now displayed above the double doors of the chapel.

When The Pilot visited the Harvard Catholic Student Center on Dec. 16, students were praying the rosary together in the chapel. Father Kelly said this is typical. Students have 24/7 access to the chapel, which is regularly used for Masses, Holy Hours, adoration, and prayer. The parish's RCIA program holds a different prayer experience there every week, and a group of parishioners have held evening prayer two nights a week for many years.

"It gets a lot of use," Father Kelly said.

The first renovation, he said, was the doors, which now have stained glass windows depicting a quill pen and an open book. West Roxbury glass artist Michel L'Hullier made these panels as well as the altar window.

The parish commissioned icons from Agnessa, an iconographer from Sofia, Bulgaria. These icons, depicting Our Lady Seat of Wisdom and the four female Doctors of the Church, hang on three of the walls in the chapel.

The back wall is decorated with one quotation from each of the female Doctors. This wall also has a small shelf bearing a dove-shaped oil lamp that represents a prayer initiative launched in Taybeh, the oldest Christian Palestinian village, to unite churches in prayer for peace in the Holy Land.

The chapel ceiling is painted blue with 12 silver gilt stars as an homage to the Virgin Mary as depicted in the book of Revelation.

There is also a window depicting St. Paul, repurposed from St. Therese Church in Everett when it closed.

"The reason we put St. Paul in was to connect it to the Mother Church," Father Kelly said.

St. Paul Parish has ministered to the Catholic students, faculty, and alumni of Harvard University for over a century. It is also the parish of St. Paul's Choir School, the only Catholic boys' choir school in the United States.

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