This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The old chapel in Drexel Hall

Several weeks ago I wrote about visiting Drexel Hall during the SJC Homecoming weekend. I left the story hanging, implying that I got to visit the upper floors. Yes, the door was open, and the visitors did get to go upstairs.

Some background information: Drexel Hall was built as an Indian School in the 19th century. Indian boys were taken from the reservation and put in this and similar schools. The purpose was to teach them the ways of the white settlers in hopes that they would assimilate. The experiment was a failure, and the plan was abandoned in the Rensselaer Indian school after a few years.

Drexel Hall is on the register of historic places and has an historical plaque associated with it, which reads:
St. Joseph's Indian Normal School --1888-1896-- Erected by the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions with funds from Katharine Drexel and operated by the Society of the Precious Blood with federal funds. 60 Indian boys from distant reservations were annually trained here.
Katharine Drexel founded an order of nuns dedicated to helping the poor. The Indian School was one of her accomplishments, but not one of her major ones, as she founded about 60 other schools. She was canonized on October 1, 2000, and several Rensselaerians, including Fr. Len Kosta, went to Rome for the celebration.

The focus of this post, however, is on the chapel that was once on the third floor of Drexel Hall. As you get to the final flight of stairs, the staircase has the only bit of decorative trim of any of the staircases in Drexel.
When you get to the top of the stairs and look down, this is what you see. The interior of the building above the first floor has had no repair--above the first floor, the renovations were only intended to stabilize the exterior.
At the top of the stairs is a large room with a half-circle window. Until Homecoming weekend I had thought that this was the chapel room.
You can see where this room is looking at the outside of the building. There is only one semi-circular window.
Here is a picture of what that window looked like when they were renovating the building.
On Homecoming weekend my camera batteries died while I was going through the building. Not knowing if I would ever get upstairs again, I went home and got a new set of batteries and came back. After wandering around the building some more, I again when upstairs and went through the doorway at the far end of the room shown above. I discovered that it had doors, and those doors said that they were the entrance to a chapel.
The room on the other side was dark and there were strips of cloth hanging from the roof. I think they were a wall covering that had come loose.
At the far end of the room was a small raised platform that looks like it was the base of an altar.
The pews that were once there have been put to other uses. Someone told me that some of them are in use at the chapel in the Care Center, but I have not verified that.


Sheila said...

How cool is that! I'm glad you went home to get more batteries!

Bob Muir said...

....I lived in that building '69/'71, and actually went to the chapel a lot. At that point, it was kept up. Good pic's. Do I ever have stories of my stay there!

ars7989 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ars7989 said...

The church pews are actually in the Gasper Center, which is attached to the Saint Joseph's College chapel. They are still in really great shape, it would be great if they found a better use for them...

Anonymous said...

I’m going to the Chapel and I’m…..
I will start off with: We were young. I lived in Drexel from 1973 to 1976. We used the Chapel.

On the first Sunday night in Sep 1975, a dorm initiation was held in the Drexel Chapel for freshmen and the new 2nd floor RA. It was the idea of “Young” Harold Bush. There was no choice but to follow his directives.

The upperclassmen took one of the freshmen into their league. Charlie D. was a legacy Puma. Charlie was to go through the dorm and find small groups of newly arrived freshmen and mention, “Hey, I think the upperclassmen are doing something up in the Chapel”. He led them up the stairs and through the first dark room in the attic, then onward through the Chapel doors. From the back of the chapel, they saw the dorm upperclassmen assembled in the darkness facing the altar and holding candles. Echoing through the wooden beams was a chant - - “Ummmm, Ummmm”.

On the altar there laid one of the freshmen’s own, Jim W. Arv, waving a large knife in human sacrifice fashion, acted as the high priest. Later in life, Arv served as the basis for the character Marv in the movie Sin City. On “Young” Harold’s cue, the upperclassmen stopped the chant, turned to the back of the chapel and took note of the freshmen intruders. “Young” Harold shouted, “Who’s there?” The freshmen stood silent. Then Harold cried, “GET’EM!”

The freshmen turned and ran like scared rats. They quickly encountered a body hanging from the rafters where Dick C. had placed himself in the dark room outside the chapel. More screams, and then down the stairs they went.

Several groups were initiated in this fashion and then it was time to initiate the new R.A who considered himself a fearless junior classman football player. He too was lured into the trap. When Harold proclaimed “Who’s there?”, the reply was, “It’s the R.A.” A moment of utter silence, followed by Harold’s cry (with a smile, I’m sure) “GET HIM!”

The new RA ran the half mile to campus at speed which would have greatly impressed the coach. People were chasing him and when he reached the sanctuary of library steps, he turned to the crowd whimpering “….and Arv, he’s the head of it all!”

No drugs or alcohol were involved, yet surely many of the instigators are destined for the underworld. What level they find is being determined by their actions during the remainder of their lives.

My part, you wonder? I proudly supplied the sacrificial knife, imported from Mexico by a classmate.