COURTESY OF SJU SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY • Above is a postcard image of Stella Maris Chapel.

By Steph Haeg
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There might be a dusting of snow on the ground, but that doesn’t mean that the view of Stella Maris is any less breathtaking during the winter. The Chapel Walk is a time honored tradition here at CSB/SJU, but why is there a chapel out on the other side of the lake?

The chapel was built on Doctor’s Island, named after English teacher Doctor Alyward. He lost a pair of gold-rimmed glasses in the water at the site, and junior monks decided to build the chapel to “commemorate the loss.” After the building of the chapel, the island became known as “Chapel Island.”

The current chapel is actually the second one. The original was built in 1872, where it was a site of pilgrimage and devotion to the Virgin Mary. It burned down in 1903, possibly due to a lightning strike. The monks rebuilt it in 1915, and that’s the one that we know today. The monks received permission to rebuild it in response to World War I; the war in Europe had resulted in the destruction of many shrines and churches dedicated to Mary.

In the second chapel they added an altar to honor Mary and concrete stairs that lead down to the water’s edge. They also planned to add a bell, a fountain and walls around the island and benches, none of which actually occurred.

It was heavily vandalized over the years, as it would frequently go through periods of neglect. Rumors abounded during the 1980s that the building was haunted or the meeting site for a satanic cult.

The Abbey’s herd of cows was located on Chapel Island for a while, and the cows contributed to the destruction. They broke down portions of the wall so that they could seek shelter inside, and descriptions from that time period describe a floor covered in cow “chips.”

Because of the misuse and disuse, it’s hardly a surprise that the building was badly needing repairs in 2007, when a Prep School alumnus Don Hall decided to help renovate the chapel.

Stella Maris (“Star of the Sea”) is not just a beautiful or romantic walk for the students here; it’s often considered an act of contemplation and even pilgrimage. But during the various periods of neglect, it was also a place for students to gather to have indoor bonfires. Mass is occasionally celebrated there, but it’s
generally still a destination for a walk above all else.

If you haven’t made the trip out to Stella Maris yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a great walk, and the sight itself is stunning. And while you’re there, maybe think about how grateful we should be that we don’t have to fight a cow for the honor of entering that sacred space.