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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette University of Saint Francis President Sister Elise Kriss shows Bishop Kevin Rhodes details of the updated Achatz Hall of Science before Monday's groundbreaking at the campus.

  • Bishop Kevin Rhoades sprinkles holy water on the site of the altar for the new chapel as the Rev. David Meinzen looks on Monday.

  • Courtesy An artist's rendering shows what the updated Achatz Hall of Science will look like with a glass atrium and updated laboratories and classrooms.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017 1:00 am

St. Francis rejoices

Ground broken for chapel, modernized Achatz Hall

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

As Sister Elise Kriss celebrated Monday's groundbreaking of two construction projects at the University of Saint Francis, she recalled a previous vow to never again undertake multiple projects simultaneously.

However, the university president said deciding which building to prioritize – a freestanding chapel at the heart of campus or an expanded and renovated Achatz Hall of Science – was difficult because both are overdue.

“It will just transform the campus,” she said.

Renderings of the projects and a row of 12 shovels faced the standing-room only crowd during the hourlong ceremony. Organizers planned for 200 attendees, who were sheltered under a tent with views of both construction sites. A wooden cross marked the site of the new chapel's altar.

University and community leaders – including Saint Francis board Chairman Bill Niezer, Mayor Tom Henry and Jon Gilmore of Tonn and Blank Construction – spoke after a prayer, reflection and blessing by Bishop Kevin Rhoades.

He sprinkled holy water on each site as the crowd sang “Canticle of the Sun.”

“May God bless this university as it continues to pursue truth on the wings of faith and reason,” he said.

Faith and Reason is the name of the nearly $23 million capital campaign. Fundraising will continue throughout construction, the university has said.

The project will modernize Achatz Hall, giving it a glass atrium, a grand staircase, and new laboratories and classrooms, among other features, Kriss said.

The speakers seemed especially eager for the chapel, which will sit on the campus's highest point along Mirror Lake and offer seating for 250 people – more than triple the capacity of the existing chapel in Trinity Hall, speakers said.

The nuns have a shared desire for a freestanding chapel on campus, said Sister Angela Mellady, provincial superior of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration.

Gilmore said Tonn and Blank Construction of Michigan City is honored and excited to participate in both projects and described the chapel as the most important project ever at Saint Francis.

The chapel and the Achatz Hall expansion are targeted for completion in 2018, Kriss said. Renovations to the science building should be done by early 2020, she said.

Niezer said the university board was thrilled to participate in the “momentous” occasion. He also summarized the school's achievements in the past year, including the opening of the downtown campus, the NAIA national football championship and the launch of its first doctoral degree program.

“You can't say that we're not busy at the University of Saint Francis,” he said.