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Sunday, Sept 24, the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville hosted a talk by local architect and historian Steve Wiser. The talk featured the architecture of local Roman Catholic churches from the mid-1800s up to today’s modern sanctuaries. The fifth in a series of events celebrating the Ursuline Motherhouse Chapel’s Centennial year, the talk was well attended with a full house.

Wiser explored the physical changes in church design from the 1800s through Vatican II, which included the removal of communion rails, high, formidable altars lowered to make the priest feel more accessible and reoriented toward the congregation, seating plans changed from rigid and rectilinear to a less formal, more social circular or semicircular arrangement.

“The call was for ‘full and active participation,’ ” says Sr. Jean Zappa, chapel preservation specialist for the sisters. “And the modern architecture was more about being warm and welcoming, versus the enormity of space that makes those feel smaller in the presence of God.”

An interesting piece to the story to the building of the motherhouse and the Ursuline Chapel of the Immaculate Conception is that it occurred at the same time the U.S. had entered World War I and a deadly flu epidemic was beginning to sweep across the country. At the same time the sisters’ energy and attention were involved in the church construction, they also were actively caring for ill and wounded soldiers at Camp Taylor. No blueprints exist for the chapel, and no list of donors or patrons have been found. It remains a bit of a mystery as to how the chapel was funded and built, but the sisters remain forever grateful for this magnificent spiritual home.

You can view a PDF of the talk here: Sacred Spaces
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