St. Dominic ChapelLindsey Kennedy

Interior of St. Dominic Chapel

St. Dominic Chapel is the spiritual center of Providence College.Ground for the Chapel was broken on June 30, 1999.Less than two years later, on February 2, 2001, the Chapel was dedicated.

Form & Structure
St. Dominic Chapel is octagonal, a shape inspired by Byzantine, early Renaissance, Shaker, and contemporary traditions. Examples of these traditions include the Byzantine church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, Filippo Brunelleschi's early Renaissance Rotunda of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence, Italy, the Shaker barn in Hancock, Massachusetts, and Pietro Belluschi's Church of St. Gregory the Great at the Portsmouth Abbey School in Rhode Island (Maclean 13). (Pietro Belluschi also acted as a consultant for Providence College's Phillips Memorial Library.) There are three prominent entrances (which break from the octagonal floor plan): a main entrance at the front to the north, a side entrance to the east, and a main entrance to the Campus Ministry Center on the building's lower level to the south. The exterior walls are made of Weymouth granite, and copper is used for the roofs and drain spouts. These materials were not meant to be extravagant, but rather were meant to be oblatory. Architect Dennis Keefe said: "The discipline of the Friar's life suggested to us a parallel discipline in architectural design...Beauty in buildings designed under Dominican auspices should be derived from thoughtful design and careful execution rather than from conspicuous use of expensive materials" (Maclean 13). The building's weight is carried on its external granite walls, and the cupola and steeple are supported by a visible truss, painted to match the exposed wooden beams. This truss, though structurally necessarily, also aesthetically draws the eye upward to the heavens (Maclean 16).

San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy, c. 538-548
Filippo Brunelleschi, Santa Maria degli Angeli, Florence, Italy, begun 1434
Shaker Barn, Hancock, Massachusetts, c. 1827
Pietro Belluschi, Church of St. Gregory the Great, Portsmouth Abbey School, Portsmouth, RI, 1960

Patronage & Architect
The building was commissioned by Providence College under the leadership of College President Rev. Philip A. Smtih, O.P. A donation of $3 million by Charlotte Gragnani made the construction financially possible (Maclean 10). The architectural firm was Keefe Associates, Inc. (with principal architect Dennis Keefe), a Boston-based company which focuses on architecture for educational and religious institutions, and which later worked on Providence College's Smith Center for the Arts. The College community provided input into the design through a faculty and student planning committee. The stained-glass windows, Stations of the Cross, and Crucifix were designed by artist Sylvia Nicolas (Maclean 21).

The building not only houses a place for the community to worship, but the lower level additionally includes a Campus Ministry Center and offices for the Chaplain's Office. In this way, it serves as the spiritual center of the campus. The lower level Campus Ministry Center provides a meeting space for the College's many Campus Ministry Groups, a catering kitchen, and study space for all PC students. While the upper level worship space has remained mostly unchanged structurally since 2001, the lower level has seen some renovations. More office space was needed, requiring some remodeling, including the elimination of a choir practice room.

The building is located in a suburban neighborhood of Providence, RI, on the Providence College campus. Near Eaton Street, the Chapel is built on the site of an artificial hill and the College's original War Memorial Grotto (built in 1948). The Grotto was rebuilt facing the chapel using original materials, at one-third its original scale. Directly across the street, off-campus, is St. Pius V Church, a parish church (also Dominican) of modern architectural design. St. Dominic Chapel was designed to be harmonious with its environment of already existing Providence College buildings and to blend with the Italianate style and stone materials of neighboring Martin Hall and Dominic Hall. Like these two buildings, St. Dominic Chapel also has broad, low-pitched roofs, rounded arches, and dressed rubble masonry walls. The stonework is also significant in that Rhode Island has a long tradition of stone building (Keefe Associates, Inc.).

War Memorial Grotto, 1948.
Rebuilt War Memorial Grotto

The idea of a large, free-standing chapel was long anticipated. The College's original master plan of 1917 placed a separate chapel near the main college entrance, in front of Harkins Hall (Jackson). Eighty-two years later, ground was finally broken for this structure at the site of the War Memorial Grotto. Meanwhile, separate master plans for the College calling for a freestanding chapel were drawn up in 1930 and 1947, but the idea was never actualized. More important was the College's need for new and better classrooms, laboratories, and student residences. Smaller chapels were constructed (and deconstructed) in various buildings. At the time of the groundbreaking, students could attend Sunday Mass at the Aquinas Chapel, the Guzman Chapel (some special outdoor Masses were celebrated in the Grotto), or the Priory Chapel (although the primary purpose of this chapel was to bring the Dominican Friars together in community). As the college and enrollment grew, available seating was often exceeded. Additionally, the lack of space made it hard to include choirs in services. It was clear that a distinct spiritual center was necessary for the Dominican community at Providence College. Today, the Chapel's spire is the highest point on campus and is visible from much of campus. Sylvia Nicolas' stained glass windows tell the story of the life of St. Dominic and other important Dominican Friars, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Albertus Magnus, all of whom lend their names to Providence College buildings. The Providence College community values not only its academic identity, but its religious identity as well, and these values are materialized in the creation of this structure.

Timeline of Excerpts from Jane Jackson's The Long and Winding Road to St. Dominic Chapel: A Chronology

Original campus master plan included separate Chapel at entrance to the campus

Sept. 18, 1919

Opening of Providence College


Master plan by Bernard A. McLaughlin, O.P., "A Liberal Education at Providence College," included separate College Chapel

Sept. 6, 1938

Letter from President Dillon, O.P. to Provincial McDermott, O.P. outlined specifications of a dormitory, including a chapel

Mar. 7, 1940

Aquinas Hall Dedication included first mass in the new chapel; chapel in Harkins converted into laboratories


Small chapel for student use opened in Harkins

Jan., 1947

At Loyalty Fund Drive, 1947, Opening President Foley, O.P. outlined proposed building program, including Faculty House and separate College Chapel

May 22, 1947

President Foley unveils new master plan including Faculty House and separate College Chapel

May 9, 1948

War Memorial Grotto Dedication provided memorial for the war dead and an open air chapel for May and October devotions

Nov. 24, 1969

Dominican Faculty House Ad Hoc Committee member suggested that Dominican Faculty Residence Chapel "be as large as possible to enable the College Community as a whole to participate in the liturgical life of the Dominican Community"

Mar. 10, 1983

President Peterson, O.P. announced construction of priory including "chapel which will enable the entire College community to participate in the liturgical life of the Dominican community"

Aug. 6, 1984

Harkins Hall Fathers' Chapel closed; Our Lady Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Chapel in St. Thomas Aquinas Priory/Gragnani Dominican Community Center opened

May 16, 1990

War Memorial Grotto Ad Hoc Committee recommended "linkage between keeping and refurbishing the War Memorial Grotto with the construction of a campus chapel...If the Administration and Corporation decide to build a chapel, we recommend that the Grotto's essential components be located in or near the chapel"


Providence 2000 included gift opportunity for restoration of Grotto, with no mention of pledges toward a College chapel

July, 1996

President Smith, O.P. announced reception of Kimball grant to study feasibility for new College chapel

June 17, 1997

President Smith announced pledge from Charlotte Gragnani, Board of Trustees; approval of construction of College Chapel incorporating Grotto, and extension of Providence 2000 to include pledges for the chapel

June 30, 1999

St. Dominic Chapel Groundbreaking

ArtStor. <>.

Jackson, Jane M. The Long and Winding Road to St. Dominic Chapel: A Chronology. Providence College Archives. Oct. 19, 2000.

Keefe Associates, Inc. New Chapel: Providence College. Providence College Archives. May 7, 1998.

Maclean, Elaine L., et al. A Dream Realized: St. Dominic Chapel at Providence College. East Greenwich, RI: Meridian Printing, 2001.

Portsmouth Abbey School. <>.

Thompson, Chloe. "Restoring the spirit of a chapel at Portsmouth Abbey School." Providence Journal. <>. July 10, 2008.