St. Katharine Drexel Chapel

The Chapel is sited at the heart of the university. Its front entry is on axis with Xavier’s administration building, where Pope John Paul II spoke during his visit to the campus in 1987; a straight line connects the balcony of the administration building with the chapel’s front door. A view of the chapel is perfectly framed by the President’s Conference Room in the University Center to the south of the new building. At the university’s northeast edge, the chapel lifts high its cross next to I-10, so that it can be seen by thousands of travelers that pass the campus every day. The site of the chapel was previously occupied by a student center that was badly damaged during Hurricane Katrina. It was decided that this building should make way for the chapel, which allowed the spiritual heart of Xavier University to be placed at the very center of the campus.
St. Katharine Drexel
Natural materials, sunlight, and a welcome gathering space distinguish the main chapel. At the entry, the vertical walls defining the lower part of this space begin to grow in height as they wrap around the chapel toward the altar. Likewise, the chapel roof tilts farther upward towards the altar, giving the entire space a sense of lifting into the heavens. Low-ceiling ambulatories on either side of the chapel contrast with the buoyant space that unfolds above one’s head. Seating is focused toward the altar, which is located near the chapel’s center. The chapel’s soft, light color palette allows the colorful windows to sing throughout the space. Niches along the back wall provide places to display sacred art, many produced by members of the Xavier community. 
The design is a product of the collaboration between the architect and Xavier. The architectural team traveled to the S.B.S. Motherhouse in Bensalem, Pa., where the Sisters impressed upon the designers that St. Katharine led a life of simplicity and purity. It is St. Katharine’s asceticism that guided the design of the chapel: simple, pure geometry; a restrained color and material palette; natural finishes; an abundance of natural light, which symbolizes God’s presence. The designers visited the tomb of St. Katharine in the Motherhouse chapel and were inspired by the austere limestone material and the simple yet elegant masonry methods used. They constantly asked the question: “What type of design would be worthy of St. Katharine, and the example that she lived?” In this way, Cesar Pelli was a perfect choice for the architect of the chapel. Raised a Roman Catholic in his native Argentina, Pelli emigrated to the U.S. to continue his architectural studies and learned the power of using the right materials in elegant ways in his architecture.

The main chapel is a perfect octagon in plan, with the altar table placed near the center of the space. The day chapel, to the south of the main chapel, is also an octagon, surrounded by an outdoor meditation garden. The octagon is a very ancient geometry in Christian architecture; it was used for some of the earliest churches, so the plan of the chapel reaches back to Christianity’s roots. It allows congregants to gather in worship closely around the altar, and share witness with each other in a non-hierarchical community of faith.

The exterior form of the building – its three-dimensional presence on the campus – is generated from the plan and its major spaces. The walls defining the main chapel are low where one approaches from the southwest, and then rise in height towards the highway. The day chapel geometry is clearly articulated in its tower-like form, which rises to support a carillon of bells at its apex, and is surrounded by low walls that define the meditation garden. Like the interior of the chapel, the angular shapes and sloping walls of the exterior are simple yet elegant, made of Portuguese limestone laid with the same mortar pattern as used in the tomb of St. Katharine. The form of the entire building defines the chapel as a unique presence on campus.


Summer Schedule

Regular Schedule

The Chapel is open daily from
8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
for QUIET prayer
when school is in session.

Cell phones OFF.
No food or drink permitted.


Morning Prayer
Monday-Friday 8:15 a.m.

Daily Mass

Monday-Friday 12 noon

Sunday Mass
12:30 p.m.

Reconciliation (Confession)
Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.
Sunday 12 noon

Eucharistic Adoration
Wednesday 12:30 to 3:00 p.m.

For more info visit the
Office of Campus Ministry HERE.

video link Program from
Opening Ceremonies
Oct. 6, 2012


Click the link above

or call
(504) 520-7575