Chapel House Cheers Its 50th Anniversary

On Thursday, April 2, Colgate’s Chapel House celebrates its 50th anniversary. Nestled among the hills rising above Colgate’s campus, Chapel House was created with the mission of providing a place “for prayer and meditation for guests from all religious traditions, or none.”

In 1959, Professor of Religion Emeritus Kenneth Morgan, who had recently published two books on world religions, was contacted by an elderly woman who wished to make a contribution to the study of religion before she died. Morgan believed that the school would most benefit from a fund to continue an active study of religion, as well as a place for young men (as Colgate was all-male at the time) to learn about religion on their own, through quiet, private meditation.

Following these stipulations, the woman, who chose to remain anonymous, created the Fund for the Great Religions and gave money for the construction of Chapel House. Thus, this year marks the 50th anniversary for both the building and the fund.

Today, the fund and the building continue to work as resources for a deeper study of religion. The fund serves as the “active” side of this study, as its money is used to bring in people from across the world to share their individual experiences with religion. Upcoming events include a visit from Tibetan monks on April 21 and from Chinese musicians in September. Diana L. Eck, professor of Religion at Harvard University, is also scheduled to visit in October.

Meanwhile, Chapel House remains the “quiet” side, a place specifically meant to support one’s personal quest in religion. People may opt to simply visit for a few hours, or to stay as guests for a minimum of two nights. All have access to a library which contains over five thousand volumes, a music room with a large collection of recorded religious music and, of course, the beautiful chapel, which is open to the public 24 hours a day. Guests stay in one of six guest rooms and take their meals together. Besides mealtimes, guests are encouraged not to talk, and instead focus on personal reflection through reading, listening to music, walking outside or meditation.

Though Chapel House is located right on Colgate’s campus, it serves as a resource for people across the country and world. Doctors, monks, teachers, priests, homemakers and others have traveled from as far as Australia and as near as Oak Drive to stay at Chapel House. However, most Colgate students do not know enough about the Chapel House to take the opportunity to spend a quiet weekend there.

“Colgate students usually have to discover Chapel House, as we don’t advertise,” Robert Ho Professor in Asian Studies, Professor of Philosophy and Religion and Director of Chapel House and the Fund for the Study of the Great Religions of the World John Carter said. “Students may hear about Chapel House by word of mouth, and then come up here to see what it’s all about. But Chapel House is open to anyone in the world, of any religion, or none.”

Colgate’s celebration of Chapel House and the Fund for the Great Religions will kick off with a talk by Charles Hallisey ’75 on April 2. Hallisey attended Harvard Divinity School and has since taught at Loyola College, Wisconsin University and Harvard University. The title of his talk is “Open to Surprise and Friendship: Reflections Directed Towards A Moral History of the Study of Religion.”