Chapel returns school's 'nucleus' Symbol: Seven years after a ruinous fire at St. Paul's School, an impressive new chapel marking a "return to tradition" will be consecrated tonight.

April 08, 1997|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,SUN STAFF

Out of a disastrous fire in 1990, the St. Paul's School community has forged a new bond of unity: a magnificent neo-Georgian and medieval-style chapel on the Brooklandville campus, to be consecrated in an elaborate ceremony tonight.

"It gives the school its nucleus back," said Dee Bendos, of Glen Arm, who was president of the Parents Association when a six-alarm fire severely damaged much of the 200-year-old building that housed the lower school and chapel. "Everything that is important for the students seems to happen at the chapel. It makes the campus complete again."

For years, the Boys School of St. Paul's was the choir school -- a descendant of old English choir schools -- of Old St. Paul's Parish in downtown Baltimore. The chapel is a mission church of Old St. Paul's.

Ten months after the fire in 1990, the lower school building was renovated and expanded, and school trustees voted to build a new, free-standing chapel. But, until now, student religious services have been held in various campus buildings.

"When we lost the chapel, the school lost a sense of unity," said Robbie Paymer, 16, of Pikesville, senior warden of the student vestry. "The new chapel brings back that unity, and I think it's gorgeous. It adds so much to the campus."

The new chapel's neo-Georgian exterior -- salmon-pink brick, green slate roof, cross-topped cupola and an entrance porch with white columns -- complements the other campus buildings, most of which are brick and white-painted brick.

Inside, however, the chapel's mood changes dramatically. Still fragrant with new wood, it has a near-medieval appearance: oak wainscoting, high-beamed ceiling, flagged bluestone floor and collegiate seating -- four rows of oaken pews in tiers on each side facing the center aisle.

The name of every St. Paul's School student since the school began in 1849 is inscribed on panels on the wainscoting. Marble memorial plaques listing alumni who died in the armed forces flank the altar.

Behind the altar a stained-glass window, donated by the board of trustees, glows with the St. Paul's School seal.

Beside the altar is the restored Episcopal chair from which the Right Rev. Robert W. Ihloff, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, will preside over tonight's by-invitation-only consecration service.

The ceremony will begin when the bishop knocks three times on the door with his shepherd's staff -- in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He will lead the procession into the chapel for its consecration as a house of worship. The chapel will be dedicated at a later time.

A pipe organ will be installed in the unfinished loft above the main entrance, which is reached by a circular iron staircase.

"It is designed as an English school chapel, not as a Sunday parish," said the Rev. Donald P. Roberts, who became chaplain at St. Paul's School after the blaze and played a role in the development and design of the new chapel, which cost $2.5 million and has a capacity of 375.

St. Paul's School moved to Mount Washington in 1923 and in 1952 to its present campus on what was the estate called Brooklandwood, created in 1798 by Charles Carroll of Carrollton for his daughter Mary and her husband, Richard Caton.

Their mansion is St. Paul's administration building; the lower school is what was the carriage house and stable.

Once the trustees decided to make the new chapel freestanding, Daniels Jones Associates, a Baltimore architectural firm, was invited to submit a design. The trustees accepted the first offering, Roberts said.

"The spiritual dimension is the axle around which the school revolves," Roberts said. The new chapel is the outward proclamation of that dimension, "which feeds into the academic, the athletics and the arts."

The chapel, which includes classrooms for religious studies and a choir room, is primarily "a sanctuary" and will not be used as a campus activities center, the chaplain said.

Walter Daniels, lead design architect on the project, said the firm studied early Episcopal churches in Maryland and old English churches in creating the design.

"We wanted a return to tradition, a building that belonged on the St. Paul's campus," he said.

The exterior is related to the other campus buildings, while the interior is an adaptation of 12th-century English style, Daniels said.

The chapel wins praise from Marc Khouzami, 18, of Ruxton, who has been at St. Paul's since prekindergarten.

"You couldn't really see the chapel before; now it's more of a statement. It's the first thing you see coming up Falls Road, and it's bringing back the religious aspect of the school," said Khouzami.

And Barbara Mills, the lower school principal, said that "the foundation of everything we do here at St. Paul's is reflected in the chapel. We grew out of the church, and it is the moral underpinning of everything we do."

Pub Date: 4/08/97

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