Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Chapel of Loretto

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Institution Name: Saint Mary's College
Original/Historic Place Name: House of Loretto
Location on Campus: southwest campus
Date(s) of Construction:
1859original construction
Designer: facsimile of Holy House in Loreto, Italy. Plans brought from Italy by Fr. Neal Gillespie.
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Victorian, Other (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, culture
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: concrete
Walls: masonry faced with brick
Roof: wood framing
1859-present (2006)chapel

Dedicated on September 8, 1859, four years after Saint Mary's Academy relocated to its present campus site, the Chapel of Loreto is the first permanent chapel built on Saint Mary's campus. It was built at the request of the founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, Fr. Moreau, C.S.C. Fr. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., the founder of the University of Notre Dame, blessed the Chapel of Loreto on September 8, 1859.

The chapel is a facsimile of the Holy House of Loreto in Italy. Legend has it that the original Loreto Chapel encases the house in which Mary, the Mother of Jesus, lived in the Holy Land. The facsimile chapel at Saint Mary's College is 31 x 13 feet; the plans were brought from Italy by Fr. Neal Gillespie.

For nearly 150 years, the Sisters of the Holy Cross and Saint Mary's students have prayed here. It was a custom of Saint Mary's Students to leave their gold college medals in the chapel, and in 1956 all of the medals gathered to that time were melted down and used to plate the tabernacle statue. Today the chapel continues to be a place for private visits, prayer, and other devotions.

When the present church was built in 1886, the Chapel of Loreto was moved slightly to the west and attached to the rear of the new church. As noted above, the original Holy House of Loreto in Italy is purportedly the house from Nazareth where Mary was born and in which the Angel Gabriel told her she would be the Mother of God. Legend has it that it was standing intact in Nazareth until 1291, when it was miraculously lifted up and borne to Dalmatia, in present-day Yugoslavia. Later, after an invasion, the house again was moved miraculously, this time to Italy, to a forest of laurel trees from which it took its current name. The town of Loreto grew up around it.

Pope Benedict XV, with clear symbolic reference to the little house's miraculous flight, proclaimed the Madonna of Loreto the patroness of aviators throughout the world. Charles Lindbergh carried a medal of the Virgin of Loreto in 1927, as did astronaut James A. McDivitt on Apollo 9 in 1969.


Creek, Sister Mary Immaculate. A Panorama: 1844-1977, Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, Indiana. Notre Dame, IN: The College, 1977.

McCandless, Marion. Family Portraits, History of the Holy Cross Alumnae Association of Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1879-1949. Notre Dame, IN: Saint Mary's College, 1952.

Our Mother House: Centenary Chronicles of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Notre Dame, IN: Saint Mary's of the Immaculate Conception, 1941.

Wagner, Monica. Benchmarks: Saint Mary's College, How it Grew. Notre Dame, IN: Saint Mary's College, 1990.


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Last update: November 2006