MSU Alumni Memorial Chapel Organ Renovation Project
One of MSU’s “ivy-covered halls,” the chapel was conceived in the early 1950s by alumni director Glen C. Stewart as part of an international center complex. Only the chapel portion of the plan survived; its construction honors some 6,800 alumni who defended our nation in various wars and serves as a tribute to the several hundred who failed to return to their alma mater. [read more]
The Chapel’s original pipe organ, a one-of-a-kind Pels from Holland, is no longer functional. The organ was a gift from Lansing resident O.W. Mourer. Over time, some of the 1,332 pipes have suffered from progressive warping.
MSU’s College of Music, in collaboration with Residential Housing and Hospitality Services, has worked with Letourneau Pipe Organs to design a world-class organ versatile enough to play a wide ranging literature associated with weddings, funerals, as well as function as a workable recital space for students.
This renovation would make it possible to play organ music again for services, weddings and funerals. This project will also create an additional performance venue for music majors who wish to perform with organ music, opportunities for a brass/organ concert series, as well as create a space for piano majors to have lessons that will provide practical church-related skills and employment. As space continues to become a premium for recitals for College of Music students, a re-worked chapel space will provide much needed relief.
The new organ will cost approximately $980,000—including construction, transportation and other costs associated with the creation and installation of a new organ. The College continues to raise funds to support the project and build endowment to provide funding to maintain the instrument after installation.
If you are interested in supporting the MSU Alumni Chapel new organ project, please contact the College of Music Development Office at (517) 353-9872 or make your gift online.
History of the Alumni Memorial Chapel
The Alumni Chapel was only the second such building to be erected for a Big Ten school. The architect was Ralph R. Calder, who also designed MSU’s Music Building; Claud Erickson served as consulting architect and engineer. On June 7th 1952, then known as “Alumni Day,” President John A. Hannah dedicated the chapel in an impressive ceremony. “I know,” Hannah said in his dedication speech, “the alumni who built it had strongly in their mind their intention to promote the cause of universal peace by making young people increasingly aware of the realities of human brotherhood.” Many of the phrases Hannah uttered that day, such as “Respect for the Truth” and “Belief in a Good God,” are inscribed in the windows located in the chapel’s narthex or entrance.
Though Episcopal in design, the chapel remains interdenominational, serving as a spiritual center for all religions and faiths. MSU accepted more than 30 gracious gifts from generous alumni, mostly stones from European cathedrals, to underscore this non-sectarianism. Some of the stones are over 500 years old, and some were from bombed-out churches. Stones hailed from St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in London, from the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and even from the White House. Stones also came from the ruins of a cathedral built by the Crusaders in Caesaria, the Roman capital of Palestine, and from a synagogue from Capernium, where Jesus Christ reportedly preached. These gifts were expressions of support for the interfaith nature of the chapel.
Carved into the chapel’s entrance wall are 487 names of those who served in wars and perished. The oldest names were from the Class of 1861, students who died in the Civil War. The most recent name was Robert Paz, who in 1989 became the first U.S. casualty during the incursion into Panama. Seen together, much like the names on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C., the list evokes a powerful response and remains a grim reminder of the human cost of wars.
Adding drama, color and light to the chapel are the 38 dramatic stained-glass windows, most of them arranged in groups of three, or triptychs. The pictures on one side depict ideals of civilization—such concepts as Work, Abundance and Community, and Freedom of the Mind. On the other side, they tell the history of the university, including such milestones as Morrill Act of 1862, which established Michigan Agricultural College as the nation’s pioneer land-grant university, and the admission of women in 1870. Other windows explore various sacred as well as secular themes. Overall they seem to depict the moral and educational goals of Michigan State University. Themes include the Liberal Arts, Farmers Institute, Engineering, Student Activities, Applied Science, Agriculture, Learning, Faith, Hope and Love, Religion, Science, Technology, Creativity, Aspiration, Art, Brotherhood, Diffusion of Knowledge, Dignity of the Individual, International Peace and Respect for Truth.
The chapel also houses a stunning collection of valuable old Bibles, several dozen of them resting in a wooden case. Reflecting the international orientation of the chapel’s founding, these sacred books come in 69 different languages including Swahili, Burmese and Ashanti. A rare King James Bible from 1759 was donated by Harry D. Baker, Class of 1895.
The chapel accommodates all faiths and comfortably seats 190 people. The chancel with its pipe organ, pulpit, choir benches and altar provides a setting appropriate for worship of any faith. The altar, a simple rectangle, was designed after the chaplain’s combination altars of World War II; accessories for various types of worship are available on site.
Only MSU students, faculty, staff, alumni and their parents/grandparents may reserve the chapel for a wide variety of ceremonies. Over 160 weddings take place annually in the chapel, often three ceremonies on Saturdays.
Learn more about the Alumni Chapel from MSU’s Archives & Historical Collections.