Seton Hall chapel renovation

It is possible to renovate churches and avoid wreckovation.

It is possible to renew a compromised worship space and bring it into tasteful continuity with our Catholic tradition and faith.

The chapel at Seton Hall University has recently received some attention and a kind reader sent photos.

The sanctuary before

And after

The tabernacle before

And after

Brick by brick.

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  1. Phil (NL) says:

    It’s definately an improvement, especially the tabernacle. Congratulations to Seton Hall!

    But truth be told, the ‘before’ was better than average already; a large, large number of churches out there are much worse off. Quite a few bricks to go….

  2. TomH says:

    I am an alumnus of Seton Hall (’97). That is outstanding! I always heard the chapel had been ruined by the progs. Amazing to see it after some restoration. Thank you for the pictures!

  3. This is very encouraging indeed. The way they hide the Tabernacle has, no doubt, had an effect on belief in the real Presence.

  4. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Great googly moogly! That is phenomenal. I’ll need to drive up the Turnpike & Parkway and check that out.


  5. Joe Magarac says:

    That really is nice. But both the “before” and “after” versions seem to have an extra table in front of the altar. I’m probably missing something, but I don’t understand why those tables are there.

  6. Jim says:

    Gorgeous! But the new altar does not look like it will accommodate ad orientem worship, unless its on invisible wheels so that I may be moved back.

  7. Fr. Bryan J. B. Pedersen says:


    Every altar is a table, but not every table is an altar. Hence the term mensa.

  8. SHUCatholic says:

    I am a student at Seton Hall – the chapel is magnificent. All the murals have been restored, along with all the stained glass windows, ceiling paintings, pews, etc. 40% of the brownstone was replaced. It’s beautiful.

    Joe: I was in the chapel yesterday, and there wasn’t any table in front of the altar. I didn’t see it in the pictures, so maybe it’s an effect of the steps up to the sanctuary.

    Jim: We had a series of Latin novus ordo and Extraordinary Form Masses here last year, so I assume they placed the altar far back to accommodate that. I personally know the priest in charge of campus ministry (and the chapel renovation), Fr. James Spera, and he is certainly on board with everything that Pope Benedict envisions for the church. Fr. Spera is a very very good and holy priest.

  9. MikeinFL says:

    Just an FYI: the tabernacle used to be inside the sanctuary in a shrine to the left as seen from the faithful. So, it was not hidden before. (I used to live nearby some years ago and speak from personal experience.) The image shows it moved behind the altar and replaced with St Joseph and Our Lord.

    The lectern from which the sermon/homily is delivered looks improved as well. One of the faithful partly obscures it in the image.

  10. Iakovos says:

    I am acquainted with the priest in charge of campus ministry at Seton Hall, Fr. Jim Spera, who is also vice-rector of St. Andrew’s Seminary, the college seminary for the Archdiocese of Newark. I believe he had a lot to do with this, if not completely directing the renovation. Congratulations, Fr. Spera, on a job well done.

  11. Iakovos says:

    What SHUCatholic said! :-) We must have posted about the same time. ;-)

  12. Romulus says:

    Very pretty, but most of the changes are superficial. The relocation of the “presidential” chair — replaced by the tabernacle — is clearly an improvement in essentials, but other essential problems are still very much present. The altar is now less like a table — good — but its design seems to be intended to make ad orientem an impossibility. The altar lacks the traditional arrangement of candles and front-and-center crucifix. The location of the tabernacle is not within an altar attached to the wall, but in a sort of shrine. I can’t be certain, but there seems to be no sanctuary lamp. There is no communion rail.

    I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but the result strikes me as an attempt to buy off the less-discerning sort of traditionalist willing to settle for tags and gestures and visual clues, while institutionalising the closed-circle, horizontal ethos that strips the Mass of its signifying power.

  13. Andrew W says:

    Funny how in the “before” altar picture you can see what appears to be an anti-ad orientem feature – a shallow ledge rendering the altar too high to access in any other way than versus populum. Glad to see that gone, along with tabernacle back to its rightful place.

    Very tastefully done, and certainly removes the visual clash the previous arrangement created.

    God Bless,

  14. Tomás López says:

    I hate to be a “laudator temporis acti,” but could anyone be able to post what this chapel looked like in the “good old days”?

  15. jarhead462 says:

    Romulus killed our buzz.

    Semper Fi!

  16. Lepanto says:

    Praise be to God!

    I think it is intereresting how the progressive wreckovators portray themselves as the friend of the layman and we traditionalists as high clericalists. Notice, however that after the original renovation the priest’s chair was the center of attention (even higher than the altar!) and now with the restoration the high altar and tabernacle rightfully take the highest most central position.

  17. Devin says:

    Erm, you can use an altar for ad orientem worship, it has been seen in pictures on this very blog. All you need to do is just… Turn around. Ad orientem may not be the intended form for this design, but it wouldn’t seem to be hindered in any way unless I am missing something(possible as I’ve never said mass either way, not being a priest ; ] ).

  18. Devin says:

    oops nvm I just noticed the altar is on like a ledge xP

  19. Christopher Milton says:

    Hrmmm, how sad is it that the before shot could be seen as an improvement over the GWB (Great White Box) that I currently worship in…….

  20. patrick finley says:

    absolutely gorgeous. I almost missed the fact they shoved jesus in the corner at one point. Good to know our Lord is now the center of the church again.

    I also noticed they took the flags off the altar. NOW I am patriotic and I am fiercely a “papist”, however, the altar should have articles that reflect what is done on the altar. not banners.

  21. Anthony says:

    The image is somewhat deceiving, there is enough room in front of the altar to celebrate ad orientem, it’d be a little tight but it can be done.

  22. Nicholas says:

    The space in front of the altar looks large enough to permit the priest to celebrate ad orientem, but the whole space at the front of the sanctuary is cramped; a freestanding altar like this should be placed further back in the sanctuary.

  23. SHUCatholic says:

    Romulus, I can’t help but comment on your criticisms of the chapel renovation. To say that the changes in the chapel are “superficial” is to completely misunderstand the nature and scope of the project. The project was carried out by Granda, Inc, a respected Spanish firm that has completely many projects for the Prelature of Opus Dei. You may be familiar with their work from ETWN’s Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, which they designed.

    The altar is nothing like a table – it’s solid marble. It is set back from the top step in order to _permit_ ad orientem Masses. The crucifix is centrally placed on top of the tabernacle reredos. There is indeed a large gold sanctuary lamp that hangs on one side of the chapel, a gift to the university that dates back to 1947.The communion rail was destroyed during a ill-conceived “renovation” of 1972. Some still remains, and is present in the sanctuary today.

    The reason for the reredos is that the chapel has a very large chancel, as necessary for ordinations in its previous capacity as a seminary chapel back in the 19th century. Now, the chapel has been restored using elements throughout its history, and is arguably in the most beautiful state of its existence.

    It is quite presumptuous to assume that these renovations were done simply to “buy off” non-discerning traditionalists and further a political agenda, instead of bringing the students and the faithful into contact with the mysteries and the Sacraments of the Church. As I said before, Fr. Spera is perhaps one of the best priests that I know. Don’t be so quick to judge from a single photograph.

  24. jaykay says:

    “I just noticed the altar is on like a ledge”

    Devin, it seems to me that there is actually enough space between the altar and that step to permit ad orientem celebration? True, it’s a bit difficult to tell, but if you look at the relative position of the flowers over to the right, it appears they are actually further towards the edge of that step than the altar itself, therefore there would be enough standing room “in front” of the altar? In any event, if not, it could be solved easily enough by inserting a temporary low wooden platform in front of the step which could be covered by a tasteful rug or whatever.

    But it’s a beautiful job. And that seems to be an entirely new tabernacle as well? Love the reredos behind it.

  25. J. Wong says:

    Tomas, there is a picture of the interior of the chapel taken in 1965 at Seton Hall University’s website:

  26. Jason Keener says:

    “I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of Thy house and the place where Thy glory dwelleth.”

    Way to go Seton Hall!

  27. Anthony says:

    Thanks for the link J. Wong. I wonder whatever happened to the original high altar… I know there used to be side altars and even altars in the choir loft but in 1972 they met their demise.

  28. Calleva says:

    “It is possible to renovate churches and avoid wreckovation”

    Here surely the opposite has been done. The wreckovation has been corrected, a sort of reform of the reform.

    Actually I quite liked the perpendicular-style surround of the old tabernacle (it and its stand were hideous) – if it had been a little more decorated it would have been rather lovely, but of course no true Catholic could approve shoving the tabernacle to one side so the celebrant’s chair (bishop’s throne?) is centre stage.

    Getting rid of the ‘auditorium-style’ carpeting was another inspired move too.

  29. Nathan says:

    I think there’s enough room (the design in the floor is a bit deceiving in the photo) to celebrate Holy Mass ad orientem here. That change, as well as the reloction of the Tabernacle, make the chapel pretty good for the EF.

    I serve the EF at a parish where a good, holy priest has started the TLM on Friday nights. While the parish is eventually going to re-do the sanctuary (Deo gratias), now poor Father has all of about 6 inches to use as the praedella and is constantly having to step down on the first step to not fall. The tabernacle is set off on the epistle side, very close to where we have to place the credence–that makes setup and serving an interesting set of choices of how to define “in sight of the altar” and “in sight of the tabernacle.”

    Kudos to Seton Hall for going in a very good direction!

    In Christ,

  30. Father Bartoloma says:

    I am so happy to see these pictures. I attended Seton Hall and graduated in 1999. The renovations are magnificent and those who worked behind the scenes on this project deserve to be commended. Go Pirates!

  31. Romulus says:

    SHUCatholic: I very much hope that I am mistaken, but am judging from the pictures to the best of my ability. Thank you for the information about the sanctuary lamp. I never described the new altar as a table — quite the opposite, in fact. Nor have I imputed a political motive to anyone. I certainly intend no disrespect to Fr. Spera, of whom I know nothing but what I’ve read on this thread.

    The chancel is generously sized, but certainly not vast. An altar attached to the “east” wall would certainly have been liturgically successful (not disrupting sightlines, as the second photo demonstrates). Surely that was the position of the chapel’s original altar?

    The crucifix surmounting the reredos is handsome and worthy — though far more so for ad orientem liturgy. A priest celebrating versus populum has this fine image behind and above him, but nothing on the altar to hold his gaze: the value of the “Benedictine” altar arrangement seems not to be acknowledged here.

    Now, as for the possibility of celebration ad orientem: again, I hope I am mistaken. None of what I’m about to say applies if the altar is capable of being conveniently repositioned, but your information that it’s solid marble leads me to doubt that possibility. So here goes: The picture suggests to me that there’s sufficient room for a priest to stand, so long as he remembers not to step back (and his full turn at the “Orate fratres” will have to be performed with special caution). But somewhat more than this is needed to celebrate the EF as intended. At solemn Mass the deacon (and in sung Mass, the MC) kneels at the consecration, to the side of the celebrant and somewhat behind him. There is no room for that here. There is no room for the “incense huddle” that forms up at multiple points in the Mass. There’s certainly not enough room or deacon and subdeacon to accompany the celebrant as he incenses the altar at the beginning of Mass or at the Offertory. There is scant room for the deacon and subdeacon to kneel for their respective blessings. There is no room for the deacon to pass behind the celebrant as he must do at certain points, nor for the practical back-and-forth traffic relating to post-communion ablutions. While many of these criticisms appeal to the rubrics of the EF, many pertain to solemn Mass in the OF as well.

    Without wishing to be contentious, I can’t depart from my conclusion that, given the abundance of space in the sanctuary and the clear possibility of locating the altar just a foot or two closer to the back wall, the decision not to do so must have been deliberate. Likewise with the decision not to restore the communion rail.

    You say that the renovated chapel has recently accommodated Mass in the EF. I gather you were not present, but can you provide any information about the nature of those Masses? I’m frankly curious how any ad orientem liturgy more elaborate than simple low Mass could have been done here.

  32. Marty says:

    I think it looks horrid

  33. jacobushirsutus says:

    It’s nice to see high quality art and materials, but a freestanding altar doesn’t look much better when it’s a solid piece of marble. Get three steps below it and a canopy above it. That would look traditional and be fitting for both forms. Cf the new, but highly effective, Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Wisconsin:

  34. beautiful, step 2: altar rails (or what appears they have some already, extending them), and the moving of the altar a few more inches back ;)

  35. Akira Yamadori says:

    This first picture looks almost Protestant.
    The second picture looks a return to Catholic mindset, as well as appreciation for beautiful sanctuary, art, and architecture.

  36. John W. says:

    My daughter is a student at Seton Hall and I am happy to see the chaple has been finished . I think that it a great improvment. Our Lord in the tabranacle is back in the center of the church.

  37. Romulus says:

    Not to belabor the point, but one final comment: celebration in the EF requires multiple genuflections. I’m a short man, but even I require a minimum two feet of clearance — far more than appears to be available here. A tall man — esp. in vestments — would be cramped trying to genuflect in less than three feet of space. The altar could have been positioned to make this possible, without precluding the possibility of celebrating versus populum. An experienced firm like Granda would not have done what it did merely as an oversight. It seems inescapable that this altar is designed to be used on one side only.

  38. Stephen says:

    I’m a future minor seminarian (God willing)at Saint Andrew’s College Seminary, I will be studying at Seton Hall University. I was up there last week for open house and saw the newly renovated Chapel, it is the most beautiful chapel I have ever been in. Please pray that I get accepted into the seminary.

  39. Mitch#2 says:

    I like it..It may not be perfect according to some commenters, and they may have some points, but it looks much more like a Catholic place of worship that before with the “auditorium” look…They could have used the money and made it worse, so let’s be happy they did what they did…..

  40. Michael says:

    Bad, very bad. It would have been better to leave the Tabernacle in its former place, than now offer the Mass with a priest turned with his back to Our Lord.

    It makes utter nonsense to genuflect toward the altar (if the celebrant is behind) while ignoring the Tabernacle.

    I do not dispute that the Tabernacle itself is bautiful, but more important than the beauty is its position.

    In the previous position Christ was side promoted, now He is humiliated.

  41. Aelred says:

    In do prefer the way the chapel is now. In fact it appears to be more ornate than in the 1965 photo.

    I’m certainly happy that the flags have been removed; I’ve never liked having them compete with the Lord – and we are Catholics first and US citizens afterwards. I would have to agree with Michael that I do not like the tabernacle placed in a position where the priest has his back to the Blessed Sacrament. On my travels, whenever I have celebrated Holy Mass, I have always loathed having a tabernacle behind me as I find that disrespectful. I know that some would say “Then celebrate ad orientem”, but the reality is that the majority of parishes will keep the practice of the celebrant facing the people.

    I have always found it very interesting that St. Peter’s & St. John Lateran continue to have the tabernacle in a completely separate chapel – and had so even before Vatican II (as in many great European cathedrals). I dare anyone to accuse Pius XII of lacking respect for the Eucharist.

  42. Maureen says:

    If you’re talking a cathedral, you’re talking a building that already has plenty of reminders and orientation that Mass Is About God. Also, a cathedral chapel is pretty honking big. Also, most cathedrals were designed to have said chapels from the get-go, for various reasons (security, tons of pilgrims, etc.).

    A parish church does not generally need a tabernacle chapel. It needs orientation. It needs Jesus at the heart of things, not stuffed somewhere off to the side or in back.

    Now, good reasons and good execution can make all sorts of things work. But generally, hiding the tabernacle is a baaaaad idea.

  43. Tomás López says:

    Thank you for the link, J. Wong!

  44. patrick f says:

    Michael Said “Bad, very bad. It would have been better to leave the Tabernacle in its former place, than now offer the Mass with a priest turned with his back to Our Lord.

    It makes utter nonsense to genuflect toward the altar (if the celebrant is behind) while ignoring the Tabernacle.

    I do not dispute that the Tabernacle itself is bautiful, but more important than the beauty is its position.

    In the previous position Christ was side promoted, now He is humiliated.”

    I wanna comment on this. When a priest genuflects to the altar, he is genuflecting (and please the priests who frequent this blog correct me if wrong, I am a simple layman) , genuflecting towards the consecrated host/wine, the transubstantiated presence of Lord Jesus Christ, God Almighty. The only time his back would be turned toward the tabernacle is during the consecration, when Christ is directly in front of him and us.

    Granted, Ad orientem makes this make alot more sense. Everyone is focused on God, where they should be. But I think if the priest is Consecrating the Host and Blood, it is important to remember that Christ is directly in front of him. Is that not truly Christ present in the Eucharist? I do understand the point though, and one can say that about presiders chairs that are in front of the tabernacle.

    Now regarding the tabnernacle on the side… I believe the rubrics allow for this, provided the Office is said in the church. Many Monasteries (I regularly pray the office when I can at St. Louis abbey) have the tabernacle to the side. St Bernard Abbey , where I stayed for part of my vacation, had a separate chapel. Finally, our glorious Cathedral Basilica in St Louis, has an ABSOLUTELY gorgeous perpetual adoration chapel. I think the norm, according to the rubrics is Center. However I think in churches where the Office is praid, its supposed to be to the side. Maybe thats why the great European Cathedrals have it. Many were staffed by religious communities (since they if I recall out numbered the diocesesan groups)

    BTW one more thing I noticed, and there is nothing better to see, then Multiple Priests at a mass(note, I am NOT referring to concelebration, just them in attendance in either choir dress or what not). Its a beautiful thing. I dont know why. Just see multiple vested priests helps me remember that we are catholic, and its beautiful.

  45. Thomas says:

    The renovation is great, although I must say, I’d be more than happy if my own parish looked as good as the before pictures.

  46. Thomas says:

    The renovation is great, although I would be happy if my own parish looked as good as the before pictures!

  47. SEMINARIAN says:

    I am a senior seminarian at St. Andrews College Seminary at Seton Hall. In response to the above…The Altar rail (what was left of it after the 1972 renovation) was maintained and was refurbished. Also the Altar is freestanding and has plenty of room infront of it for the Extraordinary form of the Mass. The Sanctuary was also raised and is the proper three (3) steps. All I can say is I have been here 4 years and this is a definite improvement. I actually like to pray in the chapel because it feels like a “Prayerful” place. For 3 million bucks you couldn’t do any better. I mean look at that 190 million piece of crap “Christ the Light Cathedral”, you cant compare. If only more priests were smarter and actually invested money into the right things. I recommend Granda Liturgical Arts for any Ecclesiastical renovation, they did a phenomenal job. And kudos to Fr. Spera for all that he fought for “tooth and nail” to get that chapel the way it looks and the respect it deserves.

  48. patrick f says:

    Semenarian Said :

    “I mean look at that 190 million piece of crap “Christ the Light Cathedral”, you cant compare. ”

    Amen Brother, LOL. Though in all fairness, we have to accept that that too is where God Dwells, even if man hasnt prepared an appropriate abode for him

  49. Mary Ann, Singing Mum says:

    Stunning. Is there *anything* that approaches this in California?

  50. Michael says:


    You do not need a correction when saying: “When a priest genuflects to the altar, he is genuflecting towards the consecrated host/wine, the transubstantiated presence of Lord Jesus Christ.” That is perfectly true, but if he celebrates versus populum, he is with his back toward the Tabernacle all the time, including the time when he is on the “presiders chairs that are in front of the tabernacle”, and any genuflection toward the altar, apart from the interval when the Consecrated Species are on the altar, humiliates Christ in the Tabernacle.

    And even, while the Consecrated Species are on the altar, this newly fabricated liturgy divides our Lord into an “active” Christ and the “spare” Christ, while He is only one. That is what I am trying to say.

    The matter is somewhat better when the priest celebrates at orientem, because when he genuflects he does it toward “both”, not ignoring “one” to the humiliation of “another”. However, the most appropriate solution is the traditional one – the Tabernacle on the altar itself, where it naturally belongs.

    The fact that they have embarked in such an expensive reconstruction to produce a nonsense proves how the notion of Abiding Presence has deteriorated even in the mind of “orthodox” Catholics.

    “The only time his back would be turned toward the tabernacle is during the consecration, when Christ is directly in front of him and us”, you say. – No, this is not the only time, but that aside, even during the consecration, or better after it, Christ is not newly created, but He is the same Christ who is in the Tabernacle. In the latter, He is always with us until the end of the world. The newly Consecrated Species are assumed into what is already in the Tabernacle and are one with “it” not something new and a “more-Christ”.

    The new rite makes a mess of this fact.

    “Now regarding the tabernacle on the side”, if the priest celebrates versus populum, this what I called “side promotion”, as well as the Tabernacle elsewhere, is “better” than behind him. Not, however, if he celebrates ad orientem.

    There are churches, however, which require this “elsewhere” solution for practical reasons, say frequently visited buildings, but this is another matter. I am talking about “standard” buildings of a parish type and the like.

  51. Tom says:

    Indeed there is something like this in California, also crafted by the Spanish company Granda Liturgical Arts / Talleres de Arte Granda. It is the retablo recently completed and installed in the Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano in Orange County. The company also did a renovation of a “gymnasium” church built in probably the 1950s, the renovation of which was completed last year also. It is St. John the Baptist in Costa Mesa, California.

  52. Jayna says:

    The chapel before was still 100x more gorgeous than my parish church will ever be, but that after photo! Wow! Now that’s what I call a tabernacle!

    Slowly but surely we are regaining the physical beauty of our churches to match the beauty of our liturgy!

  53. Fr. Jordan Kelly,OP says:

    This is a magnificent statement of hope that the beige Churches which have affected our Worship for 40 plus years can be changed into a wonderful “House of God.” As for Romulus’ comments, it’s about progress, not perfection! Congratulations to Father Spera!

  54. Joe L says:

    I am a student at SHU and I can tell you Fr. Spera and Granda did an amazing job, the Sanctuary is now beautiful for BOTH forms of the Mass, old and New. Jesus is in the center of the Chapel in a atunning tabernacle where he belongs. The 1965 photo posted here is incorrect. This photo is of a now closed chapel of Immaculate Conception Seminary in Darlington, which has since reafilliated with SHU.

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