Renovated chapel at Vianney is the ‘center of a holy place’

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

For 57 years the chapel at St. John Vianney High School has been referred to as just that — "The Chapel." Now, following an extensive renovation, its name is the Curé of Ars Chapel in recognition of the school's namesake, St. John Vianney.

The Marianist brothers no longer live on campus, so the chapel now is used exclusively by the school. The renovation increased the capacity so a full grade level fits in it. The work created a more harmonious aesthetic uniting the windows, walls, furniture, flooring, liturgical pieces, artwork and lighting. A new sound system was installed as well.

The renovation incorporates works by Marianist Brother Mel Meyer, an artist-in-residence on the Vianney campus until his death in 2013, and Emil Frei Associates, a family-owned studio in Kirkwood whose stained-glass windows are prominent in churches worldwide.

"We always talk about this property being holy ground and having the (Marianist) cemetery on the property, which is really unique, but when it comes right down to it, the chapel is the center of this holy place," said Mike Loyet, president of Vianney.

Features include:

• Natural and weathered materials and earthen colors intended to exhibit the mystery of creation.

• Warm, dramatic lighting, both direct and indirect, with various settings.

• Soft materials which enhance acoustics.

• A tribute wall with the names of all 164 Marianist brothers and priests who served the Vianney community.

• Stations of the Cross, original artwork by Brother Mel now located on the walls of the chapel. Each station is highlighted within the frescoes created and installed in 1974.

• Stained-glass window behind the altar created by Emil Frei Associates with vibrant colors and reminiscent of the mid-century modernist artwork that influenced Brother Mel. A honeycomb structure that was placed in front of the window has been removed.

• Exterior chapel doors which recall the childhood farm of St. John Vianney outside Lyons, France, where he tended to sheep in the fields. The valley of flowers speaks to his love of creation and commitment to his pastoral duties.

• Interior chapel doors with the sun and moon, as symbols for the beginning and end of the day, representing God's eternity and supremacy over all creation. Mary, mother of Jesus, is traditionally represented by the moon. The moon reflects the light of the sun and likewise Mary reflects the goodness of her Son. The spokes of the sun allude to the crown of Jesus. The curves in the moon allude to the gentle femininity of His Mother Mary.

• A tapestry on the back wall created by Brother Mel in the late 1970s was repaired, resized and remounted. The Holy Trinity and Communion of Saints are represented. Symbols include an eye representing the Father who sees, knows and loves all things; a chalice and host representing Jesus; and a dove representing the Holy Spirit. Heads resting on the backs of chairs lining the perimeter of the tapestry represent the Body of Christ.

The project is the third at Vianney recently managed by Wachter, Inc. The others included construction of STEM labs and renovations at the north athletic complex. 

>> Brother Mel Meyer, SM

Marianist Brother Mel Meyer, who died in 2013, viewed all art as a religious statement.

Brother Mel created an estimated 10,000 pieces of art in his career. His work includes metal sculptures, watercolors, stained glass, frescoes and acrylic on canvas paintings. He also worked in handmade paper and textiles.

For St. Louisans, his most familiar work includes large, often colorful, abstract metal sculptures including those on the campus of St. Louis University, at various sites in Kirkwood, in front of St. Louis Children's Hospital and at many other corporate and public locations. He created the Korean War Memorial sundial in Forest Park, and one of his outdoor metal sculptures was installed at the St. Louis Premium Outlet Mall in Chesterfield shortly before his death.

In 1957-58, with the encouragement of his order, he spent a year traveling throughout Europe to study art, logging more than 14,000 miles on a motor scooter. He learned the European method of employing all types of materials to their utmost.

In 1969 he developed an art studio and gallery on the campus of St. John Vianney High School. For more than 40 years, Brother Mel worked six days every week at the studio, known as the Marianist gallery.

>> Curé of Ars

St. John Vianney was born to a peasant family in a small French town in 1786 and ordained in 1815 in the aftermath of the French Revolution, when the Church was persecuted and most people had fallen away from their faith. Over time, his innocence and devotion brought the people back, and he became well-known far and wide as a confessor. He is the patron of priests.

>> St. John Vianney High School

Catholic Marianist education for boys that challenges students in scholarship, leadership, faith formation and service. The school is recognized as a college preparatory school with a rigorous curriculum. 

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