POUGHKEEPSIE, NY (October 25, 2004) — The Vassar Chapel was dedicated one hundred years ago on November 4, 1904, and director of religious and spiritual life Sam Speers thinks it's a good time to look at — and through — the building and what it means. "The Chapel is a kind of lens through which we can view the ways that the intellectual life of this secular institution has changed and evolved," says Speers.
On the occasion of the Chapel's centennial, Speers is overseeing a yearlong series of programs on the changing nature of religious life in the secular context of liberal arts education. The opening celebration on Thursday, November 4, will begin with the "Sacred Stampede: A Creative Exploration of Vassar's Relationship to the Chapel," a festive student procession from Sunset Lake to the Chapel. The idea for the march took shape through the independent study course "Big Art: Public Theater and Social Transformation," co-taught this semester by assistant professor of drama Neil Worden and Jay Mead, a Vermont-based artist, activist, educator, and veteran of the renowned Bread and Puppet Theater troupe.
Speers has invited the Redhawk Dancers to join in the November 4 celebration, and the troupe will perform in front of the Chapel from 3:30-5:00 p.m. The "Sacred Stampede' of giant puppets, stilt walkers, musicians, and more, will begin at Sunset Lake at 4:00 p.m. and end with a giant puppet drama on the Chapel steps at 5:00 p.m. The centennial celebration will continue inside the Chapel with an address by Vincent G. Harding, professor emeritus of religion and social transformation at the Iliff School of Theology of Denver, Colorado, at 5:30 p.m. Immediately following, the Vassar Choir and Orchestra will perform from Mozart's Requiem.
The Vassar Chapel, a magnificent Norman revival structure designed by the Boston architects firm Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge and constructed by the firm D.C. Weeks, stands at the southwestern corner of the spacious campus lawns in front of Main Building, with seating for 1,400 people. The college's original chapel occupied the third and fourth floors of Main's rear wing, and functioned not only for religious services but also as the college's major assembly hall for lectures and concerts.
While Vassar has been non-sectarian from its founding, daily chapel attendance was required of students until 1926. Today the college is more religiously diverse than ever, and religious and spiritual inquiry remains a vital part of the Vassar learning experience.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.