Two Sundays ago, toward the start of my vacation at Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York, I attended Mass at this stone, brick and terra cotta building. The structure’s Classical portico, supported by four full-scale Ionic columns surmounted by a large pediment with a low relief of the Bible, reminds me—and, I suspect, more than a few visitors on the grounds—of our nation’s capital—and, indeed, the man who oversaw its design and construction from 1900 to 1909, Paul J. Pelz, is best known as the main architect behind two well-known structures in Washington: the Library of Congress and Georgetown University’s Healy Hall.
Together with the Hall of Philosophy, lying catty-corner from it on the “Brick Walk” south of Chautauqua’s Amphitheater, the Hall of Christ is the site for Sunday services for Roman Catholics visiting Chautauqua in its nine-week summer season. To me, the two structures form a kind of Athens-by-the-Water with Chautauqua Lake.
First-time Mass attendees might be surprised at the unadorned interior of the Hall of Christ, without stained glass or statues, but they should bear in mind that the structure was not designed for Catholics (and, indeed, continues to be used for other purposes). Although the first Mass was celebrated on the grounds in 1895, the Roman Catholic community did not take advantage of available land for permanent headquarters then. Their presence within this community founded as a summer camp for Methodist Sunday school teachers faded for nearly a century.
It was not until 1988 that the Chautauqua Catholic Community was formally established, and not until 2004 before it opened a residence, Catholic House, north of the Hall of Christ on the Brick Walk.