Mount St. Joseph University (Mount) will open its historic Mater Dei Chapel for public tours as part of the Ohio Open Doors Project.

Mount St. Joseph University Mater Dei Chapel

CINCINNATI, Oh. –  On Saturday, September 17 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. the public will have the opportunity to enjoy tours for free of one of the most distinctive campus chapels in the country.

From 11:00-12:00, there will be a detailed guided tour by the Mount’s Chief Mission Officer Sister Karen Elliott, C.PP.S. Students from the Honors Program and Mission Ambassadors program will also be assisting with tours. Guests will also enjoy free refreshments.

Ohio Open Doors is a series of free events sponsored by the Ohio History Connection to celebrate Ohio’s historic and otherwise significant landmarks. The Ohio History Connection created Ohio Open Doors in 2016 to promote and inspire pride in Ohio’s heritage and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act.

“The Mater Dei Chapel is such an important space for us here at the Mount from a religious perspective, from a communal perspective, and from a historical perspective,” said Professor of History Pete Robinson. “It’s time the rest of the community experiences the beauty and significance of the Mater Dei Chapel.”

The interior design was led by Sister Augusta Zimmer, SC in 1962 and crafted exclusively by three faculty and three undergraduate students, all women. Ever since then, the Mater Dei Chapel has been the communal and spiritual centerpiece of Mount St. Joseph University, which was founded in 1920 by the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati as Ohio’s first degree-granting Catholic college for women.

“With its 28 stained-glass windows, intricate mosaic stations of the cross, and stunning marble surfaces, Mater Dei Chapel is a testament to the Mount’s history and an inspiration to visitors today,” said Sr. Karen Elliott, C.PP.S.

“The artwork gracing the Mater Dei Chapel comes from the hearts and hands of Sr. Augusta Zimmer and her art students. An internationally known artist of her time, Sr. Augusta empowered her students to capture a spiritual message when creating the Chapel’s works of art.”

The Mater Dei Chapel was the last building completed during the construction of the new campus. December 17, 1962, marked the dedication, consecration of the main altar and first Mass.

The meaning of Mater Dei – “Mother of God” – was inspired by the words of Pope John XXIII. During his opening remarks of the Second Vatican Council, just two months before the Chapel’s dedication, Pope John XXIII called on the Mother of God “to watch over the church during the work ahead.”

In 2017, Sr. Karen began to assess improvements needed in the chapel, which had not had a large-scale restoration since its construction. It began with cleaning and organizing sacristy and storage areas of the chapel, which then led to replacing all the wooden pews, updating the kneelers, and restoring the floor. The University also hired a restoration artist to restore and repair the tile mosaics depicting the Stations of the Cross.

Sr. Karen says she gets emotional thinking about those women in the 1960s who created the beautiful artwork that fills the Mater Dei Chapel, as well as the many people that made the restoration possible today. “These women were all obviously great artists,” she says. “Some people make art for an art museum, these women did it for the honor and glory of God and I think it shows through in this sacred space.”

About the Mount

As a Catholic institution rooted in the values of the Sisters of Charity, Mount St. Joseph University excels at serving the common good. Undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students at the Mount are inspired to think beyond the classroom and redraw the bounds of what’s possible for their futures. This is accomplished through individualized educational experiences, a safe, secure campus environment, and an all-in commitment from faculty and staff to inspire students to reach their highest potential. The Mount fosters life-long learners who serve, care, and contribute to the world beyond their front doors.