Great Hall


Great Hall, 1883 Great Hall, unknown Great Hall, 2007

Great Hall, 1883; unknown; September 2007


Great Hall Great Hall Interior


Architects: Father Gregory Steil, OSB

Contractors: Brothers, local workers, clerics


What is now popularly known as “The Great Hall” originally served the community as the first University and Abbey Church*. It was built in the Romanesque style between 1879 and 1882 and is noted for the distinctive mural of Jesus Christ which is located in the apse and was painted by Benedictine monk Clement Frischauf.

Clement Frischauf was originally a monk of Seckau in Styria, Austria, who professed December 31, 1892, and later transferred his vows to the Abbey of St. Matthias at Trier. For a number of years he worked with the painter Dom Adelbert Grenigt, OSB at Monte Cassino, then Mosteiro De Sao Bento in San Paulo, Brazil, which has paintings that foreshadowed his work at St. John’s. Coming to the United States in 1923, Brother Clement worked several years decorating the Church of Saint Anselm in New York City. Clement arrived at St. John’s on August 11, 1931, with the intention of joining the community. The chapter voted on June 10, 1932 to receive him as a monk of St. John’s Abbey. The actual transfer of his vows to St. John’s occurred on October 15, 1932. He began painting in the abbey refectory walls in March of 1932. He also painted the infirmary chapel, the porter’s office entrance, and the apse of the Abbey Church (later the Great Hall). 

Since its construction the space has seen a number of changes and renovations. In December of 1891, an organ was installed for the first time. The instrument was built and designed by the William Schuelke of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Further renovations of the church took place in the Spring of 1897 when a set of five bells were raised in the twin towers above the Church; the bells were all ‘christened’ after saints and mysteries. The removal of the signature bells and spires above the church was announced in 1960 over sixty years after their original installation.

In 1929 more extensive changes were made to the interior of the church. These included moving the side altars, baldachin, and communion rail to accommodate the growing student population at the university.

In 1937 the roof was covered with tile, and gilded crosses were put on the spires in 1939.

In 1942 the Abbey and University celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the church. The ceremony was attended by Bishop Seidenbusch.

When the new Abbey and University church was completed in the early 1960s the old church was formally turned into ‘The Great Hall.” In its new capacity, the Great Hall served as an information center, contained the porter’s office, and provided telephones for on and off campus calls.

In 1988 the entrance area of the Great Hall was re-landscaped to create the Great Hall Plaza. The ground level was raised to eliminate the entrance steps and make the building accessible, and new walkways and lighting were installed. 

In 2002 the university commissioned five professionals from the Upper Midwest Conservation Association to clean and update the mural of Jesus Christ in the apse. The process included removing deposits of dirt and incense, repairing cracks, and touching up paint.

See also: Quadrangle Building


*For more detailed information on the Great Hall’s construction and early days as the Abbey Church, see: