Stella Maris Chapel

Stella Maris Chapel 2007 Stella Maris Chapel 2011 Stella Maris Chapel 2008

Stella Maris Chapel, 2007, 2011 and 2008 (click thumbnails for larger images)
More photos
Cornerstone Document

Architect: Vincent Schiffrer, OSB (original chapel of 1872); Gilbert Winkelmann, OSB (present chapel of 1915); Cloud Meinberg, OSB (renovation of 1943); Ed Sovik (renovation of 2007)

Contractor: Monks of Saint John’s Abbey


In 1872 a romantic and picturesque chapel was built across Lake Sagatagan to honor Mary, the Mother of God, under the title of Stella Maris (meaning “Star of the Sea”).  Originally it was situated on what was then called Doctor’s Island, named thus after an English teacher (Dr. Aylward) lost his eyeglasses near the site. Since the chapel was built, it has been referred to as Chapel Island. The water level was higher at that time, making it an island, but it is now only a peninsula, approached by a wooden walkway. The original chapel was a small gothic red brick structure 16′ by 12′ with a white spire. The chapel survived the tornado of 1894, but was burned down on April 17, 1903, by a lightning strike. For eleven years, nothing remained of the chapel except the foundation and underbrush. 

In 1915, the young monks of the abbey completed a new Stella Maris Chapel on the same site, using red cement block with white stones for ornamentation. Gilbert Winkelmann, OSB, designed this larger Romanesque-style chapel, which featured with a wooden altar and a steeple, as well as a statue of the Blessed Mother. Abbot Peter Engel blessed and laid the corner stone for the chapel on June 13, 1915. “In 1916, a handsome concrete stairway leading down to the water’s edge and also a bridge connecting the island with the mainland to the east were built.” The Chapel was dedicated, and the first mass was said there, on June 11, 1918. But the planned bell in the tower and a fountain with benches for rest and meditation were never completed. Materials for the chapel were brought by sled over the lake during the winter or by horse-drawn wagon in the summer. The chapel had been a site of devotion for the monks but, over the years, it suffered from neglect, vandalism and misuse. In 1943, under the direction of Cloud Meinberg, OSB, the stolen cornerstone was replaced and the walls were given new strength by the addition of fieldstone buttresses. The young monks worked all summer to fashion stained glass windows and Cloud sketched on the wall a painting of the Blessed Virgin (which has since faded and disappeared). 

This description was published in The Record in May 1945, p. 2:

“The chapel, which, when seen from across the lake on a dull day…is well worth the walk. It is dedicated to Our Lady, Star of the Sea; and her statue, bathed by the calm and cool blue light which pours in through the stained-glass windows, has a quieting effect, heightened by the soft murmur of the water lapping on the shore. Set high above the lake, with a balustrade around it, it is for all the world like the bridge of a mighty ship, slowly nosing into a safe haven, and offers one of the best views of the Towers possible.”

In 1989, a new roof was added, general brick and wall repair completed, paint applied, and a new altar erected.  In 2007, as part of the 150th anniversary of St. John’s, Don Hall, SJP class of 1955, financed a somewhat controversial renovation of the chapel.  The fieldstone buttresses were removed and replaced with concrete buttresses more in scale with the size of the chapel, the interior was plastered, the exterior stuccoed, a new door installed, the floor covered with Mexican tile, and new stained glass windows, sculpture and calligraphy were incorporated.  Until the renovation, the Chapel had become not so much a place of pilgrimage as a destination for a walk; once or twice a year the Saint John’s University or Alumni Chaplain would celebrate a Mass at the chapel.  Time will tell whether it resumes its more sacred and devotional role.


Last updated October 26, 2022.