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Iconic Chapel Of St. Basil Turns 25

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Father J. Michael Miller, CSB and Philip Johnson at the dedication of the Chapel St. Basil.

The Chapel of St. Basil, created by renowned architect Philip Johnson and named for St. Basil the Great, a fourth-century bishop in Turkey, celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2022.

Chapel Fulfilled Johnson’s Original Plans

Dating back to its inception, the University of St. Thomas wanted a chapel to complete its Academic Mall. In the 1950s, art patrons John and Dominique de Menil invited Johnson to design the chapel. The de Menils, who had arrived in Houston in the early 1940s, were instrumental in establishing and cultivating the relationship between the architect and the University. Johnson had included plans for a chapel in his original campus design, but UST did not fulfill his vision until many years later. Johnson saw the chapel, his final Houston project, completed in 1997. He died in 2002.

How Construction Was Funded

Under the leadership of former UST President Joseph McFadden, the first lay president in the University’s history, a capital campaign from 1993 to 1995 helped make the Chapel of St. Basil a reality. The chapel’s cost, roughly $6 million, was financed through the campaign, including a $250,000 donation from the Basilian Fathers. UST held the groundbreaking on March 18, 1996. The project was completed and dedicated by The Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza, now Archbishop Emeritus of Galveston-Houston, on June 7, 1997, during the University’s 50th anniversary year.

A Striking Design With Geometric Shapes

From a design perspective, the Chapel of St. Basil consists of three basic geometric shapes: a cube for the body of the church, a sphere for the dome and a granite plane connecting these shapes by intersecting both the dome and the cube.

With its striking appearance and indomitable height — achieved through a cross, which culminates the building’s golden dome — the Chapel of St. Basil stands proudly over the entire campus. Above all, the chapel establishes the University’s Catholic character for all to behold.

Architectural Bookends for Faith and Reason

The Chapel of St. Basil completes the University’s Academic Mall and stands in stark contrast to the design and aesthetic of the other campus buildings to emphasize the singular and sacred relationship the chapel has with the University community. It is composed of white stucco and black granite, while the façade of other buildings on the mall is rose-colored brick. The Chapel of St. Basil and its bookend the Doherty Library, which anchors the other end of the Academic Mall, stand on opposite sides of the campus to evoke the perpetual relationship between faith and reason.

The Chapel of St. Basil has a unique and storied legacy on the campus of the University of St. Thomas, in the city of Houston and on a global level, given that it links UST to Philip Johnson, the de Menils, the Basilian Fathers and the Catholic community in Houston.  

About the Author — Sandra Soliz, MLA '01 Soliz

AvatarSandra Soliz, director of Communications for University of St. Thomas, has served the University for 20 years in Marketing Communications Department. In her position, she handles media relations and serves as the editor of the Encounter Magazine.

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