Kalamazoo College's Student Newspaper
By Elaine Joy Carlin, Contributor
Overlooking green the quadrangle that sprawls below its lofty height, students travel beneath Stetson Chapel’s bell tower several times a day. This central campus structure has evolved immensely since its conception in the early 1900s.
Back then, in the fall of 1928, President Allen Hoben, requested the construction of a chapel. Seeking to realize a college noted for its scholarship and Christian standards of life, he insisted that a campus chapel was an essential addition to the college. He wrote, “It is no secret that a college of our type needs above everything else literally, practically, morally and imperatively a chapel. There is nothing so formative important and central in the education which we aspire to give.”
Dedicated Founders Day 1932 to President Emeritus Herbert Lee Stetson, Stetson Chapel has remained the symbol for ‘K’ since its inception. Its past was melded by religion and education. Its present arises from the evolution these thoughts have incurred in the years that span now and then.
Throughout its years, Stetson has housed offices of various chaplains, intent on fostering the spiritual lives of students. From 2001 through 2008 Jeanne Hess, an avid teacher and devoted coach at ‘K’, served as the assistant chaplain for Stetson—a campus space for which she urges the campus community to come and get to know.
With bright blue eyes, and a smile that stretches far and wide, I listened as Hess spoke volumes about Stetson. “The Chapel puts into bricks and mortar that which we value, of which can never be put in bricks and mortar of our religious and our spiritual life, and that has evolved from a prescription of you be there and you listen, to come and join us and be a part of this community.”
Presently, Stetson Chapel provides students and community members of all faiths and backgrounds with a quiet place for reflection, among its many other uses. It welcomes academic speakers from every discipline; it is host to a number of student organizations. It is where the Kalamazoo community celebrates, mourns, welcomes, and congratulates.
One of the most centralizing activities for the Kalamazoo community at Stetson is the weekly dialogues that are addressed each Friday during common time—Community Reflections. During one reflection, Elizabeth (Liz) Candido, Chaplain since 2008, said, “The way it is here may seem like it is the way it’s always been but that is not the case. There is nothing inevitable about today. The rules we live by are the rules we create.”
Soon another class of students will graduate from Kalamazoo College. The night before they walk convocation takes place in the Chapel. An image of the Stetson Chapel bell tower on their diplomas, its purpose today transcends the one its creators foresaw.
Yet, in 1932, the words of a reverend and former student of ‘K’ inspire.
“Stetson Chapel represents the past, the present, and the future. When you see arch pointing upward to arch, and pillar to spire, something within you soars. It is the essence. It is aspiration. Aspire. Thy only greatness is to aspire.”
To what we aspire to, is our decision. Stetson Chapel is a quiet space for us to decide. A norm of an institution then, during the 1800s, was to build a chapel. Now, at ‘K’, Liz says, “we create the norms.”