Seattle U's Iconic Chapel of St. Ignatius Keeps Shining

Campus spiritual center marks its 20th anniversary

Written by Tina Potterf
April 5, 2017

Twenty years ago, Seattle University’s Chapel of St. Ignatius opened its doors on Palm Sunday, promising to provide a gathering place for prayer and liturgy. Since then, it has blossomed into an extraordinary place of worship—and developed into something much more. The small gem, with its beacon-like colored lights glowing in the darkness at night, has grown into a magnetic symbol of Seattle U. A part of the university’s core identity, the chapel is a world-recognized architectural landmark; it is the hub of a vibrant spiritual community with weekly Masses for students and the larger SU community; and an open-hearted, meditative space.

In 1991, then-president William Sullivan, S.J., announced his plans for a chapel on campus dedicated to the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius. The university hired Steven Holl, a Bremerton-born, internationally acclaimed architect, to lead the project. Holl was captivated by Ignatian philosophy and challenged by the notion of how to translate light and darkness into a sacred space.

The concept had two meanings. It reflected the Ignatian idea of “discernment,” the sorting through of internal light and darkness—St. Ignatius termed them “consolations and desolations”—to achieve clear purpose in decision-making.

More than a physical landmark, the chapel has become part of the university’s identity. It embodies the university’s Jesuit mission, reaching out to the non-Catholic community with interdenominational services and events. Living up to Holl’s vision of a “gathering of lights,” the chapel is open to people of all faiths.

(CLICK HERE for a homily President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., recently delivered on the chapel's anniversary.)

Over these past two decades, the chapel has evolved into a living place and vibrant home for a community that spans SU and its surrounding world—with more than 40,000 annual visitors.

(This article will appear in a forthcoming issue of Seattle Magazine.)