Post 209

Hey, Good Looking!
Reflections on the University of Alberta Campus

According to God (or whoever it is who Knows Such Things), the University of Alberta is one of Canada’s top five universities.

I like it.

I like it much better than Thomas Aquinas College in the United States, which churns out graduates who brag about Socratic Method and Great Books, and I like it far better than Our Lady Seat of Wisdom in Ontario, which is not a degree-granting institution, but which a lot of people like to pretend is going to Transform the World, any day now.

The U of A campus has changed a lot over the years, and it’s still changing, judging by the cranes and hard-hatted workers walking around.

SUB (Students’ Union Building) is one example. I remember it as dark and basementish, but nowadays you’d hardly recognize it. It’s got an addition that brings in a lot of light and they’ve filled it with tons of comfortable seating. Nowadays it looks like something you’d see on the pages of a magazine to advertise post-secondary education.

The campus is large and contains a wonderfully harmonious mixture of old buildings and new. They keep the grounds well maintained, and it’s nice to see little touches like the fish pond outside the Humanities Centre and big containers overflowing with colourful annual flowers. In warmer weather the fragrance of petunias fills the air. Indeed, the campus is a world unto itself.

I’m not saying it’s perfect. The Tory Building is still as internally claustrophobic as it always was, and made worse by the practice of filling the classrooms with those chairs with teeny writing platforms attached to them. Pity the 230 lb person who has to squeeze into those! Someone should take the plunge and invest in tables and chairs for those rooms. If you can fit only four tables in there, then so be it. Or go wild and knock out a few walls to enlarge those classrooms.

I dislike how Hub Mall has changed over the years, because many of the little restaurants and shops have been replaced with offices. The Faculty of Arts, for instance, has some sort of a centre there now. That’s too bad. If I had my way, I’d bring in more food establishments, because variety is pleasant, when it comes to food. That would be a good thing for the students, because the competition between vendors would mean lower prices. And little shops would be fun.

A hidden gem on the University of Alberta campus is inside the St. Joseph’s College building. It has a chapel, and inside that chapel, there is a tabernacle. Jesus waits there for visitors, and they do come. Every so often, someone pops into the chapel for a moment and goes to the tabernacle area. It’s quiet and calm, and the stained glass window next to the tabernacle is very pretty.

If you consider a map of the campus, you’d probably agree with me in saying that the tabernacle is located at the heart of the campus.

How nice.

Sadly, however, I have to tell you that St. Joseph’s College is also responsible for constructing another chapel, and it is a disgrace. This second chapel is on the main floor of the women’s residence, and it’s the ugliest chapel I have ever seen.

To begin with, the shape is irregular. Most churches and chapels are rectangular. You open the main door and you look down an aisle. It’s a straightforward but effective design. That approach, however, did not suit the designer of this chapel. This chapel is shaped more like a triangle, and a small one at that. I really wonder what went wrong. It seems to me that the chapel was built using space that was otherwise almost unusable. It’s as if they found some weird corner piece and decided to make a chapel out of it because it wasn’t good enough as a broom closet.

When you open the door, the first thing you see is the hypotenuse of the triangle. In other words, you face an angled wall. It’s not far away, because the chapel is so small. And this wall is unfinished gray concrete. Where am I? It’s slightly shocking, because the area outside the chapel is not like this, and is finished nicely. In the middle of this concrete cell of a chapel is an irregularly shaped slab of wood. It’s got that rustic look that would suit a log cabin with moose antlers above a roaring fire. Is this thing the altar? You look around and since you see nothing else in this forlorn space which could serve as an altar, you conclude that indeed, this must be the beginning and end of the altar.

Alrighty, but ouch.

The chairs around the altar are Tory-Building-ish in their unattractiveness. Everything looks temporary and bargain-basement.

But the most horrible thing about this room — this “chapel” — is the tabernacle.

At first, you won’t be able to find it, which is amazing — how do you hide a tabernacle in a minimalist cave such as this? You look around, and then your eyes settle on a white sphere, smaller than a volleyball. The sphere is attached to a stand via a metal pole, if I recall correctly. It is far from a wall, so if a tabernacle candle is burning in this place (I don’t remember seeing it, but probably it was there), you wouldn’t associate that candle with this white UFO.

I was stunned. Is that — is that the tabernacle?

I went closer, and looked at it from the other side. Ah – it’s not a sphere. The side facing away from the rest of the chapel is flat and there’s a little teeny door with a keyhole on this glossy white blob.

Oh dear.

So you realize that the way you hide a tabernacle is by disguising it as a mini “art” piece.


Lord, I am very sorry that everything is so ugly. I am sorry they didn’t make this place nicer when they could have, and I don’t know what happened with this ‘tabernacle.’

Wow — I didn’t know a tabernacle could be so ugly. I didn’t know a chapel could be this ugly. I didn’t expect it.

I shudder.

I exit.


It’s a sad state of affairs when the design of a chapel repels instead of attracts. I think the designers intended to design a chapel that was different, edgy, youthful and spare. But it didn’t work, and this chapel is a poor reflection on those who designed it — but not only that. It also reflects poorly on those who allowed and paid for it to be built this way. Uninspired people oversaw other uninspired people, obviously.

If the chapel could not be relocated, then the best solution would be to remove the altar and cease using it as a place to say Mass. It’s just not nice enough. I know that not every village and hamlet in the world is able to do things in a fancy way, but you can always begin with the right shape. With this mini-triangle, you’ve set the space at a permanent disadvantage.

Instead, finish the walls and finish the floors and set a gorgeous golden tabernacle against the centre of the hypotenuse. Make it a place for Eucharistic adoration, and since this is located within a women’s residence, it could be open 24/7, at least for the residents. Add some comfortable seating and you could add some hooks along one of the walls. Make sure the lighting is pleasant and it’s warm enough that you can remove your coat, hang it on one of the hooks and stay for a while.

There. That’s better. Now it looks as welcoming, warm and beautiful as it should. It’s a sparkling little emerald in the centre of this lovely campus of new and old and green and gold.