A free-standing chapel on campus has been a long-time dream of the Thiel College community and it’s finally coming true.

“We’ve been talking about a chapel since I was a student here in 1977, and probably even before that,” said Donald Achenbach, Thiel’s vice president of facilities and planning.

Ground was broken Oct. 4, 2003, for the David Johnson Memorial Chapel at Ridgeway Street and College Avenue in Greenville. It’s near completion.

“The chapel’s almost in the heart of the campus. That’s why this spot was picked. About 70 percent of the students will walk by it every day on their way to class,” Achenbach said Friday as he looked at the red brick building with pride.

Rien Construction Co. of Brookfield, the chapel’s general contractor, is putting the finishing touches on the building in preparation for public open houses May 3 and 4 and the May 6 dedication ceremony.

Visitors will enter the building through heavy wooden doors leading into the chapel’s worship area. Shiny blue-gray tiles cover the floor, and benches line the walls. A massive cross being specially made in Pittsburgh will hang on the wall behind the raised altar.

“It’s mahogany and metal. It’s really gorgeous,” Achenbach said.

The highest point of the nearly 7,000-square-foot chapel is 44 feet. It will seat 240, but the college decided not to use traditional pews. Individual chairs will be set up, making it easy to rearrange seating if needed, Achenbach said.

Thiel has a chapel in its William A. Passavant Memorial Center, which seats about 100. More space wasn’t the main reason the Thiel community wanted a new chapel, Achenbach said.

“It was our commitment to the Lutheran heritage as much as anything,” he said, adding that the chapel glorifies the school’s relationship with the Lutheran faith.

There will be several services a week in the new chapel, which has many features the old one couldn’t accommodate. It has a large sacristy where the Rev. Dr. Paul Baglyos, campus pastor, will prepare for services. It also has a kitchen and conference room.

A baptismal area is set up in a corner of the chapel, and several student couples have already scheduled weddings for the fall, Achenbach said. One small room reserved for prayer and reading will overlook a memorial garden, which will feature bricks with the names of people who donated money to the chapel fund.

The $1.8 million chapel was funded completely by donations, Achenbach said. It is named for David Johnson, who died in 2002 after a lengthy illness. He was the son of Dr. Glen R. and LaVonne Johnson of Florida. The elder Johnson served on the college’s board of trustees for 14 years and he and his wife made a sizable donation to honor their son’s memory.

The donation that started the chapel campaign fund in 2003 came from the Rev. Col. John O. Woods and his wife Dr. Arlene Woods. Woods graduated from Thiel in 1928 and the couple donated half of their net worth. They both passed away in 2005.

The dedication ceremony is by invitation only. Open houses with light refreshments will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 3 and from 4 to 6 p.m. May 4.

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