Campus History: Christ the King Chapel

Loras College was considering the need for a new chapel building on the upper campus when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941. At that point, the designated chapel area in Keane Hall shifted from the basement to the fourth floor to accommodate an expanding library and space in existing buildings was at a premium.

When Rev. Aloysius Schmitt (’32) was killed aboard a battleship during the attack on Pearl Harbor, it would jumpstart efforts to fill that need and would result in Christ the King Chapel.

Schmitt was 32 years old when Japan launched a surprise attack against the American naval base Pearl Harbor. That morning, Schmitt was hearing confessions onboard the USS Oklahoma when four torpedoes slammed into the ship. The lower decks quickly filled with water, trapping sailors in the ship. Survivors said as it capsized, Schmitt refused to escape choosing instead to help push 12 men through a porthole to safety before he died.

Schmitt’s chalice, prayer book and other personal belongings were recovered from the ship’s wreckage and delivered to the College in 1943. When Monsignor Michael Martin (’26) received the items, he felt a chapel should be built as a memorial to honor Fr. Schmitt. He shared his idea with the faculty and Board, and a plan was put into motion.

In June 1945, Archbishop Henry Rohlman announced a new building program to include a new chapel for Loras College. “The need for a more decent and devotional chapel has been felt at the College for a long time. I am happy that our priests are anxious to provide this chapel.”

The architectural firm John J. Flad of Madison, Wis. was designing the building. The general contract for work was awarded to the Walter Butler Construction Company of St. Paul, Minn.

On May 28, 1946, ground was broken for the Christ the King Chapel but ran into repeated construction delays due to material shortages regularly occurring after World War II.

On September 18, 1947, the new chapel’s first mass, the school year’s opening mass, was held, and Christ the King Chapel was dedicated on October 25, 1947. Honored guests were His Eminence Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago and Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. 

The building was designed with a modified Renaissance style (or Gothic Revival) to match the look of the other campus buildings. With its location next to Keane Hall, it was built at a comparable height with the tall spire on the roof to ensure a complementary style to its neighbor.

The Latin inscription in limestone above the main door is taken from the Second Vespers of the Feast of Christ the King:

Habet In Vestimento In Et Femore Suo Scriptum

 REX REGUM et DOMINUS DOMINATIUM

Ipsi Gloria Et Imperium In Saecula Saeculorum.”

 Translation in English:

“The Title is written on his cloak over his thigh

The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords/

To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.”

In 1953, Fr. William Barragy (’45) was ordained at Christ the King Chapel before enlisting in the Army. Barragy served as chaplain for the Army’s 101st Airborne Division during the Vietnam War when his Chinook helicopter went down on its way to a combat mission on May 4, 1966.

Seventy-five years after his death, Rev. Schmitt’s body was laid to rest in the Chapel in October 2016. His artifacts and medals are on display in the entryway. He joins Harry Whalert and his wife, Flora Krey, who are also interred in the crypt of the building.

Content for this article was pulled from extensive research conducted by Hannah Bernhard (’18).

About Loras College
Founded in 1839, Loras College leverages its historic roots as Iowa’s first college, the second oldest Catholic college west of the Mississippi River and one of the nation’s 10 diocesan colleges to deliver challenging, life-changing experiences as part of its residential, Catholic setting. In 2019, Loras was the second-highest ranked Catholic college in the state of Iowa according to College Consensus, the 16th Best Regional College in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report and one of America’s Top 200 Most Loved Colleges/Universities by Forbes Magazine for the third consecutive year. Loras students ranked No. 2 in the world as part of the global Peeptrade Investment Challenge while a second group ranked No. 4. For the 10th consecutive year, Loras Media Studies student-led television station (LCTV) was named the TV Station of the Year by the Iowa College Media Association (ICMA).