Fifty years ago – on May 29, 1966, to be exact – the Margarite B. Parker Chapel was dedicated. The chapel was a major part of the University’s $50 million Centennial Program.
Parker Chapel is still the spiritual home of Trinity University. There is Sunday mass for the Catholic Student Group, and weekly worship services for the Reformed University Fellowship, and Food for Faith Fridays. This magnificent sacred space is the setting for a range of significant rites of the University: the annual Christmas Vespers and Ash Wednesday services, commencements, convocations, masterclasses, weddings, as well as a quiet place to worship. There are also offices for the chaplaincy.
The Rev. Stephen Nickle, a Presbyterian minister, has served as University Chaplain since 2000. He has the highest regard for the physical structure of Parker Chapel and the University’s spiritual community.
“The building certainly has its own witness with its stunning architecture,” Nickle said. “It is a distinctively Christian space, and there is nothing else like it on campus. But what happens in the chapel does not exhaust the spiritual life of Trinity University. There are other faith traditions, and, out of our Christian commitment, we welcome people of all faiths.”
Prior to the building of Parker Chapel, worship services were held on the second floor of the old Northrup Hall. Later, the Ruth Taylor Concert Hall was the site of Wednesday chapel services. A “de facto chapel” was the University Presbyterian Church, located near the Trinity campus.
The building of a permanent chapel on campus, and an adjacent bell tower, were the heartfelt wish of James W. Laurie, who served as Trinity’s president from 1951 to 1970. He enlisted the aid of petroleum pioneer George Parker, who presented a gift of $1 million for the building of the chapel. It was named the Margarite B. Parker Chapel in honor of his wife, who had been a Trinity Trustee since 1945. George Parker died in October 1965, when the chapel was nearing completion.
Designed by legendary architect O’Neil Ford in conjunction with Bartlett Cocke and Associates, the chapel is one of 46 buildings that were designed by Ford and Cocke for Trinity, including the T. Frank Murchison Tower (1964), the Ruth Taylor Theater (1966), and Laurie Auditorium (1971).
According to The Architecture of O’Neil Ford by David Dillon, Parker Chapel is “the Little Chapel in the Woods (Denton, Texas) enlarged and glorified. Italian Romanesque in spirit, with sheer brick walls and an overhanging copper roof, the chapel crystallizes the hill town motif of the Trinity campus.” Ford often described Parker Chapel as being “in” rather than “on” the campus. Later, Ford would recount his experiences in Italy, where, at the center of a hill side town stood a great chapel and a bell tower.
A year after its dedication, Laurie saw the need of having someone take charge of the chapel. The man for the job was the Rev. Raymond E. Judd, a 1957 Trinity graduate who was appointed minister-in-charge. Judd arrived in San Antonio in 1967 from the Clarksville,Texas, Presbyterian Church. His title was later changed to University Chaplain, a position he would hold for 32 years. Judd initiated Sunday morning services, Wednesday chapel, bible study sessions, and a speaker series.
“The chapel has had various ministries which are still going on,” said Judd, who still holds a special place in his heart for the chapel. “I think it is important to this day because of the very physical presence of the chapel, with that wonderful courtyard, the bell tower, and the Charles Umlauf sculpture, ‘Christ With the Open Arms.’ It represents a commitment to the spiritual dimension of life. It’s also a place where I spent a good part of my life.” A meditation area, located in the courtyard, was named for Judd.
In 1999, President Emeritus Ronald Calgaard announced that $4 million had been raised to support the position of chaplain and the maintenance of the Parker Chapel. In particular, the position of chaplain was assured by a bequest from the estate of Episcopal Bishop Everett T. Jones.
The history of the chapel would not be complete without mention of the Meditation Chapel and `Chapel Garden. The latter was also made possible with a gift from Parker’s five sons, presented in memory of their late father. The three fountains in the garden, visible from the sanctuary, represent the Holy Trinity. Garden lamps represent various stages of Jesus’ life, including The Last Supper and The Resurrection.
An integral component of the Margarite B. Parker Chapel is the magnificent organ, built by Otto Hofmann of Austin, Texas. The console is made of oak, and curved in French style. It is operated from an electric turbine, and has over 100 ranks, and almost 7,000 pipes. Campbell Smith, the University organist in 1966, presented the inaugural recital. Professor David Heller is the current University organist and chair of the Department of Music. He has performed worldwide, and nurtures organ students in the sanctuary.
Lynn Ford, O’Neil’s brother, designed a chancel cross, and created the stained glass windows, with Ruth Dunn. Martha Mood designed the five banners for the balcony.
Additional spaces include the reception room, a large rehearsal room, and offices for Trinity’s financial services. There is also a multi-faith worship room, used extensively by students of the Muslim faith.
There is a sign located on Nickle’s study in the chapel offices, which summarizes the role of the University chaplain, and the Parker Chapel: “To lead those who follow Christ, support those of every faith, and serve all who call Trinity home.”
Material for the article was taken from “Trinity University: A Tale of Three Cities,” written by Professor Emeritus Douglas R. Brackenridge, an ordained minister and retired professor of religion.