Rev. Robert Keane, S.J., pauses before stepping through St. Mary’s black, iron-wrought gates. He smiles, admiring the Latin Gospel verse wielded high above the empty hall corridor.
“Domos Mea Domos Orationis,” he read aloud. “My house is a house of prayer.”
Over 50 Jesuits consider St. Mary’s Hall more than just a home, but few students see past its Gothic exterior. Freshmen running down Linden Lane late to class often mistake St. Mary’s for Lyons. The occasional senior calls it a monastery.
Originally built in 1916, St. Mary’s was the second building on the Chestnut Hill campus. Gasson, of course, was first.
“The building is over 100 years old,” said Keane, the Jesuit rector at St. Mary’s.
“Any building that’s 100 years old needs massive renovation.”
Frigid New England winters chipped away at the building’s exterior, while the interior floor wax and wood-paneled surfaces wore away, season by season. The shrinking number of Jesuits, faulty plumbing, and need for central air demanded renovations a century in the making.
So St. Mary’s closed its doors for renovations from January 2013 to January 2015. In that two-year span, the Jesuits living in St. Mary’s moved to the top four floors at 2000 Commonwealth Ave. Instead of celebrating Mass in the hall’s chapel, the Jesuits moved their service to Gasson 100.
The renovations proved worth the wait. Two years later, and the changes go far beyond the naked eye.
“Can’t you hear it?” Keane asked, in reference to the air conditioning blasting behind his wood desk. “When they renovated the building, the only changes are the ones you can’t see.”
Of course, the building has its fair share of structural changes. Eighty-five Jesuit bedrooms turned into 30, saving room for refurbished bathrooms in each room. Serving as the private residence for the Jesuits, the upper floors of St. Mary’s aren’t open to lay people.
Keane and Rev. Don McMillan, S.J., the building’s minister, decide which Jesuits live in the renovated hall.
“It’s not competitive, like a housing lottery,” said the rector with a chuckle. “The rest of the Jesuits live in satellite houses on the periphery of the campuses.”
The two Jesuits consider health, age, and responsibilities of each candidate when selecting fellow members of the order. They prefer Jesuits who serve an active duty within St. Mary’s in order to build a cohesive community.
The dining hall moved its kitchen from the St. Mary’s basement to ground floor, providing easy access for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A buffet-style layout allows Jesuits to come and go as they please. Red carpentry and white-clothed tables offer a quaint aesthetic.
“We’ve retained the ground floor on the wing,” Keane said in reference to the extent of the Jesuit rectory.
Boston College presides over the south side of the hall, called St. Mary’s South. It houses the University’s departments of communication and computer science along with the Woods College of Advancing Studies. The renovations refurbished classroom and office spaces for students and administrators. A separate entrance facing O’Neill Library keeps the living space separate from the academic areas.
St. Mary’s main entrance faces Bapst Library. It provides a student entrance for a chapel that hosts Mass at 8 a.m., 11 a.m., and noon Monday through Friday. Though it originally planned to build a freestanding chapel a century ago, BC saw its plans fall short due to glaring needs elsewhere.
“Things happened like the Depression, World War I, and the huge influx of veterans after World War II,” Keane said.
With limited resources available, the University built its Gothic chapel as a part of St. Mary’s Hall. The chapel’s eight altars reflect a time, decades ago, when each Jesuit living in the building needed to perform his own separate Mass prior to an 8 a.m. breakfast.
Outside the chapel, new glass windows fill the marble-floored corridor with light. Rooms built adjacent to the chapel reserve space for Jesuit reflections and meetings. Next to the dining hall, the Jesuits’ living room provides an entire library of reading material for Jesuits hoping to take a break. A snack bar accompanies a television room where Jesuits also have the chance to pick up their daily mail.
Special enclaves along the interior walls of St. Mary’s offer a glimpse into the hall’s future. University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., intends to fill the enclaves with customized statues, according to Keane. The enclaves, originally created when St. Mary’s first opened its doors, served no purpose for an entire century.
Thanks to the renovations from 2015, St. Mary’s offers a space for both Jesuits and students to prosper for years ahead.
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor