St. Katherine Drexel University

Named for Xavier University’s founder, the St. Katharine Drexel Chapel is a new central place of worship on campus. It has an octagonal plan, respecting the liturgical directions of Vatican II, with a limestone base crowned by a faceted copper rooftopped with a 4.5-meter-tall (15-foot) cross.  The building acknowledges the materials and colors of Xavier’s campus buildings and the architectural tradition of octagonal religious structures. The building is raised 1.2 meters (4 feet) above grade, aligned with the place from which Pope John Paul II spoke during his 1987 campus visit. A 24-meter (80-foot) ramp edged with raised planters mediates the required change in elevation and creates a ceremonial procession to the chapel. Upon reaching the building, worshippers pass through a set of maple-and-glass doors into the narthex. This low-ceilinged entrance hall is capped by a skylight that affords a view of the rooftop cross. Inside the 430-seat sanctuary, the ceiling soars to 19 meters (65 feet). Sunlight enters the space through a ring of skylights and is diffused through a perforated aluminum chancel screen. Suspended above the entire sanctuary, the screen encircles the space below and symbolically draws the worshippers together. Art glass windows, designed by artist José Bediaand fabricated by New Orleans glass artisan Laurel Porcari, depict the Stations of the Cross. Porcarialso designed and fabricated the additional windows, the holy water fonts, and the baptismal font. Directly adjacent to the main sanctuary is the 40-seat daily Mass chapel, expressed on the exterior below the bell tower as a smaller octagonal form. The two sanctuaries are served by common areas, including the narthex, work and vesting sacristies, a reconciliation room, and a conference room.Outside the building, a meditation garden contains a fountain and benches. A row of trees surrounding the garden completes a campus quadrangle. The chapel is designed to achieve a Silver LEED rating. Sustainable design strategies include abundant daylight to reduce artificial lighting and energy demand and low-maintenance native plants for landscaping to decrease potable water consumption. The orientation of the building and the location of its windows minimize solar heat gain, reducing energy used for cooling. All woods for furniture and millwork are from certified sources. Low-VOC materials are specified to maximize indoor air quality. The day chapel is intended to be used for services with lower attendance, thereby minimizing the loads on the mechanical systems for temperature control.


Project Type


Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Related links


  • Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects
  • Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects