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History Booklet - The Story of The Chapel of St Brigid

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					         The Story of
    The Chapel of St Brigid




             St Brigid of Kildare
                (425 – 452 A.D.)




             MERCY COLLEGE
       KOONDOOLA, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
                 May 2006


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The Chapel of St Brigid - Mercy College, Koondoola
Mercy College was established by the Sisters of Mercy (West Perth
Congregation) in 1972. Our history predates this time as our beginnings and
our heritage are very strongly tied to St Brigid’s Convent at West Perth and
to the Mercy Sisters

Saint Brigid was chosen as the patron saint of the original West Perth school
because of her significance to the Sisters of Mercy. St Brigid is a famous
Irish Saint from the fifth century who was renowned for her promotion of
mysticism and learning. She founded a monastery for women and men in
Kildare which developed into a centre of learning, culture and education. It
is believed that this was the first community of nuns in Ireland. Brigid was
one of the most remarkable women of her times and countless stories portray
her gaiety, driving energy, boundless charity and compassion for those in
need. Many of the early Sisters who worked in Australia had been born in
Ireland and they looked to the rich inheritance of their homeland for
inspiration and guidance in their ministry of education.


Chapel Formation Committee
In 2001 a Chapel Formation committee was formed. Its members reflected
the differing roles, backgrounds, experiences, and spirituality in the breadth
and depth of our college community. The committee’s role was to write a
brief for the architect and builder and after consultation with the school
community, and faithful to its vision, the central themes were finalised – that
the chapel would be the spiritual heart of our community, that it would be a

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visible sign that we are Catholic, and that it would have areas for communal
worship and private meditation. Underlying all these considerations was
that this was to be a chapel for OUR Mercy people set in our environment of
Koondoola.

Our architect was Murray Slavin, and as a follower of the Jewish faith he
provided a unique perspective to the committee. Murray brought with him a
richness of faith of the Old Testament and constantly challenged us as to
why as Catholics, we use certain symbolism or need certain structures within
the chapel. This questioning positively focused the committee and
strengthened our understanding of our own faith, causing us to look at the
difference between what was teaching and what was merely convention. The
chapel design reflects this fusion of the Old and New Testaments.


Design Process
In keeping with the wishes of the student body, the chapel is nestled in our
bushland and is part of the natural environment. When the site was initially
prepared, elements of the natural bush were saved and later brought back as
part of the landscaping at the completion of the construction stage.




The chapel was designed from the ‘inside out’ and has many layers of
symbolism. The architectural brief requested that the building promote a
natural reverence in its users. This was to be achieved by inspiring dignity,

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through the use of symmetry; hope, through the use of light; and awe
through the use of height.

Everyone is invited to interpret as the Spirit guides you and to discover new
meaning with every visit.




From the architect’s impression (left) to the reality of our completed Chapel (at right).




The Chapel fulfilling its purpose – students and staff celebrating the Eucharist




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A Tour of the Chapel
We now take you on a journey through our Chapel. The story of this chapel
is one of a journey which is embedded in the past, incorporates the present,
and continues into the future.

The Chapel is situated close to Beach Road where it is a public statement to
the broader community that Mercy College is a Christian school. At the front
of the Chapel is a covered area, a ‘tent’, which is elevated in welcome. It
represents the gathering of the Chosen People; Moses and the Chosen People
of the Exodus gathered under the tent to offer sacrifice to God. It was
constant in their life of exile.

                                       The tent membrane is supported by
                                       a metal structure which incorporates
                                       a huge cross. This cross is not an
                                       addition to the building but is part of
                                       its essential structure. It reaches out
                                       to the community and is the strength
                                       that supports the tent, as the
                                       crucifixion supports the people
                                       gathered in worship. The red colour
                                       flows back into the whole structure
                                       and is representative of the life-
                                       blood symbolising this living
                                       structure.
                                       The concrete foundations which
                                       support the metal structures have the
                                       Cross of the Sisters of Mercy
                                       embedded. This is to recognise that
                                       the College is built on the work of
                                       the Sisters of Mercy and that their
                                       spirit and ethos can never be
                                       removed from its fabric.
The roof is soft and curved, reminiscent of the dome at the beginning of
creation as recounted in the Book of Genesis.



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We enter through the front doors into the assembly space. This is an area
where we settle and prepare ourselves to enter the sacred space of the
Chapel. To the left on the curved wall hangs a picture of St Brigid of Ireland,
and to the right a picture of Blessed Catherine McAuley, foundress of the
Sisters of Mercy. On the far right hangs a stained glass panel which was
donated by the Sisters of Mercy. It comes from the front door of the old
Pinjarra Convent and is a link with the past history of the Mercy Sisters in
Western Australia.




Catherine McAuley (1778 – 1841)             The Pinjarra Convent stained glass


Cross over the jarrah bridge which takes us through the waters of Baptism. It
reminds us of the Exodus journey through the Red Sea and the passing
through sin to new life in Christ. It is also reminiscent of the River Jordan
where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist.

On either side are the blessing fonts from which the water flows down the
mosaic-embedded walls. This allows small children to bless themselves by
running their hands through the flowing, living waters. The waters have
been collected from our four sacred wells of St Brigid: from Kildare in
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Ireland, from Blessed Catherine McAuley’s foundation house in Dublin,
from St Brigid’s Convent West Perth, and from Mercy College Koondoola.
These waters were blessed by Bishop Don Sproxton at the blessing and
opening of the chapel.




Passing over the bridge between the mosaic embedded walls




A western view of the Chapel




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Part of the initial brief in designing the Chapel, was to have it as part of the
bushland in which it was set. The Chapel had to ‘bring in’ the environment
and the mosaic walls achieve this by reflecting the beauty of God’s creation,
showing particularly the balga trees, the gums and wattle trees, the kangaroo
paws, donkey orchids, goannas and magpies, and the unique flora and fauna
of our College site. The river stones in the fonts and under the bridge
symbolise our natural streams and the changing coloured lighting under the
bridge is a reflection of our growth and the changing aspects of our lives.
The nature of the mosaic lends itself to new discoveries at every viewing.
The mosaic work was carried out by a group of women whose work was
crafted in a village atmosphere with eight women working together to create
a spiritual work of their hands and hearts.




The red carpet throughout the chapel symbolises the earth. We recognise and
respect the sacredness of this holy ground, and acknowledge the first
Indigenous inhabitants of this area.
The symmetry of the curved walls and ceiling reflects the feminine nature of
God which offers nurture, security and all-embracing love. The unique cross
of St Brigid adorns the rear wall. This cross also reflects the Irish heritage of
the Sisters of Mercy, as these crosses have been made in Ireland from rushes
since the fifth century. They are made on the eve of St Brigid’s Feast Day,
(1st February) and are hung indoors to bring good luck, and to avert sickness,
fires and accidents.
Full length glass wall panels open, allowing the fresh air to flow through and
so the chapel becomes one with nature. They also allow the worship space


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to be extended and the outside natural environment to pervade the inner
space.




The gathering space                    The Chapel walls under construction




The altar
The ceiling is constructed from honey-coloured plywood and is finished in
natural tung oil. The perforated panels and the unusual geometric angles
allow for natural acoustics.
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The seating is in a semi-circular layout, emphasising the embracing and
community feeling of unity.
The gentle slope of the floor is designed to allow everybody seated to be
able to see the hands of the priest over the altar, especially during the
consecration of the Eucharist. It also adds emphasis to the journeying aspect
of our lives.
The polished concrete terrazzo of the sanctuary space is ‘poor man’s marble’
and is appropriate for our chapel as it is a simple and deliberate use of
natural resources. It is raised so that the altar has prime visual position in the
chapel and the activities on the altar are clearly visible to the whole
congregation.
As part of the initial brief it was decided that the altar must be permanently
fixed for all time. The pedestal emerges from the earth and is as one with it.
It is reminiscent of a tomb, and etched into the altar base is the Lamb of
Sacrifice, recognised as the Mercy emblem. The altar top is made from a
slice of jarrah tree stump (polished with natural bees wax) that seems to float
in space above the base. This separation symbolises the resurrection of Jesus
after his supreme gifts of Eucharist, redeeming death and His Ascension into
Heaven. The remnants from the jarrah stump were used to craft the offertory
table.
                                The presidential chair and the lectern are
                                made from plywood with jarrah edging or
                                inlay. These continue the theme of natural
                                materials and simplicity. A later addition has
                                been a one-third scaled version of the lectern
                                for use by small children.
                                The ramping at the sides again shows the
                                feminine aspect of this building. They are as
                                arms reaching out in love to all, calling,
                                protecting and enfolding. They also allow
                                disabled access to the altar area and
                                meditation room.
The lectern




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The back wall of the altar area is rounded, in plain concrete, unadorned
except for etchings in the shape of St Brigid’s Cross. The script invites us to
meditate and contemplate. This invitation is for all, no matter what stage we
are in our life’s journey. “In the beginning God…” the first words of the
Sacred Scriptures (Genesis 1:1).




                                   The area behind the altar has a plywood
                                   fan which provides a background for the
                                   crucifix. The crucifix is a liturgical
                                   artwork which contains references to
                                   classical church art of the past through its
                                   depiction of the Corpus contemporary
                                   design of the present and interpretation of
                                   the culture through the stainless steel
                                   cross, and to indigenous customs and the
                                   land through the art glass panels. The blue
                                   glass panels take us back a full circle to
                                   the waters of baptism where we first
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entered this chapel. The circle of red glass completes the work and reminds
us of the sun, infinity and our own innate spiritual nature; it also reminds us
of Christ’s central role in our lives.
“ in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in
the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:4)
Walking through the openings behind the altar space we enter the Blessed
Sacrament Chapel which houses the tabernacle; this is crafted from sheoak
with a jarrah inlay of the Mercy Cross in its door.

The sanctuary lamp is composed of hundreds of diode lamps which can be
seen from the entrance to the main chapel. It provides a glow resembling the
ancient oil lamps of the first tribes of Israel and is the result of the fusion
between old traditions and new technology.
The area is lit by windows of red Italian glass, designed to draw the eye to
the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and support the sacramental lamp in
proclaiming the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in this sacred space.
From any seat in the main chapel, at least one of these ruby windows is
visible.

                                       This Blessed Sacrament Chapel is a
                                       peaceful, quiet area which is enhanced
                                       by external reflective ponds, adding
                                       the dimension of earth, water and sky.
                                       The chapel is nestled within a
                                       landscape that comprises the re-
                                       established natural bush on the right
                                       and the native flora (selected for their
                                       red flowers) on the left.
                                       The stained glass window was first
                                       designed and installed at Mercy
                                       College     in    1992      under    the
                                       principalship of Dick Finucane. For
                                       twelve years it resided in the McAdam
                                       building in the stairwell adjacent to
                                       the Prayer Room. It is fitting that this



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would have a central place in the continued active worship in our school
community; it links our immediate past to the present and is a promise for
our future.

The Mercy College Chapel was blessed and opened by Bishop Don
Sproxton, concelebrated with Monsignor Michael Keating, on Sunday 27
February 2005. The Chapel was proudly named The Chapel of St Brigid.




Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton (left) and Monsignor   Sr Jilyan Dingle, Chairman Mercy College
Michael Keating                                      Board and representative of the Sisters of Mercy




Awards
The College is very proud of the Chapel of St Brigid and it has received a
number of architectural awards. These include – the Royal Australian
Institute of Architects Award for Interiors; Master Builders Association
Certificate of Excellence for Construction; the MBA Subcontractor of the
Year Award for internal finishes for the Chapel ceiling.


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Mr Greg Bower (Builder), Mrs Vicki Hansen (Bursar)          Mr Murray Slaven (Architect) and Dr Tony Curry
and Mr Manne Hurlbatt (Project Supervisor)                  (Principal)




The Royal Australian Institute of Architects Award for Interiors (left) and the Master Builders Association
Certificate of Excellence for Construction


However, the greatest award for the Chapel has been the love and
commitment of the Mercy community, the students, staff, parents and
friends. The Chapel is used for weekly Masses, liturgies, liturgical music
recitals, retreats, graduations, Confirmation and weddings. The Chapel of St
Brigid has become an integral part of the life of the College.




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In Appreciation
The appreciation of the Mercy College community is extended to the following that have played a special
part in making the dream of a College Chapel a reality.

The Visionaries
Dick Finucane (Past Principal), Barry Harvie (Past Principal), Bill Bykerk (Past Board Chairman) and
Sr Jylian Dingle, RSM (Board Chairman)

The Dreamers and Planners
Therese Bandy, Sr Joan Buckham RSM, Steve Corcoran, Carmel Gentelli, Vicki Hansen, Alan Jeffrey,
Murray Slavin and Sr Kerry Willison RSM.

The Builders
Murray Slavin and Stuart Neale (Slavin Architects), Greg Bower and Manne Hurlbatt (Western Projects),
Mirta and Denis Guzman (The Craft Gallery), Mark Weichard and Anthony Russo (Orchard Design
Studios) and Soren Hansen (Property Services, Mercy College)

The Organisers
Annette Boyle, Sr Jylian Dingle RSM, Carmel Gentelli, Vicki Hansen, Jackie Holbrook, Val Murphy,
Cathy Santarelli and Roslyn Trestrail

The Supporters
    • Bishop Don Sproxton and Monsignor Michael Keating;
    • Sr Beverley Stott RSM and all the Sisters of Mercy;
    • the Mercy College Parent Council;
    • the staff and students of Mercy College; and
    • our Benefactors who have helped make our dream a reality



Acknowledgements
                                   This booklet was written by two of the foundation members of the
                                   Mercy College chapel committee, Mrs Vicki Hansen (left) and Mrs
                                   Carmel Gentelli-Pace.




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“Our gift…is to know God’s loving kindness and to share it
with others”



                                           Catherine McAuley




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