Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 23, 2013

Chapel taken from simple to elegant in renovation


TRAVERSE CITY — William Kolstad pointed to the Latin, gold lettering high on the sanctuary wall of the Carmelite chapel. Working with the pricey metal isn't always easy, he said.

"No wonder I always feel such angst," joked Kolstad, nationally renowned for his highly specialized artistry.

Kolstad is one of several artists and craftsmen who have transformed the simple chapel into one of classic elegance. The sanctuary is appointed with marble and fine woodwork, much of it done by Thomas and Milliken Millwork, of Northport.

"The marble is just gorgeous, gorgeous," Kolstad said.

The public can get its first glimpse of the nearly year-long renovation on Feb. 2, but not everything will be ready, said Mother Mary of Jesus, the monastery's prioress.

She suggests future visits to see, for example, statues of Carmelite saints, carved by Italian craftsmen and painstakingly polychromed by Ida Vinotti of Walloon Lake.

The chapel was designed under the direction of Notre Dame Professor Duncan G. Stroik, a leading church architect.

"His work is impeccably done; it's a privilege to be involved in the project," Kolstad said.

One wall of the chapel is still comprised of stained glass. The other two walls, made of cinder block, reflect the utilitarian look of the original monastery built in 1962. The cinder block walls eventually will get a re-do as funds permit, Sister Mother Mary said.

The chapel and monastery, housed in a red brick building, are tucked at the end of a long driveway on Silver Lake Road.

A small group of cloistered Carmelite nuns spend their days there in prayer, doing chores, and baking Communion wafers that are sold to help finance the monastery, said Mother Mary, who wears the traditional habit and veil of a Catholic nun.

Even during mass, the sisters sit in an enclosed choir area to the left of the altar, separated from the congregation by a metal grille.

The Carmelite Order stresses simplicity, so transforming the chapel was a matter of great discussion, Mary Mother said.

In keeping with their philosophy, the nuns chose economical red oak for their side, and mahogany for the people's side. They also chose a simple grille design.

"The nuns kept saying, 'plain, plain, plain,'" she said.

Mother Mary declined to specify the renovation cost at the request of donors across the country, who "didn't want a big splash."

The nuns encourage the public to visit on Feb. 2, between 9 a.m. and noon for "the rare opportunity to venerate the saints' relics (or remains) that will be placed in the altar the following day."

The Feb. 3 dedication mass at 2 p.m. can accommodate less than 200 people. The nuns originally intended to invite only those who had made "great sacrifices" to make the renovation a reality. But a computer mix-up halfway through the invitation process prompted a change in plans, Mother Mary said.

"We opened its attendance to everyone so that no one would feel excluded,"

Bishop Bernard Hebda of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gaylord will celebrate the mass, together with other priests.

The chapel's daily masses are always open to the public, Mother Mary said.

"We used to have a protestant minister who used to always come because one of our priests was so good at explaining scripture," she said. "He would drop in just to be spiritually fed."