At the Jesuit-run Marquette University stands the oldest structure in Milwaukee, the Chapel of St. Joan of Arc, built in the early 1400’s, nearly 100 years before Columbus set sail for the New World.

How did a medieval French chapel come to stand in Wisconsin?

According to Marquette’s website:

“This chapel was begun around 1420 in the village of Chasse in the Rhone Valley, southeast of Lyon, where it served the locals for centuries before falling into disrepair.”

“In the 1920s, architect and historian Jacques Couelle stumbled upon the chapel and made drawings of it, measured its dimensions, photographed it and numbered its stones. He wrote that it was “absolutely unique in its genre.”

“When Gertrude Hill Gavin — daughter of an American railroad magnate and a devotee of St. Joan of Arc — learned of the chapel, she acquired it and had it dismantled and shipped to her property on Long Island, where, a few years earlier, she had erected a French Renaissance chateau also purchased in and shipped from France. Soon after, France enacted a law banning the export of such treasures.”

“Gavin was so enamored with St. Joan that she renamed the chapel, which had been called St. Martin de Seysseul for 500 years, in honor of the young French saint. In 1933, Pope Pius XI gave Gavin written permission — the letter hangs in the chapel’s nave — to have Mass said in the building.”

“Gavin also bought a 13th-century Gothic altar and “Joan of Arc Stone.” Backed by an official French endorsement of authenticity, the stone is believed to be one upon which Joan prayed for success before battle. The stone, reportedly kissed by the lips of the saint, was installed in the base of a wall niche behind the altar, and legend has it that it is always colder to the touch than the stones around it.”

The Saint Joan of Arc Stone in the Chapel

“In 1962, Gavin sold the chateau and chapel to Marc Rojtman – who had been president of J.I. Case until 1960 – and his wife Lillian. Five days before they were due to move in, the house was ravaged by fire but the attached chapel miraculously escaped damage.”

“The Rojtmans sought a new home for the surviving chapel and wrote to former president Rev. Edward J. O’Donnell, S.J., offering it to Marquette, where they believed their gift would be appreciated for its historical and artistic value, functionality, and unique status it would confer upon the university. In his letter, Rojtman wrote, “I am sure you fully understand that this chapel means far more to me than any donation I have ever made and transcends by far any mere monetary value.”

“Marquette accepted the gift, and workers spent nine months carefully taking apart the chapel and marking each of its stones before loading them onto a fleet of semis bound for Milwaukee. Once arrived, the stones were reassembled and some changes were made to suit the site, such as a longer nave and modern conveniences like radiant floor heating and electricity. By 1966, the chapel doors swung open.”

“Ever since, the chapel has been a magnet, especially in times of joy and sorrow. It has been the site of emotional candlelit vigils and of political protests. These days, it draws people of all backgrounds and faiths and hosts regular Masses that often test the capacity of the diminutive structure.”

“Despite the immeasurable changes that have occurred outside its walls during the past 600 years, St. Joan of Arc Chapel still serves the same purpose its builders intended in 1420: It beats as the heart of the Catholic, Jesuit community that surrounds it.”

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    • This is an example of how “fake news” works…not that this is, but I hear and read lines like this about political matters all the time! And many times, there is no clarification in the article, they just let their misleading sentences stand.

      • It’s your reading that doesn’t go right to the title. First, the title said: This Catholic Chapel in Wisconsin was built a Century… and not “This Catholic Chapel WAS BUILT IN WISCONSIN A CENTURY … I hope you get te difference. If not, then it’s your problem not the article’s author…ehehe

    • Read the article. It explains how the chapel came to be in Wisconsin today.
      “This chapel was begun around 1420 in the village of Chasse in the Rhone Valley, southeast of Lyon, [FRANCE] where it served the locals for centuries before falling into disrepair.”
      The article then explains how it was brought to New York — then to Wisconsin.

    • What was not clear at all was when it was bought in and brought out of France and reassembled in Long Island. Somewhere between 1920 and 1933. It was donated to Marquette in or about 1962.

  1. There is evidence of the Templars in Nova Scotia Canada dating to the 1400s. They took relics of the church for safe keeping from France to England and the to north America.

  2. READ! And then come over to visit the chapel. It’s beautiful in its simplicity and truly inspiring.
    Also the gardens around it are very inviting.

  3. Ms. Gavin was an ugly American! Buying and transporting French buildings was very bold of her; no wonder the French outlawed it after that. Shame!

  4. Actually Gavin is a great American, he bought a chapel…. in disrepair… that had great historical significance but not being cared for… had Gavin not moved it to the US it might have been torn down or destroyed in anyone of the many wars fought in France. So ugly American…. no ugly and stupid comment.

  5. but also is a demostration that many people has nothing to do and do not find a better way to waste money . If someone is so much religious why do not spend that money for poor people food instead to remove thousand and thousand stones from a continent to anither one ? Could be a very Christian way to show the religion they hav e in theyr soul helping people full of needs … Ok clap clap for the fantiastic opera clap clap for fantastic article.

  6. Does this chapel exactly come from Chasse-sur-Rhône ? I’m a french journalist living in Lyon and i’d like to write this story for my newspaper.

  7. It is a very catchy title. Meant to intrigue and draw in the reader. IT IS NOT FAKE NEWS! Unfortunately, most everyone just “scans” through electronic news stories and details get LOST. Careful reading will show that this title is not misleading at all. It is meant to be a “puzzler” to force the reader to read carefully and “follow the trail” of clues. In the first paragraph it says “nearly 100 years,” not exactly 100 years. It then relates the history of the Chapel in FRANCE, not that it was built in the USA.

    As to the “waste” that this purchase is being condemned for, I can’t help but think of Mary in Bethany who poured out the VERY EXPENSIVE perfume on Jesus’ and feet and how she was condemned by Judas, who really had no care for the poor at all, but who really wanted the $$$
    because he was a thief who raided the donation box on a regular basis. Jesus stood up for her and said that what she did was a beautiful thing and would be remembered where ever the Gospel was preached. Now before anyone gets offended, I am not asserting that you are a thief! However I think it wise to not condemn the efforts of those who have money and want to preserve these treasures of our faith to simply some kind of ostentatious display of their wealth for their own “glory.” Do you know what was in the heart of the woman who purchased it and had it moved? The heart of the couple who then purchased it from her? It wasn’t like she raided France and stole this chapel. IT WAS IN DISREPAIR!

    I think the far greater tragedy in this story is that France did not value this chapel and all that it stood for in French history! The Revolution was about throwing out the Catholic Church. It is a SHAME that the outcome of all that led to the selling off of national treasures.

  8. It is on the Campus of Marquette University. It was brought over piece by piece and put back together.
    When I went to school @ MU I walked by it almost everyday.

  9. Christopher Columbus. What a strange name for a Spaniard from the 1400’s. But, I digress.
    Had he only taken a right turn, instead of left, leaving the door open for Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian.

  10. PUZZLING DATA?!:……..Joan of Arc
    AND PLEASE NOTE DATES OF LIFE OF JofArc: Saint Joan of Arc, nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans”, is considered a heroine of France for her role during the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years’ War and was canonized as a Roman Catholic saint. Wikipedia
    Born: 1412, Domrémy-la-Pucelle, France
    Died: May 30, 1431, Rouen, France
    Full name: Jeanne d’Arc
    Books: Joan of Arc, The trial of Jeanne d’Arc, The Listening Heart: A Book on Prayer
    Parents: Isabelle Romée, Jacques d’Arc

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