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Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart

Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart (often shortened to Dahlgren Chapel) is a Roman Catholic chapel located in Dahlgren Quadrangle on the main campus of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The chapel is located within the territorial jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Washington, is maintained by Georgetown University, and is administered by the Society of Jesus. It is the largest place of worship on Georgetown's campus and is the primary Catholic house of worship for students, faculty, and other community members.[1] Masses are celebrated regularly and the chapel is a popular location for baptisms and weddings, particularly of Georgetown alumni.[2]

Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart
A frontal view of the red, brick edifice of the chapel. In front is a brick quadrangle with some snow on the ground, all centered between two trees in the foreground.
Front of the chapel in Dahlgren Quadrangle
38°54′26.2″N 77°4′24.8″W / 38.907278°N 77.073556°W / 38.907278; -77.073556Coordinates: 38°54′26.2″N 77°4′24.8″W / 38.907278°N 77.073556°W / 38.907278; -77.073556
Location Dahlgren Quadrangle,
Georgetown University,
Washington, D.C.
Denomination Roman Catholic
Religious institute Society of Jesus
Dedication Sacred Heart
Functional status Active
Groundbreaking 1892
Completed 1893
Materials Brick
Archdiocese Archdiocese of Washington



Elizabeth Dahlgren, the original benefactor of Dahlgren Chapel

Construction of the red, brick, Dahlgren Chapel began in 1892. It became the first building on Georgetown's campus to be funded entirely by external philanthropy. Elizabeth Wharton Drexel, spouse of Georgetown undergraduate, graduate, and law school alumnus John Vinton Dahlgren (whose father was Rear Admiral John Dahlgren), donated funds for its construction as a memorial to their first son, Joseph Drexel Dahlgren, who died at the age of one year in 1891. Elizabeth "Bessie" Drexel took a personal interest in overseeing the fabrication of the stained glass windows.[3]

Construction was completed in 1893 and dedication to the Sacred Heart of Jesus occurred that same year. At the time of its completion, Dahlgren Chapel was positioned in the geographic center of campus, behind Healy Hall and adjacent to Old North, the oldest standing building on campus. Today, it resides in the historic and administrative center of campus and, along with its surrounding buildings, encloses Dahlgren Quadrangle.[4]

After years of disregard, a large iron cross was re-discovered in the basement of Healy Hall in 1989. The 2ft by 4ft cross, weighing 24 pounds, is horizontally inscribed with "ad perpetuam rei memoriam," which translates from Latin as "may this be eternally remembered," and vertically inscribed with "This cross is said to have been brought by the first settlers from England to St. Mary's." Consequently, it is believed to have been carried by ship from England to St. Clement's Island and St. Mary's City of the Maryland Colony by the Jesuits, thereby making it present at the first Roman Catholic mass said in English-speaking North America. The cross is today housed in Dahlgren Chapel.[5] The same cross was used in a mass celebrated by Pope Francis at the Basilica of the National Shrine on September 23, 2015 when he visited Washington, D.C., his first mass in the United States as Pope.[6][7] The cross was used in an exhibition of the Smithsonian Institution at the National Museum of American History for one year in 2017.[8]

In 2011, Georgetown undertook an $8 million renovation of the chapel, the fourth in its history. Major structural renovations and interior refurbishments were made, and the stained glass windows were removed, re-leaded, and re-installed.[9] A new pipe organ was installed during the renovation.[10][11]

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  1. ^ "Religious Services & Sacred Spaces". Georgetown University. Retrieved August 11, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Campus Ministry: Weddings". Georgetown University. Retrieved August 11, 2015. 
  3. ^ Tanaka, Julia (February 6, 2014). "Laying the foundations: The story of Georgetown's architecture". The Georgetown Voice. Retrieved August 11, 2015. 
  4. ^ "A Portrait Restored". Georgetown University Library. Retrieved August 11, 2015. 
  5. ^ Cona, Louis (March 20, 2015). "Discovering a Piece of History on Campus". The Hoya. Retrieved August 11, 2015. 
  6. ^ "Pope Francis' Mass Include Georgetown's 17th-Century Iron Cross". Georgetown University. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
  7. ^ Mcdonald, Thomas L. "The Fascinating Story of a Historic Cross at Papal Mass in DC". Patheos. Archived from the original on 28 September 2015. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
  8. ^ "Georgetown's Iron Cross to Become Part of Smithsonian Exhibition". Georgetown University. June 23, 2017. Retrieved July 23, 2017. 
  9. ^ "Restoring Dahlgren Chapel". The Campaign for Georgetown: For Generations to Come. Retrieved August 11, 2015. 
  10. ^ "OrganID 53863". Organ Historical Society Organ Database. Retrieved 29 August 2015. 
  11. ^ Echarte, Isabel (January 24, 2014). "Dahlgren Chapel receiving new organ as part of renovation". Vox Populi. The Georgetown Voice. Retrieved August 11, 2015. 

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