Seton Hall at Madison
The first home of Seton Hall College, founded in 1856 by Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, was a farm in Madison, New Jersey. The property, although spacious, soon was perceived to be too remote from the population centers of the Diocese of Newark, and Bishop Bayley decided to obtain land nearer to the city of Newark.
"...in 1860, Bishop Bayley purchased for $35,000 a tract at South Orange consisting of 66 acres, a farmer's house with outlying stables, and a palatial villa, known as the Marble House, which a gentleman named Elphinstone had erected at a cost of $40,000."
On May 15, 1860, to house the college students, Bishop Bayley laid the cornerstone of a brick building to the south-east of the marble villa. The Marble House would become the Seminary.
"The object I have in view is to enlarge the present institution - to unite to it, as soon as possible, a theological school similar to that connected with Mt. St. Mary's in Emmitsburg..."
Seton Hall College and Seminary in 1861
The new campus was inaugurated on September 10, 1860, with some 50 students. The College was housed in the building on the left in this contemporary engraving; the Seminary in the house on the right, the "Elphinstone Mansion," sometimes called the "Marble House." In the Seminary there was a small oratory called St. Joseph's Chapel. There, babies were baptized, youngsters confirmed, and seminarians tonsured, including the future Bishop of Newark, Winand M. Wigger.
However, the size of St. Joseph's Chapel made it inadequate. Bishop Bayley realized the need for an appropriate Chapel for both the collegians and the seminarians, and for the spiritual care of the growing Catholic population of South Orange and the surrounding neighborhood. In particular, the Seminary needed a Chapel large enough for the dignified conduct of worship. Since ordinations and major liturgical functions would take place there, the Chapel required a sufficiently large sanctuary as well. The need for a large sanctuary determined the plan of the Seton Hall Chapel, the "Chapel of the Immaculate Conception." This Chapel would serve the Seminary until 1927 and still is the spiritual center of Seton Hall University. Bishop Bayley called upon the people of the diocese to assist, announcing a collection for the Chapel in a letter read in all the parishes.
"Our diocesan college and the Seminary connected with it are now well established...One thing, however, is needed to make them complete, and that is a suitable Chapel."
This was a brave undertaking. The Civil War was raging. Many Irish Catholics entered the Union Army. Bayley's small flock of about 35,000 souls was scattered across the entire state of New Jersey. In 1863, the college enrolled only 80 students, and the Seminary just 12. Yet, Bishop Bayley did not waste any time, and his appeal for funds was met with generosity. Less than three weeks after sending his circular letter, he laid the cornerstone of the Chapel with the Bishop of New York as the honored guest.
"The cornerstone of the present Chapel was laid by Bishop Bayley on May 21st, 1863. The sermon of the day was preached by Father McQuaid; and Bishop (of Albany), afterward Cardinal (of New York), McCloskey, honored the occasion by his presence."
The construction of the Chapel must have been rapid. In little more than six months after the laying of the cornerstone, ordinations to the priesthood took place just before Christmas.
"It was in this Chapel, on Dec. 19, 1863, that Frs. James D'Arcy and Patrick Cody became the first priests to be ordained on the Seton Hall campus. Here, too, Newark's second diocesan synod was held on July 10, 1868...Rev. Dr. Michael A. Corrigan places the value of the completed church at $25,000...by (1871) the building was free of debt since it had been consecrated by Corrigan, in the absence of Bishop Bayley at the Vatican Council, on Feb. 6, 1870."
From the 1863 ordinations, which normally take place in a cathedral, the Chapel has been an significant center of Catholic worship. To the several dozen Catholics who had worshipped in the small Chapel of St. Joseph in the Elphinstone Mansion, the new Chapel must have seemed a veritable cathedral. They brought their children to the Chapel for baptism. The bishop came for the sacrament of confirmation. On July 4, 1864, the first marriage took place there when Father Bernard McQuaid, President of the College, presided at the wedding of Bernard Kaiser of New York and Mary Steve of South Orange. The first funeral from the Chapel was that of the College Registrar, Henry Howard Burgess, which was celebrated on November 2, 1866. Six of the Church's seven sacraments - Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation (Penance), Holy Orders, and Matrimony - were celebrated within its walls, and continue to this day. Quite possibly, the seventh sacrament, Anointing of the Sick (Extreme Unction), was celebrated there as well.
The Chapel's unique character is also exemplified by its many, often simultaneous, roles. It has been from its first day the Chapel of Seton Hall College and University. It served as the Chapel of Immaculate Conception Seminary for more than sixty years. For several decades it was the church for the Catholics of South Orange. In addition to being the site of some of the first ordinations to the priesthood in New Jersey, the little Chapel held the second diocesan synod of the fledgling diocese of Newark on July 10, 1868. The fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth diocesan synods, in 1886, 1890, 1893, and 1896, also took place in the Chapel. These meetings of the bishop and senior clergy, established policies and directions for the Catholic Church in New Jersey. What other church can claim to have housed a local congregation, state-wide clergy councils, a seminary chapel, and a university chapel?
Over the years several alterations would be made to the Chapel. A sacristy would be added on to the chancel, a passageway to the Seminary (Presidents Hall), the East Entry would be closed, a North entry added, and the small bell tower removed. These changes were dictated by necessity. A sacristy was essential for the efficient use of the Chapel, as was a passageway to the Seminary. The bell tower had weakened, requiring its removal. The new entry enhanced the Chapel's focus on the growing campus. All of these changes were made in conformity with the original design and respected the integrity of the building, conforming in style and materials. In fact, most today are not aware that the Chapel has been altered in any way from its original state.
Today, it is a locale of joyful and sorrowful observances. It is a place of daily celebration of the Mass. It is a quiet retreat for students in the midst of examinations or simply a trying day. It is the favorite place for weddings of Seton Hall alumni. It is the place to which many alumni bring their children to be baptized. It is the setting for funerals and memorial services for students, faculty and staff, which have brought comfort to families and the University community.