St. Joseph's Oratory
St. Joseph's Oratory was built in 1927. It was inspired by a Roman structure, the Tempietto of Bramante at St. Pietro in Montorio, where Pamphilus da Magliano, the founding president of St. Bonaventure University died. According to tradition, it is also the place where St. Peter was martyred. The idea for building the oratory is credited to Mother Immaculata, co-founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, or Poor Clares, a convent which used to exist on the Bonaventure campus. Mother Immaculata's design was refined by Buffalo architect Chester Oakley.
The Oratory was actually a gift of Thomas Flynn, of Olean, to the Missionary Poor Clares of the Immaculate Conception. He donated the money in memory of his wife Catherine.
The structure is built in the Lombardic, or Early Christian Byzantine, style, of 12th century northern Italy. It features irregular, handmade red brick, and uses polychrome and unglazed terra cotta for ornamental and structural work, and roof tiles.
The outside of the structure is decorated with Corinthian columns, and heavy double oak doors. Above the door is a tableau of terra cotta, showing St. Joseph surrounded by four angels. Originally an antique bell hung to the right of the doors which was rung twice each day at 3:00 PM and 9:00 PM, to remind students to pray for the dead. It is a six sided structure with two windows on either side of the doors.
The chapel was used regularly when the seminary and the convent still existed on this campus, but since their time has passed the chapel has seen less use over the years.
Originally, the Oratory contained a life sized statue of St. Joseph. However when the Sisters moved their home from St. Bonaventure to Patterson, New Jersey in the 1960's, they took the statue with them. Soon after that, the statue was replaced with a smaller, wooden one.
In 2003, Werner Shuster, a 91 year old retired cabinet maker, created and donated an altar for the Oratory. It is a twelve sided, wooden altar with carvings which recall the twelve apostles and the twelve tribes of Israel. To go with the new altar, St. Bonaventure officials asked Joseph Questa, the school's head carpenter, to build benches for the Oratory. The benches are in a circular pattern around the inside of the structure with the altar in the middle.
Fr. Thomas Plassmann, OFM, born on the Feast of St. Joseph, was particularly devoted to the saint. He wrote, "One wintry morning when nobody was around, I put on my surplice, and armed with Holy Water, I blessed the site of St. Joseph's Shrine, asking this kindly Saint to accept the office of builder and architect of the new St. Bonaventure's. So far he has done a good job."
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Engels, John. "Chapel of Devotion to St. Joseph." Times
Herald Weekender 9 November 1974: 2.
Kinney, Kathleen. "St. Josephs Oratory Withstands 60 Years of University History." The Bona Venture 2 October 1987.
"Handcrafted Alter Dedicated at St. Josephs Oratory." Inside Bona's 18 September 2003.
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