At the St. Mary Mercy Livonia medical campus in Livonia, Michigan, people are in need of miracles every single day. Whether it’s their own health at risk or that of a loved one, there comes a moment when everyone here realizes that something special has to happen for things to change. For over 40 years, the place where patients and their families went to find peace in those difficult moments was the old chapel. Today, that chapel has been beautifully recreated and serves as a calming space for people of all faiths to find inner peace.
In November of 2017, St. Mary Mercy Livonia began construction of a new, 2,600-square-foot chapel — one that would not only serve the same purpose as the old one, but also cater to the needs of the broader religious community that used the hospital. After all, St. Mary is a Catholic hospital, but the new chapel also provides spaces of worship for Protestants and non-Christian Abrahamic worshippers.
To create this blend of faiths within a single space, the chapel had to be given an irregular shape. Indeed, it does not have the symmetry of a conventional chapel from the outside, but an organic form that’s simultaneously subtle and expressive. The curves of the north elevation are formed by an intricate pattern of brickwork.
On the inside, the walls do not entirely follow the footprint of the plan, which makes for even more odd spaces and peculiar relationships between rooms. The architects behind the redesign, PLY+, did this so that each faith would not feel disturbed by the presence of the others. Whether or not that works from a deeply spiritual perspective is a personal question for each worshipper. However, it is understood by everyone that the chapel is a place for miracles, regardless if it is a Muslim, Jew, or Christian coming to pray. At the front of the main hall is the altar, which itself is hewn from Wisconsin Corastone.
The front of the chapel faces north, with skylights positioned for southern solar orientation. Clerestory windows hidden high in the ceiling draw light downwards onto the cherry wood pews and walnut liturgical chairs. The structure also boasts a healing garden with a Japanese maple tree and a crucifix that was handcrafted in Germany.
When construction of the new chapel first got under way, David Spivey, president and CEO of St. Mary Mercy Livonia, said: “The new chapel is an important addition that will allow us to meet the needs of our patients, visitors, staff, and community members who seek healing for their body, mind, and spirit.”
In these polarizing times, chapels like these prove that no matter what we believe, we all have moments when we cannot control the outcome of our lives. In hospitals everywhere, there are moments of great weakness to overcome, and sometimes even grief to live with. When those times do come around, it’s comforting to know that there are spaces where we can seek out strength.
Once again, architecture has shown us that when used correctly, it can be used to bring people together, not drive them apart.