The Fascinating History of St Joan Of Arc Chapel at Marquette University

St Joan of Arc Chapel at Marquette University in Milwaukee - Sage Scott

The incredible story of how a medieval chapel named after beloved French saint Jeanne d’Arc ended up in the heart of a Catholic university’s campus in America’s heartland.

In an open space on the south side of Marquette University’s main campus, in the shadow of the Raynor and Memorial Libraries, sits a small medieval chapel dedicated to French saint Joan of Arc, or Jeanne d’Arc as she’s known in her native France.

Wait. Medieval? As in built in the Middle Ages? Like between the years 476 and 1453?

That can’t be right. This is North America, not Europe. Medieval times were w-a-y before the Europeans crossed the Atlantic Ocean. So back then, Milwaukee would have been inhabited by Algonquian and other indigenous people who didn’t build stone chapels.


Bronze statue of Father Marquette and the St Joan of Arc Chapel at Marquette University


Have You Visited the St. Joan of Arc Chapel?

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What’s the Connection Between the Marquette University Chapel and Joan of Arc?

Born to peasants in the small village of Domrémy in northeastern France, Joan of Arc had visions that told her to help drive the English out of her native France. So, with cropped hair and wearing a soldier’s uniform, Joan, disguised as a male soldier, traveled 325 miles through hostile Burgundian territory to the Royal Court at Chinon  to meet with King Charles VII.

After meeting with the French king, Joan stopped at the Chapelle de St. Martin de Saysseul in Chasse, a village near Lyon in the Rhone River Valley. To summon the courage to start the crusade against the English, Joan stood inside the small chapel and prayed to the Virgin Mary. Her prayers completed, she knelt down and kissed the stone where she stood and headed off to battle. Ever since, the stone (now known as the “Joan Stone”) is believed to be cooler to the touch than the other stones around it. And when you visit, you can place a finger on the sacred stone and decide for yourself. 

The chapel inside the St Joan of Arc Chapel at Marquette University

How Did a Medieval Chapel in Chasse, France, Get to the United States?

Over the years, despite its association with the beloved saint, the Chapelle de St. Martin de Saysseul fell into decay. Fast forwarding through the centuries to the 1920s, self-taught French architect Jacques Couëlle stumbled upon the one-of-a-kind but neglected chapel. After purchasing the structure from the village of Chasse, Couëlle dedicated himself to restoring the sanctuary and quickly got to work. He photographed and carefully numbered each stone of the 46-foot-by-21-foot (14-meter-by-6-meter) limestone structure.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Joan of Arc fangirl Gertrude Hill Gavin heard about the chapel once visited by the famed female French saint. The daughter of railroad tycoon James J. Hill and the wife of an investment banker, Gertie had the means to purchase the chapel in 1927, dismantle it stone by stone, transport it across the ocean, and reassemble it on her 50-acre estate in Jericho on New York’s Long Island.

While French architect Couëlle ensured that the chapel was carefully dismantled and safely on the boat to the US, American architect John Russell Pope was charged with reconstructing it on Long Island. In the Empire State, the chapel was added to a renaissance chateau that Gavin also purchased from France and reconstructed in New York.

Fun Fact:  Shortly after Gertrude Gavin purchased the Catholic chapel and brought it to America, France stopped the sale of historic buildings and other treasures — like castles and chapels — to foreigners.

One component that is not original is the chapel’s beautiful stained glass windows. Gertrude Hill Gavin commissioned Charles J. Connick to design and install them in 1929.

By 1961, Gertrude and her husband had both passed away. The Gavins had no children, and their Long Island estate was sold. But before the new owners could move into the French chateau, a fire destroyed the home. Miraculously, and perhaps fitting for its tie to a Catholic saint who was burned at the stake, the chapel survived.


Long Island is a Long Way from Milwaukee. How Did the Joan of Arc Chapel Get to Marquette University?

With their newly purchased French castle in ruins, Lillian and Marc B. Rojtman decided to buy a different home rather than rebuild on the Long Island estate. To find a new location for the historic chapel, the Rojtmans returned to their Midwestern roots. For it was in Racine, just 30 miles south of Milwaukee, that Marc had served as president of the Case Corporation before the couple’s move to New York. And so the unscathed Chapelle de St. Martin was gifted to Marquette, a Catholic Jesuit university, in 1964.

Side View of Joan of Arc Chapel in Milwaukee

Beginning in July 1965, the Chapelle de St. Martin was once again carefully dismantled and moved. Each of the 18,000 terracotta roof tiles and 30 tons of stones were painstakingly numbered and marked, a red spot on the bottom and a green spot on top. When the 500-year-old chapel was reconstructed on Marquette’s campus, it was dedicated to Saint Joan of Arc. With the official blessing by Archbishop William E. Cousins in May 1966, the sanctuary is now known as the Joan of Arc Chapel.

Statue of Joan of Arc in Milwaukee

Fun Fact:  Just as Joan of Arc was a strong, successful woman, so was Lillian Rojtman. When she co-founded the American Tractor Corporation in Indiana with her husband Marc, she became one of the first female executives in heavy equipment manufacturing. While women hold roughly 10 percent of the board seats at Fortune 500 companies today, a generation ago, Lillian served on the boards of many corporations, including Allied Stores Corporation and Sterling National Bank.

Dedication stone at St Joan of Arc Chapel in Milwaukee

A 15th-Century Chapel in the 21st Century

Approaching the Joan of Arc Chapel, with its steeply pitched roof and thin spire, feels like being transported thousands of miles to the French countryside. Surrounded by tall trees, hundreds of flowers, and a bubbling, 12th-century fountain (also a gift from the Rojtmans), the chapel is a quiet sanctuary on the bustling campus of 11,000 students.

Stepping through the wooden chapel doors, visitors enter one of the oldest buildings in the western hemisphere, constructed more than 300 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed. Although the nave was lengthened to seat up to 60 people, the chapel remains quite small, containing only a few pews, a stone altar, and a small niche protecting the “Joan stone.”

When the Rojtmans donated the chapel to the university, one of the conditions was that it be used for worship. So Mass is celebrated there regularly when classes are in session at Marquette. Attend services Monday through Friday at noon or Monday through Thursday at 10:00 pm. (Note: Masses are not held during the summer when the majority of Marquette students are on break.)

Joan of Arc Chapel at Marquette University

To Visit the Joan of Arc Chapel at Marquette University in Milwaukee

Where is the Joan of Arc Chapel located?

The Joan of Arc Chapel is located on the south side of the Marquette University campus, south and west of the Raynor and Memorial Libraries. Parking is available in the 16th Street parking garage. The chapel is #26 on this campus map.

What hours is the Joan of Arc Chapel open to the public?

You can go inside the St. Joan of Arc Chapel at Marquette University between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm daily except Saturdays. The Joan of Arc Chapel is closed when the university is closed and on certain holidays throughout the year. Get the latest information about visiting the chapel here.

Are tours of the Joan of Arc Chapel offered?

To schedule a tour of the St. Joan of Arch Chapel, you’ll need to fill out this request form at the bottom of this page. Campus Ministry staff will discuss any fees related to our tour reservation when they respond to your request.

What is the Mass schedule for the Joan of Arc Chapel?

When classes are in session at Marquette University, Mass is celebrated at the St. Joan of Arc Chapel daily. See the current mass schedule here.

Have You Visited the Joan of Arc Chapel?

What did you like most about your visit to this beautiful building on the Marquette University campus? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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22 thoughts on “The Fascinating History of St Joan Of Arc Chapel at Marquette University”

  1. Do you have any idea of the carved statues over the door? It seems to be Christ without arms between two saints (they also are missing an arm each – although theirs looks as though they each had their missing one originally.)

  2. Robert L W Martin

    We live in Texas but I grew up in West Allis Wisconsin. We visit my relatives almost yearly. We did go to the chapel twice over the years. Beautiful place. The special stone is colder than the other stones around it. A place well worth traveling to see. It is somewhat of a walk to get to the center of a university to see the chapel.

  3. Qu’il y ait eu une église dédiée à Jeanne d’Arc à Saysseul ou à Chasse sur Rhône, c’est possible car de nombreuses églises françaises ont été dédiée à la Sainte.
    Que Jeanne d’Arc s’y soit agenouillée après sa rencontre avec Charles VII est beaucoup moins vraisemblable. Saysseul n’est pas dans le circuit fait par Jeanne dans sa reconquête de la France.
    Cela n’enlève rien à la belle histoire de ce monument sauvé et reconstruit à l’Université Marquette à Milwaukee, ni à la force de caractère des personnages à l’origine de ce sauvetage.

  4. Federica Provolenti

    I have been to Milwaukee several times (as I am a big fan of Calatrava’s art museum) but I have have never heard of this place before. I bookmarked for a future visit

  5. Arunima Dey | Namaste, Solo Travel!

    I loved this post for so many reasons. A medieval chapel transported brick by brick and rebuilt in the US. And how the chapel itself was born, moved and reborn all due to and because of strong, brave women throughout centuries, how awesome is that!

  6. Fantastic post. Really enjoyed learning about the Joan of Arc Chapel. Never would have thought it would be in Milwaukee. Just saw a play in NYC a few months ago called Mother of the Maid with Glen Close playing Joan of Arc’s mother and told from her perspective. Maybe it will come your way.

    1. If Hamilton is any guide, a play in NYC should make its way to Kansas City by 2035. Perhaps I’ll have better luck seeing it there! All kidding aside, it sounds like a fascinating play! (And Glen Close is phenomenal!)

  7. This is such an incredible find. It’s remarkable that the chapel was moved not once, but twice. I particularly enjoy the “Fun Facts” you share. Next time I head to Milwaukee, I’ll be visiting this gem!

    1. Visiting the Joan of Arc Chapel was pretty darn amazing. I felt like I’d been transported back in time thousands of years to the French countryside right in the middle of Milwaukee!

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