Villa Chapel

Past

The Villa (Maria) Chapel was built in the city of Erie almost a century ago for the Sisters of Saint Joseph. Dressed in full habit, the sisters were often seen walking the grounds in silent prayer. Altar boys served at the pre-dawn Mass and then were sent off for a nap while breakfast was prepared. Hundreds of students attended the Villa Maria elementary, high-school and college. Since the Sisters of Saint Joseph were not permitted to leave the grounds for family events, many ceremonies and weddings took place in this beloved chapel. The sisters’ educational mission is continued in suburban Millcreek at the Villa Maria Academy on West 8th Street.

Present

The Villa Chapel includes a priest’s apartment above the apse, a large worship space, a gracious entry lobby and a full-basement cafeteria. Part of a rare ecclesiastical compound that includes a garden, shrine, former school and convent, the chapel is widely admired for its unique architectural presence in the neighborhood. Inside, majestic beams support the slate roof. Geometric facets of color, streaming from the stained glass windows, slowly move across the ceramic tile floors.

Owners

The chapel is owned jointly by three organizations. Eighty percent is owned by Pennrose Development Corporation. The Sisters of Saint Joseph retain a ten percent interest. Erie’s Housing And Neighborhood Development Service (HANDS) manage the properties and own a ten percent interest.

Threat

The former Villa Maria school and convent have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places and transformed into senior and low-income housing. The chapel was legally separated from the Villa lot and was not included in the National Register application. The chapel had been unused for a decade and the 80 year old roof was leaking. Unable to envision or fund an adaptive reuse, the owners planned to demolish the chapel to provide additional on-site parking for residents and guests. According to a 2004 National Trust story, the downsizing of the Roman Catholic Church has created a nationwide threat to ecclesiastical structures.

Repairs

Proceeds from various fundraisers in 2006 were used to make temporary repairs to the roof in early 2007.

Plan

Pennrose has agreed to consider transfer of the Villa Chapel to the Lake Erie Region Conservancy (LERC) so that the chapel may be adaptively reused as a community center, recital and dance space. Examples of this kind of adaptive reuse include Union Project, Church Brew Works, Christians Restaurant.

Villa Chapel Fund

In response to the demolition plans, a fund was established at the Erie County Historical Society. Over $13,000 has been raised. All donations are tax-deductible.

Villa Chapel Fund c/o ECHS
419 State Street
Erie, PA 16501.

Why should the Villa be saved?

View the 5 minute documentary below to find out.