Shining Light on the Catholic Cemetery Chapel
(written by David Kranz, Archives staff)
All the cemeteries of La Crosse hold features of interest. One that many of us often pass by but maybe don’t pay direct attention to is the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin of the Seven Dolors (or Sorrows) located in the Catholic Cemetery east of Losey Boulevard.
Viewed most often from a distance, the chapel in La Crosse's Catholic Cemetery is worth a close look as well.
The chapel was dedicated 125 years ago in November 1891, a few months after the death of La Crosse Diocese’s second bishop, Bishop Kilian Caspar Flasch. Records relating to the construction of the chapel are sparse, in part because a fire destroyed some of the early church records.
In addition to its use as a location for small services within the cemetery, part of the chapel’s original purpose was to house remains of bishops and priests of the La Crosse Diocese. Space for perhaps 20 interments was created in a crypt beneath the chapel.
An image of the chapel from the 1904 book “The Catholic History La Crosse, Wis.: In Two Chapters,” by Florence Crane, shows the exterior today is relatively unchanged from its early years. This book is available for viewing at the LPL Archives.
Interments were made here into the 1930s or longer. In 1962, remains of some individuals were moved from the chapel crypt to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at the rebuilt St. Joseph the Workman Cathedral at 6th and Main Streets.
The Catholic Cemetery chapel’s design makes use of Gothic Revival elements, such as pointed arches, a steeply pitched roof, buttresses, and decoration and lines intended to lift the viewer’s gaze toward the sky. This philosophy is echoed inside, with vining details on the walls and even stars painted on the ceiling. You can read more about the building’s features at the Footsteps of La Crosse website, where it is Stop #6 on the Sacred Spaces tour.
The steeple, roofline decorations, and stone design elements that mimic pillars all work to draw your eye upward when viewing the chapel’s exterior, seen here in a 2015 photo.
Aside from religious motivations, reasons to visit the chapel when it is open include viewing the carved wooden altar and the interior decoration, and also to appreciate the stained glass windows with the sun’s light pouring through.
Much of the chapel’s woodwork is oak, though other woods appear to have been used for the rail and altar.
The interior of the chapel does not offer electric lighting, which accentuates the brightness of the stained glass windows. The interior is very well lit by natural light, particularly on a sunny day.
The building has suffered some vandalism and weather issues over the years, but ongoing maintenance as well as restoration work in the 1950s and the 1980s have helped keep the germ of its beauty intact. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 and has also been recognized as a City of La Crosse Historic Site.
At one time, tours of the chapel and the cemetery were available in the summertime, but these tours have not been offered in several years. Most of us must appreciate it only in photographs, some of which can be viewed at the LPL Archives.