Friday, September 06, 2013

The St. Ann Choir's History at St. Ann Chapel and St. Thomas Aquinas Church

The St. Ann Choir first began singing at Masses at St. Ann Chapel, which has a complex and fascinating history of its own. At the time the choir started in 1963, St. Ann chapel was 12 years old. It had been built by Ambassador, Congresswoman, and playwright, Clare Boothe Luce, wife of the publishing giant Henry Luce, and donated for use by Stanford University’s Catholic student center. Claire Boothe Luce wished the chapel to be dedicated to St. Ann as a memorial to her daughter, Ann Brokaw, who had died in an accident months before she was to graduate from Stanford in 1944.

Luce intended the chapel to be a small gem that she hoped would illustrate that modernism and sacred art are compatible, and she commissioned artists to decorate the chapel with expressionistic (and experimental) painted windows instead of stained glass, painted stations of the Cross, a cubist-inspired mosaic of the Blessed Virgin, and a steel mesh flat canopy decorated with mosaics and Cubist-inspired angels over the altar.
St. Ann Chapel Altar with canopy

A large impressionistic green bronze of St. Ann with the Virgin Mary is mounted over the entrance on the flat, red brick front of the modern chapel.
Bronze relief of St. Ann with the Virgin Mary on the facade

St. Ann Chapel facade

St. Ann Chapel was used for worship by the Newman Center for almost 50 years. After Newman Center activities were eventually transferred to the Stanford Memorial Church on campus, the Diocese of San Jose sold the chapel, which was decommissioned as a Catholic church and came into the possession of the Anglican Province of Christ the King.

Ever since 1998, the choir has been singing at Masses on Sundays and major feast days at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, another historic Palo Alto church, which was built in an architectural style called Carpenter Gothic at the beginning of the 20th century.

St. Thomas Aquinas Church

At St. Ann chapel where the choir first began in 1963, the experimental paint is peeling from the painted windows, and the colors have faded with age. The modernist style of architecture and art has lost much of its appeal over the decades, but the choir has been able to maintain its own nostalgic attachment by continuing to sing Catholic Sunday Vespers at the chapel, by the gracious invitation of the Anglican Archbishop, Robert Morse.
St. Ann Choir Sings Vespers at St. Ann Chapel

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