The site of the Episcopal Church Center was deeded to the Diocese of South Florida by the University of Miami in 1951. Thus, although we are located on campus the land is owned by the diocese. [In 1969 the Diocese of South Florida was divided into three dioceses: Central Florida, Southwest Florida, and Southeast Florida. The current owner of the property is the Diocese of Southeast Florida.]
The original U-shaped structure at the Episcopal Church Center at UM was completed in 1952. St. Augustine’s Chapel was located on the second floor (in what is now our chapel library), with a student lounge and kitchen on the main floor. Offices, restrooms, and a small upstairs apartment over a covered breezeway completed the complex.
Jean Flagler Matthews, granddaughter of railroad tycoon Henry Flagler, donated the money to build the current chapel. Construction began in November 1958 and was finished in the spring of 1960. This new chapel was named in honor of St. Bede: since he was a scholar he was deemed to be a fitting patron saint for a college chapel.
Marion Manley, the architect for the original building and for the new chapel, was the first woman architect in the State of Florida. She had been practicing architecture since the 1920’s; by the 1950’s she was a well-established architect with her own firm. The Chapel Ms. Manley designed has superb acoustics, and through the years many students of the University’s Frost School of Music have chosen the Chapel as the venue for their recitals. The Chapel is a marvelous example of MIMO (Miami Modern) architecture.
The large crucifix behind the altar and the distinctive fourteen carved Stations of the Cross in the Chapel are the work of Haitian artist André Lafontant.
The large marble altar has always been in its current position, away from the wall, so that the priest presiding at the Eucharist could face the congregation. While this is the norm today, the Chapel was ahead of its time when built.
For many years the Chapel doors remained unlocked so that students, faculty, and others could enter and pray whenever they felt the urge. However, in the mid-1970’s it became quite popular to steal some of the smaller wooden pipes from the organ: they made the perfect bong! Since we couldn’t afford to continue to provide the most expensive bongs in Miami-Dade County, sadly the Chapel has to be kept locked when not in use. However, a small oratory was added, with a separate entrance, which has twenty-four hour access seven days a week. This oratory has been a place of refuge for many students and others over the years.
The Preschool for the University of Miami is located at the Episcopal Church Center. The UM/Canterbury Preschool has children from ages three months through four years.