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SLU moves Gunnison Memorial Chapel tradition to Leithead Field House

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CANTON — Candlelight and music will fill the Leithead Field House tonight as a decades-long holiday tradition is kept alive despite a change in venue.

More than 250 candles will be lit tonight for St. Lawrence University’s 92nd annual candlelight service at the field house. The Gunnison Memorial Chapel, where the event is traditionally held, has been closed since Oct. 6, when its steeple was destroyed by fire.

“It’s very hard to not be in the Gunnison Chapel this year, and sad,” said the Rev. Kathleen Buckley, the university’s chaplain. “The reason the ceremony is so special is because of the people who are present each year.”

The single 8 p.m. service will be free and open to the public, replacing the usual 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. services, the Rev. Ms. Buckley said.

There is enough space in the field house to seat about 1,100 people, with five sets of bleachers and plenty of chairs.

Sondra Goldsmith Proctor, musician in residence at the chapel, said the university usually sees about 600 people at each service when it held it at Gunnison Chapel.

“I think we may get even more this year because there’s only one service,” she said. “Of course I’m going to miss the chapel, but it’s always good to gather together and keep tradition going.”

This year, the service theme will be serenity and will feature a series of readings, Christmas carols and special music performed by the St. Lawrence University Chorus, the St. Lawrence University Laurentian Singers and the St. Lawrence Children’s Community Chorus.

“It’s going to be a very different experience than the chapel, where there was a much more intimate atmosphere,” Ms. Proctor said.

According to Ryan P. Deuel, director of media relations for SLU, the chapel was inspected “from the basement to the bell tower as well as the infrastructure of the building, the Bacheller Memorial Chimes and the Estey Pipe Organ, both of which are also from 1926, the same year chapel construction was completed.”

Mr. Deuel said 15 repair projects were identified on the inside and outside of the chapel, including the replacement of both the spire of the steeple and the roof on the bell tower, on which a temporary roof was placed to last the winter.

Mr. Deuel said the university doesn’t yet have a timeline for completion of the renovations or a dollar amount for repairs.

“It’s sort of fun to see a new look in the field house,” Ms. Proctor said.

The university is using the same platform and sound system used at graduation and will have special lighting to turn the field house into a more festive venue, according to the Rev. Ms. Buckley.

The university also rented an electric organ for Ms. Proctor to play, because the piano would not have been loud enough to fill the field house.

“People have been wonderful to help make this happen,” the Rev. Ms. Buckley said. “Facilities personnel, the information technology personnel and the athletics department have been particularly helpful.”

Ms. Proctor said the most amazing aspect of the service this year is the community that came together to make it happen.

“I’ve been so touched since the fire by the community reaching out,” she said.

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