Going to the chapel: Heinz Chapel turning 75
Heinz Memorial Chapel’s 75th anniversary celebration will begin Nov. 23 with a mass marriage vow renewal ceremony.
The chapel, dedicated Nov. 20, 1938, was a gift of the Heinz family, and has served as a spot for many events, including concerts, baptisms and Pitt’s Lantern Night ceremonies as well as memorial services and funerals. Chapel director Patricia Gibbons says: “While it’s got incredible stained glass and it’s a beautiful building unto itself, I think most of the people of Pittsburgh, when they think of the building, think of weddings” — as many as 200 per year these days.
It wasn’t always so. The first wedding in the chapel wasn’t performed until Jan. 11, 1946, when socialite Jean Eddy married John Succop after asking friend Vira Heinz for use of the nondenominational chapel because the bride and groom were from different Christian denominations. Since then, both the couple’s daughter and their granddaughter have been married in the chapel.
Why the eight years between the building’s opening and its first nuptials? “I don’t think anybody asked,” Gibbons says. But the second wedding followed quickly, on Jan. 29, 1946; the bride was an English department graduate assistant, former assistant to the dean of women and chapel hostess.
The chapel’s full wedding records begin only in 1968, making it impossible to tell exactly how many happy ceremonies have been performed there. But since the first wedding, students, faculty, trustees’ families “and others closely affiliated with Pitt,” according to a Jan. 23, 1946, Pittsburgh Press article, have sought a wedding date there.
November’s vow renewal ceremony — a civil affair, of course, since it is purely symbolic — will be performed by Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice and Pitt alumnus Max Baer.
“You do not have to have been married at the chapel to participate, and you do not need to be a University graduate to participate,” Gibbons says. And you don’t have to fit into your wedding attire: There is no dress code for the ceremony.
Reservations are required, however; they can be made at www.heinzchapel.pitt.edu/ starting later this month). The $25 fee entitles each couple to a personalized, commemorative laser-cut card of the chapel façade to mark the occasion; a chapel memento (likely a copy of “Songs from the Heart,” a CD of love songs recorded live at the chapel in 2003 by local singer Daphne Alderson) plus admission to the reception that follows.
The vow renewal ceremony will be at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 23, but the doors of the chapel will open at 2:30 p.m., allowing time for couples to take their own photos or use the professional photographer the chapel will have available. The wine and cheese reception at the University Club is 5-6 p.m. Guests are welcome at the event, but must pay $10 each to attend the reception.
Gibbons isn’t sure how many couples to expect for the vow renewal ceremony. “We’ll be sending out save-the-date cards for over 5,000 people,” she says. The chapel holds 400.
Vow renewal participants will have more access to the chapel for their ceremony than those marrying there, who normally get 45 minutes of preparation and an hour for the ceremony. The chapel today has times for one wedding each Thursday, two on Fridays and five each Saturday, with one on Sundays May-August.
To augment the event, Gibbons is asking people to send her a favorite photo from an event at Heinz Chapel, either to email@example.com or the chapel office (1212 Cathedral of Learning, Pittsburgh 15260), with their names, the date and the event noted on them. A slideshow of the submitted photos will be played continually at the reception.
After the reception, there is a 75th anniversary chapel dinner at the University Club 6-7:30 p.m., for which the menu and price are still being determined, followed by an 8 p.m. concert at the chapel, with a program to be announced. One of the performers will be the chapel’s resident sinfonia and chamber ensemble, OvreArts, who will sing a special commemorative piece for the chapel.
The chapel also will be giving awards to the couple who has been married the longest, those traveling farthest to attend, those with the most generations or siblings married there, the couple with the best wedding story and others.