Chapel Talk: Rosemary Gleeson on the importance of chapel

On September 7, Peddie chaplain Rosemary Gleeson gave the first chapel speech of 2012, welcoming back returning students, and welcoming new students to campus. She took the opportunity to remind those gathered of the history and significance of Ayer Memorial Chapel itself, as well as of the important role chapel still plays in the lives of Peddie students and faculty members.

Good morning.  Returning students, you seem to be having a wonderful week!  New students, I hope you are discovering what a warm and welcoming school you have joined.  We are all eager to help you in any way we can, so please reach out to us if you need a hand.

While many – most – of our 50 or so Peddie buildings contain the history of our community in a variety of ways, none is more moving than this, our Peddie chapel.  It contains our Peddie past in profound ways.

The parents of returning students received this spring issue of the Chronicle with its stunning photo of the chapel at dusk, but I’m guessing most of you did not really have an opportunity to read it.  While the cover photo is certainly striking, what stunned me is this (projected) photo of what we have come to know as the “Gold Star Boys” somehow magically superimposed on the chapel steeple. (View the entire article)

The Peddie  “Gold Star Boys” were young alums who became U.S. servicemen who lost their lives during WWII;  They were, sadly, later joined by one Peddie alum who died in the Korean War and six who died in the Vietnam War.  It was in their honor that Headmaster Saunders, joined by Peddie parents, alums, and friends, decided to erect this chapel in answer to the question, “How shall we honor them?”  Imagine the pain Headmaster Saunders must have experienced because of the deaths of those 63 boys.  This is my 32nd year at Peddie, and in those years I have experienced the deaths of perhaps 10 Peddie students; those deaths were heart-wrenching.  I cannot begin to fathom what Headmaster Saunders endured as boy after boy was named as a casualty.

But this chapel is not just about those brave young men.  If you look around, you will see that we are surrounded by portraits and plaques that commemorate past members of the Peddie.  Over there, you see Thomas B. Peddie, and over here the first Headmaster John Greene.  How many of you were on Team Potter or Team DeGray during last spring’s Headmasters Competition?  You can see their portraits back there on my left.  There are small plaques, such as the ones on Row 7 marked simply, “Walter H. Annenberg, 1927,” and the one on Row 33: “Frederick Howell ’43, Battle of the Bulge, Belgium, Christmas Eve, 1944.  And there are larger plaques, such as this one on my left commemorating the visit of Rev. Martin Luther King to the Peddie chapel in 1957.  The one on your right as you enter the chapel was given by Harold Neiderhoffer ’53, donor of the chapel sound system.  It reads:  “In loving memory of my parents who had the foresight to send me to Peddie and to this chapel which has always been a very special place for me.”  Some of you recognize that name Neiderhoffer because he is the member of the Board of Trustees who chairs the Student Concerns committee, and a number of you have met with him. Also, room 103 in the Caspersen History House is dedicated to Mr. and Mrs. Neiderhoffer’s mothers.  I know some of you say that you “bleed blue and gold,” and that’s great.  But Mr. Neiderhoffer has served as his class agent and coordinator of gifts to Peddie since I was 5 years old!  That’s really bleeding blue and gold! Coincidentally, he was interviewed for (this) spring issue of the Chronicle and remarked, “As I have aged, I find that every time I attend a function in the chapel, I find the experience to be fulfilling and meaningful.  I really love that building – and its memories.”

Rosemary Gleeson, Peddie School chaplain
And this building has far more memories than I could ever convey to you:

Happy moments, such as the awarding of prizes at Convocation and Baccalaureate, celebrations of Founders Day, weddings, baptisms, and even, this past year, a proposal of marriage.

But it has also seen sad moments:  memorial services when the Peddie community has gathered to mourn the loss – but also celebrate the life – of a Peddie person whom we have lost.

And this chapel has witnessed profound moments.  I will never forget Walter Annenberg  standing right here and speaking those words inscribed in our library: “strive for the highest quality of citizenship.”

We are also surrounded by symbols.  Not only our American flag here on my right and our Peddie flag over there on my left, but also by the Bible, a Christian cross, a Jewish Star of David, a Hindu Aum, and an Islamic representation of the many attributes of Allah, God.  And I am happy to point out that we also have our wonderful Peddie farmer right here on this lectern!

So, now that you have a sense of why we consider this chapel Peddie’s sacred space, let’s consider what happens in here every Monday and Friday.

There is no “typical” chapel talk.   Even in the spring time, when we always have a few senior talks, we really have a huge range of topics.  For example, just this last spring talks included:

  • Barb Grudt’s amazing experiences as an Olympic rower
  • Zoe  Gilbard’s talk about Passover
  • Our Good Friday service 
  • Kate Higgins, long-time Peddie teacher, returning to Peddie to praise about Sandy Tattersall’s impact on Peddie life over the past 31 years.
  • I’m sure you remember Don Jones who told us about being on the plane that crash-landed on the Hudson River.
  • And let’s not forget Mr. Treese and Mr. McClellan’s joint “Happy Birthday” to Mr. Green!

Our speakers are sometimes faculty, sometimes staff, sometimes students, sometimes alums, sometimes guests, such as President Gerald Ford, Secretary of State Colin Powell,  and now- Mayor of Newark Cory Booker.

Sometimes chapel is specifically religious; our wonderful Rabbi Wisnia will be here soon, and  Fr. Connor has been a regular visitor for over 20 years.

Sometimes chapel is cultural in tone, such as our celebrations of Chinese New Year and Earth Day.

Sometimes it is artistic.  I love when our amazing Peddie musicians take over our chapel and lift our spirits through the beauty of their performances.

Yes, Peddie is non-denominational, but here in chapel we demonstrate that we are inclusive; we warmly embrace each others' traditions and rejoice in learning about them.

Today we will conclude chapel the way that we ordinarily begin: with the announcement of a prayer request followed by a moment of silence.  While I would have mentioned Mr. Neiderhoffer in this talk anyway because of his remarks in this spring Chronicle, I particularly wanted you to be thinking of him today because he has been in the hospital for the past four weeks.  When I asked him if he would like us to remember him today, he replied,” Please do –I need all the prayers I can get!”

Please join me in a Moment of Silence.