Monsignor Robert L. Brugger, longtime priest in the Catholic Diocese of Erie and trustee of Gannon University
Renovations to Gannon University’s Mary, Seat of Wisdom chapel are about to begin, thanks in large part to a lead gift by a longtime priest in the Catholic Diocese of Erie and trustee of the University.
Monsignor Robert L. Brugger, who once attended Gannon University and who was the pastor at St. Jude Catholic Church and St. George Catholic Church among other parishes, privately presented his transformative gift to the University this past week. The generous lead gift will fuel a campaign to complete renovations to the chapel with a total projected cost of $1.5 million to $2 million.
“I’ve been a part of Gannon for a long time,” he said, explaining his reason for the gift. “I was a student here. I’ve been a board member for many years. … And I’ve always been impressed with the students and leadership here.”
“It was always at the top of my list to do something for Gannon if I had the chance,” he said.
Gannon University President Keith Taylor, Ph.D., said Brugger’s gift was both fitting and timely, given the Monsignor’s history with the institution and the current progress being made with the restoration project.
“Msgr. Brugger has been an incredible supporter of our University and the life of our students, serving for many years as the chairperson of the Student Development Committee of the Board of Trustees,” Taylor said. “His commitment to not only the faith life of our students, faculty and staff but to the faith community across the Erie Catholic Diocese is reflected in the amazing generosity he has shown in leading the way for the transformation of our Mary, Seat of Wisdom Chapel. The impact of this gift will transform the chapel and the Gannon experience for generations to come.”
Father Michael Kesicki, associate vice president for Gannon’s Mission and Ministry, has been leading the work group that is focused on the renovations.
“This gift will provide a spiritual home for our students so that they may grow in a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, both in the Mass and in the solitude of private prayer,” Kesicki said. “As we approach the holy season of Christmas, I am moved to think of Msgr. Brugger’s generosity as a true reflection of the gifts of the Magi: the gold of his commitment to the kingdom of God, the frankincense of his religious devotion and deep faith, and the myrrh of his self-sacrificing dedication to the people that has marked the almost 52 years of his priestly life.”
The Mary, Seat of Wisdom Chapel at 520 Peach St. has been closed since May, when a gas leak was discovered. The source of that leak was an abandoned gas well located below the chapel.
That gas well has been re-drilled and capped, but only after a significant amount of work to the area around the chapel. Two buildings – the Student Services building and the Pontifical Center – were demolished to make way for drilling equipment to get into the chapel. Both of those buildings had been identified in the school’s 2009 master plan as needing to be taken down because they were well past their useful lives.
The work on the well was finished in early November and the chapel’s north wall has been rebuilt.
Now, attention will turn to work inside the chapel. A team assembled from across the University has been meeting with an architect to design the new space. The plan is nearly finished and the reimagined chapel will see a complete enhancement of the worship space, new pews, sanctuary, and altar along with a reconfigured fellowship space, bathrooms and kitchen.
A capital campaign was established in late-summer to raise funds for the repairs and renovation and this lead gift takes the campaign and the opportunities within the project to a whole new level. To donate, call Almitra Clerkin, associate vice president for University Advancement, at (814) 871-7786 or go to www.gannonalumni.org/give.
Clerkin said University Advancement is working to secure gifts of all sizes for the chapel. Monsignor Brugger’s gift will help in significant ways, and it will also help the chapel reopen before the start of the next school year.
Brugger, 77, is a 1960 graduate of Cathedral Preparatory School who attended Gannon for two years before going to Christ the King Seminary at St. Bonaventure University in New York. He has been a part of the Diocese of Erie ever since being ordained in 1968.
As for the chapel, the beginnings of a Christian church on the site go back to 1860, when the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church dedicated a brick edifice with a towering steeple. That original building was partially destroyed by fire in 1920 and not fully restored until 1940. A second fire in 1944 completely destroyed the building.
The present church was built in 1950. Its congregation merged with the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in January of 1981 and is now the First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant on West Sixth Street. Gannon University purchased the property that year with a view to continuing the church as the University Chapel. The chapel was dedicated on Oct. 8, 1989.