The United States military establishment has always taken the spiritual needs of its members very seriously. Nowhere is this tradition more strongly represented than at the various American military academies. Some of the oldest and most historic military chapels in the United States are to be found at West Point, Annapolis and the various senior military colleges, while the Air Force Academy chapel is considered to be one of the masterpieces of modern architecture and interdenominational tolerance.
Old Cadet Chapel
West Point, New York (founded 1836)
The Old Cadet Chapel was the first church to be built at West Point as well as the first purpose-built chapel anywhere for the United States Army. It is also the oldest military chapel still in use in America. It was constructed in 1836 as part of the campus close to Grant Hall. It remained West Point’s sole chapel until 1900, when a separate Catholic chapel was added to the facility.
In 1910 a new Protestant chapel was constructed to serve the much larger student body. No longer needed for primary worship serves, the Old Cadet Chapel was moved piece by piece to a new location near the entrance of the West Point Cemetery. It is still used for Lutheran worship and is still the primary site for special religious occasions at the academy including funerals.
Naval Academy Chapel
Annapolis, Maryland (founded 1908)
The Naval Academy Chapel is one of the largest of all of the academy chapels and one of the most recognizable landmarks on the campus. Completed in 1908, it replaced the academy’s earlier church. For years weekly cadet attendance at the chapel was mandatory. Because of this, the chapel was expanded and remodeled on several occasions to accommodate the growing number of cadets.
From 1908 until 2005 it remained the only church on campus until the addition of the Naval Academy Jewish Chapel. Architecturally, the Naval Academy Chapel is arguably more impressive than its counterparts at West Point. Of particular note is the massive, towering dome over the altar. John Paul Jones, naval hero of the American Revolution, is buried in a crypt beneath the chapel.
Summerall Chapel, The Citadel
Charleston, South Carolina (founded 1936)
The Summerall Chapel is the official chapel of The Military College of South Carolina, also known as The Citadel. One of the senior military colleges of the United States, it is probably the most famous outside of the federal academies. The chapel, originally known as the Cadet Chapel, was constructed in 1936. It was redesignated as the Summerall Chapel after the retirement of the university’s president General Pelot Summerall in 1953.
Summerall is the oldest nondenominational chapel on a military college campus in the South. It is famously associated with the Ecclesiastes Biblical verse, “Remember Now Thy Creator in the Days of Thy Youth.” The chapel’s best feature, at least from a traditional standpoint, are the stained glass windows, each of which was donated by a graduating class from the 1930s or 1940s.
Cadet Chapel, United States Air Force Academy
Colorado Springs, Colorado (founded 1962)
The Cadet Chapel of the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs is not only the most diverse chapel at an American military academy, it is also considered to be a masterpiece of modern church architecture. The Air Force Academy, the last to be founded, was opened in the 1950s, and the chapel was completed in 1962. Its futuristic design, groundbreaking at the time, evokes images of rockets and space flight. It was recognized for its outstanding design by the American Institute of Architects in 1996.
Unlike other military chapels, the Cadet Chapel of Colorado Springs was specifically laid out to accommodate different faiths under one roof. The area reserved for Protestant worship is the largest section and is big enough to accommodate over a thousand people. In addition to the main chapel, there are smaller places of worship set aside for Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists. There is also an all-faith room, as well as an outdoor worship area for general spiritual use.
Chapel of the Most Holy Trinity; West Point Cadet Chapel; West Point Jewish Chapel
West Point, New York (founded 1836)
Over the years, the United States Military Academy cadet corps has expanded not only in size but in diversity. It has subsequently expanded its on-campus religious options. In 1900, the Chapel of the Most Holy Trinity was added to serve the needs of the Catholic cadets. This was the first military chapel in the United States that was not specifically for either Protestant or multidenominational use.
In 1910, a new Protestant church, the West Point Cadet Chapel, was added. This massive new building replaced the Old Cadet Chapel, which was subsequently relocated to the West Point Cemetery. Finally, the West Point Jewish Chapel was constructed in 1984. This was the first time a non-Christian chapel was built at any military academy in the United States.