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The Chapel of Love

Nicole Patterson

Glass Chapel

Photos: Mike Miville, John Jaffee, C'74

“Our world was rocked when it was announced that St. Joseph College was closing and women would soon be among us,” admitted John Jaffee, C’74, who started at Mount St. Mary’s College in the fall of 1970. 

belinda-lowry-john-jaffee-1974-in-text.jpgUnknown to him at the time, Belinda Lowry, C’74, entered St. Joseph College that same fall. Jaffee’s mother Anita (Conboy) Jaffee, SJC’42, an active alumna, would often visit the tree-lined campus with him in tow. When the time came for him to decide the next step in his educational future, he looked at a handful of schools. The familiarity of the Mount drew him.  

Jaffee quickly made friends and got involved in the Mount’s radio station, WMSM, located on the lower level of Dubois, now the location of Kane Chapel, and theater group Sock ‘n’ Buskin—which connected him to opportunities and friendships that forever changed his life. Theater productions would alternate between the Mount and St. Joseph. Jaffee met Lowry as a freshman when he was at St. Joseph working on a set design. Lowry transferred to the Mount after St. Joseph College closed its doors; she was one of the first resident females at the Mount.  

john-and-belinda_no-plant-in-text.jpg“To say I was not thrilled with the Mount going coed was an understatement, but I made many friendships with the ‘new’ students and among them was Belinda Lowry,” Jaffee recounted to Mount Magazine in 2012. Both sociology majors and involved with Sock ‘n’ Buskin, the pair had similar interests and developed a strong friendship—but never dated. One beautiful evening they were sitting outside the steps of Flynn Hall waiting for someone to unlock the doors when Professor Phil Wychodzki uttered these prophetic words: “You two would make a great couple.”    

Jaffee continued to make friends and focus on his studies. With heavy class loads on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he would make it a point to study for long hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, often hiking to the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes and Indian Lookout. He also continued his technical work alongside his roommate Ed Horn. “We remodeled the radio station from head to toe. We created sets and all the sound systems for dramatic productions. We had a natural affinity for making things; we both had an interest in construction,” Jaffee said. After graduation, he held a job in Thurmont as a Top 40 disc jockey for WTHU until Ed graduated the following year. Together they launched Horncraft Builders and completed jobs in Hagerstown, Emmitsburg, Frederick and Montgomery Counties.  

horncraft-msm-st-marys-chapel-on-the-hill-10-1976-in-text.jpg“Msgr. Phillips, who we knew well, knew we were trying to start our company. He told us about his hopes to build a chapel at the Grotto,” Jaffee recalled. They bid on the project and began construction on the Chapel of St. Mary’s on the Hill, often called the Glass Chapel.

About that time, John and Belinda crossed paths and the former friendship blossomed into romance. She asked him out in November 1975. “I keep telling her it’s the biggest mistake she’s ever made,” he joked. Jaffee knew she was the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with at Christmas Midnight Mass in 1975, and they were engaged a short time later. Shortly before becoming engaged, his construction firm was awarded the project to build the new chapel. He suggested they get married there and asked Msgr. Phillips to officiate. The project completion date was slated for October. Pre-stressed concrete members were hoisted into place, concrete was poured and stonework was completed. Wooden benches were constructed and made with care. As September approached, it was clear meeting the deadline was going to be a challenge,” he said. “But everything worked out.”  

The two were wed at 10 a.m. on September 18, 1976. Msgr. Phillips and Fr. James Delaney concelebrated the first Mass ever held in the new chapel—the wedding of Belinda Lowry and John Jaffee.  

Jaffee and Horn continued to do construction projects at the Mount, including converting the upper floors of Bradley Hall to a residential space, building the seminary lecture hall, renovating Sheridan Hall, the Terrace and the Student Union Building as well as renovating part of the Knott Academic Center. After a few years, the company was restructured. “I was newly married at that time and decided to change careers,” Jaffee said. “If it wasn’t for Ed Egan, C’52, who knows what I would have done over those years. It was through that connection at the Mount that my career came to be.” Jaffee has been in insurance ever since; he currently works as a consultant for insurance marketing.  

“Ed Egan (C’77) was a very good friend of mine at the Mount. I knew his father well. After we made big changes to the construction company, I was down in Ed Sr.’s office and he asked how I would support my new bride. He turned around, picked up the telephone on his credenza, and told me to go over to Aetna. ‘You’ve got an interview in 30 minutes,’ he said. Back then you could drive from Frederick to Tyson’s Corner in one hour,” Jaffee joked.  

In September 2023, Jaffee and Lowry celebrated 47 years of marriage. She spent her entire career as a social worker for the state of Maryland and is now happily retired. The two have two children and three grandchildren. Inspired by those hikes to the Grotto and Indian Lookout, the Jaffee’s summer home in North Carolina sits at 5,000 feet on top of a mountain overlooking the Tennessee valleys for miles and miles. The lovebirds are also snowbirds; their winter home is in southwest Florida.

In addition to his marriage achievement, Jaffee is looking forward to another milestone and his latest project: Reunion Weekend 2024 on June 7-9, 2024, when members of the Class of 1974 will celebrate their 50-year anniversary. As part of the Reunion committee, he’s excited to welcome the class back to campus.

“When we went to the Mount, you got a bed, a desk and a dresser. There was no technology. You wrote a term paper on a typewriter. There was an intercom phone on the hall. No cell phones. No computers. The guy with a little TV was the star of the hall. Nowadays, the Mount would close if you offered that to the students,” he joked. In a graduating class of less than 300 students, he’s hopeful many alumni will return to their mountain home to celebrate the successes of their lives.  

Reunion Weekend includes a Friday Mass to remember classmates who have passed, a special honorary dinner and an optional tour of the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Observant visitors can find a plaque inside St. Mary’s Chapel on the Hill commemorating the Jaffee’s special day in 1976. Bathed in the light of sunshine, visitors can sit quietly or pray and reflect on how this place has shaped the trajectory of their lives.  

“More than anything, the Mount community, the people, the place, the professors—it all made a difference in my life,” he added. Jaffee has been involved in his faith throughout the decades, volunteering as a lector for more than 35 years and taking leadership roles like parish council president and maintenance director. “I think my faith is more about how to live life—and that has kept me on a good path,” he said,

 

Nicole Patterson