In April of 1970, the same year that Duke Divinity School put off building a new chapel for lack of funds, Susan Pendleton Jones’ mother took her to a bookstore for her 12th birthday.
Her gift was to pick out a book—any book—of Susan’s choice. She had outgrown many former favorites: Marguerite Henry’s horse books, the Beverly Cleary series, and Nancy Drew. On her bookshelf at home she had organized a library with her own Dewey Decimal system and checkout cards in pockets taped onto the back of each book.
After half an hour, she arrived at the register with a selection that surprised both her mother and the clerk at the register: a book of house plans.
At home, she spent hours poring over the plans. Mentally she made tours of each design, walking into every room, climbing up and down staircases to explore each level, lost in interiors that leapt from the pages of her book to become three dimensional spaces. She daydreamed about becoming a builder.
These were ordinary homes, not houses of worship. But the latter ultimately captured this alumna’s fascination with the convergence of faith and space. At the 78th Closing Convocation on the morning of April 20, 2005, the Rev. Susan Pendleton Jones D’83 became the first celebrant in the divinity school’s Goodson Chapel, a new worship space that Duke had discussed, but put on hold when she was 12.
“I just love space and how rooms fit together—and the creative ways you can organize spaces and call them ‘home,’” says Jones. “I think I began this interest both out of wanting to find a sense of place and belonging as most teenagers do, and wanting some day to create similar places of belonging.”
Duke Divinity School’s expansion project came back to the fore in the late ’90s as a number of new programs— including the Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life, Health & Nursing Ministries, and the Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation—stretched facilities to the limit. Office space for faculty and administrators became priorities along with a larger chapel, a refectory for communal dining, and classrooms equipped with state-of-the-art technology.
From planning and design to construction and final punchlists, Jones, who is director of special programs for the divinity school, oversaw myriad details for the school’s new $22 million addition, nestled into the shadow of Duke Chapel on what is arguably the most sensitive site on Duke’s campus.
Whether watching as Duke stone was shaped for the addition’s neo-Gothic façade, visiting the Indiana site where limestone tracery and 12 decorative finials were hand carved, or making one of countless hardhat tours during three years of construction, Jones focused on a dizzying succession of details.
The divinity project benefited from her experiences at Linden Heights United Methodist Church in Baltimore, Md., where she served as senior pastor during a major construction project. At Duke, she envisioned the new space much as she had the blueprints from her birthday many years before. The design for two limestone arches inscribed with Scripture—“Be Transformed by the Renewing of Your Mind” and “If Anyone is in Christ, There is a New Creation”— occurred to her one night as she “walked through” the blueprint for the entrance off the Memorial Garden before falling asleep.
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