Within the geometric white walls of the Meade Clinical Centre in Waikato Hospital are a set of elegant stained-glass windows.
Facing to the north, slivers of sunshine peek across the chapel’s modern altar, but the windows are reminiscent of a place and time often forgotten.
Their history dates back to 1945 when patients were designated a small room in the Hockin Wing for prayer and reflection. Over the following nine years a small but dedicated team of nurses, students and ambulance officers quietly collected funds to try and build a small onsite chapel.
By 1954 the Waikato Nurses Chapel Committee had raised enough community funds to approach the Hospital Board to set aside some land. By 1958 Waikato Hospital’s first onsite chapel, the Nurses Memorial Chapel, was built. Its stone walls housed a peaceful setting for worship and reflection, in times of trouble and in times of celebration, a place of hope and comfort, of love and care, said chaplaincy administration support woman Louise Shergold-Baker.
In 1960 the committee decided to put some left over funding towards the stained-glass windows. They sent some local photographs off to an artist in England, where the windows were designed. Depicted in them is Christ the Great Physician, Jesus the Good Shepherd and Luke the Beloved Physican. In the right window is a portrayal of Waikato’s now retired surgical nurse Julie Schuler and is similar to the stained-glass window designed by Hugh Easton in the Nurses Memorial Chapel of Westminster Abbey. The middle window was presented by Clara Hooker, a Plunket Nurse.
For half a century the chapel stood as a memory of the Waikato’s local history. Architecturally its neoclassical design offset the rest of the campus’s utilitarian buildings. Meanwhile its committee members and patrons still remain some of Hamilton’s most remarkable characters. Dame Hilda Ross just one of the few, not to mention the many nurses who served their community in times of peace and their home and country in times of war.
When it was decided to close Tokanui Hospital near Te Awamutu in 1996 and move the mental health facilities to the Waiora Waikato hospital campus, the chapel’s location became problematic.
Now in place of the chapel stands Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre. The chapel was moved to inside the hospital and despite the last 10 years of redevelopment around campus its presence has remained a permanent fixture, providing a beautiful and serene place of worship and reflection for everyone.