By Amanda Childers
Illustrations by Clemson University

The Samuel J. Cadden Chapel at Clemson

In the movie Field of Dreams, there is a haunting, prophetic line whispered throughout the film, “If you build it, they will come.” There is a new facility on Clemson’s campus that has been talked about in that same way for more than two decades. It fills a void in our landscape and promises to fill a need in the spirit and well-being of our students and our community.

Now that it is built, they will surely come.

More than 20 years ago, a small group gathered in Clemson to discuss the need for something they felt was missing from campus — a quiet place for meditation, introspection or worship. A Clemson chapel. Many universities around the country have campus chapels. Cherished spots where private moments mean a lot, where memories can be made and revisited and shared with the next generation. That small group of community and campus volunteers decided that Clemson needed such a place, and they were determined to start the planning process. Thus began a 25-year journey.

An Infectious Smile

Around that same time, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, a baby boy was born to Ken and Mary Cadden and was destined to attend Clemson. As soon as he stepped foot on campus, Sam Cadden knew he was home. His warm and welcoming personality captivated everyone he met. His smile invited friendship in classes, in his fraternity and on the intramural field.

Cadden was involved in many activities during his two years at Clemson. A financial management major, he was active at St. Andrew Catholic Church, where he served on the finance council. He worked at M.H. Frank, the formal menswear shop in downtown Clemson, and interned for U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and at the Terminus Group at Morgan Stanley. He was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity and active with the Knights of Columbus. Sam Cadden didn’t just attend Clemson; he immersed himself in every way he could.

Clemson friend Katherine Nahigian Clowes remembers Cadden as being full of life. “Regardless of what Sam was doing,” she says, “he was going to do it with an infectious smile on his face and would give it his whole heart. He poured his love into everything and everyone.”

Clowes remembers that Cadden always had the ability to make everyone feel included. She recalls, “If Sam was around, no one was going to feel left out, whether that was on a beach trip with friends, studying in the library or just hanging out. He had a way of not just including you but making you feel as if you were the most important person in the room. I don’t know if Sam ever met a stranger.”

They came up with an event that would have made Sam smile. “Samapalooza was a benefit golf tournament, run and concert at the Esso Club,” she explains. “It gave all of us a way to grieve for Sam, but more importantly, it was a way to honor him.

“As college students, we didn’t have large donations that we could give to the chapel. But what we did have was time and a desire to help our friend’s legacy live on. Our group of friends came into this event with no funding and no organization. What we did have was one person who united us all. And we did exactly what Sam would have done; we did it with smiles on our faces, and we gave it all of our hearts.”

“Samapalooza was a benefit golf tournament, run and concert at the Esso Club. It gave all of us a way to grieve for Sam, but more importantly, it was a way to honor him.”

Sam’s List

On July 26, 2015, during the summer after his sophomore year, Cadden lost his life in an automobile accident. Ken and Mary Cadden held onto the belief that something meaningful — something good — could come from the loss of their son. Something that would connect them with the people and place their son had grown to love so dearly.

The Caddens were sifting through their son’s belongings when they discovered a list of goals he had written. One item on the list caught their attention, something you wouldn’t expect out of most 20-year-olds. Something that stopped them in their tracks.

Cadden had written that he wanted to have a building on Clemson’s campus named after him someday. Also on the list was his desire to express his faith in a way that would make a difference for others. That was when the Caddens realized they could honor their son in a way that would accomplish those goals, even now. Building a chapel at Clemson in his memory seemed like the perfect answer, prompting their lead gift of $1.5 million to help make Cadden’s dreams — and a Clemson chapel — become a reality.

At the groundbreaking in May 2019, Clemson University President Jim Clements said, “We thank Ken and Mary Cadden for celebrating Sam’s life in a way that will touch the hearts and lift the spirits of generations of future Clemson students. It will be a place as special as the young man for whom it is named.”

Cadden’s passing was very difficult for his friends at Clemson. Katherine Clowes says it is still difficult to this day. But as soon as she learned of the chapel project, she rallied with more of Cadden’s friends and joined in the efforts of his family.

For the Students

Students have been an important part of the chapel planning since the beginning. It seems fitting that the Clemson chapel will bear the name of a student who loved Clemson’s community so deeply. Current student body president William Reinert agrees.

Reinert has been active on the planning committee, specifically for the memorial gardens. He believes the chapel and the memorial gardens send a message to the wider community that Clemson is not only aware of the challenges students face but that Clemson cares.

“The Samuel J. Cadden Chapel will serve as a transformative place for the Clemson community that will bring a sense of belonging, serenity and hope,” he says. “It will be an inclusive space that invites Tigers from all backgrounds to unite and support our Clemson Family. My involvement in the chapel has revolved around a memorial for students who pass away during their time at Clemson, which will be located on the chapel grounds. We care about recognizing and honoring students whose journey in life ended too soon. We care about student wellness and the creation of spaces that promote comfort, privacy and growth. Finally, we care about loving and uplifting our community in a time that wants to pull us apart.”

The unique location of the chapel, in the heart of the Campus Green and adjacent to the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts, is no accident. Although many sites were considered during those years of discussions and planning, the final construction site was strategically chosen for its highly utilized central location. It provides the best perspective to capture the bustling activity of student foot traffic while optimizing the untouched natural landscape of the grounds.

The 5,400-square-foot structure consists of two levels, with the upper floor serving as the main area. The chapel has a capacity of about 130 people, and the lower level includes an open gallery for events, two prayer rooms, preparation space and restrooms.

Opened in December 2021, the chapel and surrounding gardens create an inviting space for all people to feel welcome and accepted. The chapel features strong vertical lines with large windows, allowing light to reflect the natural beauty of the surroundings. Using elegantly detailed, high-quality materials, the Cadden Chapel is a special place for our students to express their beliefs, search within themselves or simply have a safe place to go to reflect. The 5,400-square-foot structure consists of two levels, with the upper floor serving as the main area. The chapel has a capacity of about 130 people, and the lower level includes an open gallery for events, two prayer rooms, preparation space and restrooms.

The surrounding Johnson Family Student Memorial and Reflection Garden provides a natural haven for those who prefer the peace of the outdoors, and a designated memorial honors all Clemson students who have passed away during their enrollment at the University.

Beginning in late 2022, the Cadden Chapel will be reservable through Campus Reservations and Events for faith-based and cultural student organizations to use for small events and programs. Eventually, the chapel will be available to the broader community for memorial services and weddings.

Forward Momentum

While the Caddens’ significant donation provided the impetus to begin the project, additional funds were needed to complete the massive undertaking and bring the long-awaited vision to completion. Because of the unique nature of the project, the entire cost of the chapel had to be secured before ground could be broken, and every penny had to be raised privately. That’s where the Clemson Family stepped forward.

Key to fundraising efforts are the pillar donors, who contributed significant pledges of at least $500,000 to accelerate the forward momentum of the chapel project. The pillar donors include Charles and Susan Barker, Roy McCall, Melvin Younts and Ashley Johnson, who named the memorial garden. Those donations and others represent more than $7 million toward construction, which was celebrated with a groundbreaking ceremony in May 2019. Many smaller donations were raised through student fundraisers such as Samapalooza, Clemson Give Day contributions and anonymous gifts.

After decades of planning and the efforts of countless donors and volunteers, Clemson finally has an all-inclusive, welcoming chapel in the heart of campus. Now more than ever in these turbulent times, this peaceful space will be a refuge for anyone who passes by and stops for a moment to rest.

“The idea of a chapel on Clemson’s campus has been a continuous thread throughout my entire 25-year career at Clemson,” says Barret Anderson, a landscape architect in Clemson’s Planning and Design Office. “It is a delight to see the chapel become a reality, and the timing couldn’t be better. Today’s students face many different pressures and demands. It is so important that students feel like they have a place they can go to separate from the rigorous demands of a typical day. 

“In a setting where mental and physical development is a primary mission, the chapel acknowledges the fact that spiritual growth is an important aspect of a student’s total well-being. It is a great privilege to see this chapel come to life on our campus,” Anderson says.

Amanda Childers is a senior development editor in University Relations at Clemson.

10 replies
  1. Christi Mahon
    Christi Mahon says:

    This is a beautiful story, a beautiful building and will serve the campus with great light. Can’t wait to go see it!

  2. Oscar Lovelace, MD
    Oscar Lovelace, MD says:

    Beautiful article inspiring structure, happened to see it last weekend when we were on campus to speak to some students! Thank you for this story!

  3. mike jernigan
    mike jernigan says:

    Well done! The article and pictures are first class. Sam inspired this needed chapel and it will serve many generations to come. Mike Jernigan, Class of 1976

  4. kemp mooney
    kemp mooney says:

    I read the article about the CHAPEL in the recent alumni magazine and this posted article.
    The chapel looks beautiful; i will visit the next time i am on campus.
    i know i am old (barch 1962…..yes 82) but i have not noticed a line that names this
    architect……who, through design, made it a significant addition to the campus.
    Can anyone identify the creator of this CHAPEL???? thanks

  5. Deborah Nelson
    Deborah Nelson says:

    Visited yesterday. A beautiful and tranquil place to pray and thank God for all our blessings. Thank you to the Cadden family. I am so very sorry for your tragic loss. I wish I had known Sam. Your family is in my prayers.

  6. Gina Wilkie
    Gina Wilkie says:

    What a stunning chapel! Amazing that at only 20, he had a goal to have a building on campus named after him. It’s perfect and I look forward to visiting in person one day.

  7. Naomi Harding
    Naomi Harding says:

    What a beautiful way for Sam’s parents and friends to honor his life and build upon his legacy. The building looks incredible and I look forward to seeing it and the memorial gardens during my next visit.

  8. Melissa M Smith
    Melissa M Smith says:

    This is such a beautiful building and wonderful addition to the Clemson campus. I look forward to visiting. I am sorry for the loss to Sam’s family and friends.


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