Set Open the Doors O Soul - CODAworx

Set Open the Doors O Soul

Client: Dowling Catholic High School

Location: Des Moines, IA, United States

Completion date: 2021

Project Team


The Art Studio

RDG Planning & Design, Inc.



Catholic High School

Owner's Liturgical Consultant

Brother William J. Woeger, F.S.C.

Landscape Design

RDG Planning & Design, Inc.

Lighting Design

RDG Planning & Design, Inc.

Structural Engineering

Raker Rhodes Engineering, LLC

Metal Fabrication

Iowa Metal Fabrication, LLC

Installation, sitework, landscaping

Country Landscapes, Inc.


Absolute Concrete

Lighting Installation

Kaas Electric Inc


“Set Open the doors O Soul.”

The Dowling Catholic High School Memorial Garden is conceived as a commemorative memorial space adjacent to the high school campus chapel. The sculptural forms made of weathering steel plate create a threshold passage and define the memorial garden space in relationship to the processional axis of the chapel. The entrance threshold is oriented perpendicular to the setting sun on All Souls Day with a corresponding sunrise casting an illuminated cross passing along and through the center of this sacred garden space. The Memorial Garden and sculptural elements connect both the physical and spiritual and mark the arrival to the heart of campus creating a place capable of bearing the weight of mystery.

The sculptural elements crafted of weathering steel compliment the chapel in color and integrity of materials and register the passage of time as the weathering steel ages and develops its own unique patina on site. The forms create a processional threshold experience expressing the importance of faith and community – the living and the departed – joined as one.


The goal for the commission was to establish a memorial dedicated to the deceased members of the Dowling Catholic High School and St. Joseph Academy community. Inspired through dialogue with the client and liturgical consultant, sculpture elements frame a processional experience with the textural surfaces of words inviting contemplation from Walt Whitman’s “The Last Invocation”

Let me be wafted,
Let me glide noiselessly forth,
Set Open the doors O soul.
Tenderly - be not impatient.

Scripture is placed on axis to the procession greeting those who enter the garden in a gently curving embrace:

Listen, I will tell you a mystery. We will all not die,
but we will be changed, in a moment, in the
twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet.
For this perishable body must put on imperishability,
and this mortal body must put on immortality.
Then the written will be fulfilled:
Death has been swallowed up in victory.

Passing through the threshold into the memorial garden marks a special place for an awareness of faith, a qualitative space where individuals are memorialized through a programing experience for small group and individual contemplation.


The design of the memorial began with a discussion with the school’s leadership wishing to establish a memorial to recognize and to create a private space for students and community members alike to contemplate the unexpected passing of individuals from the community. The artist working with a liturgical expert, landscape architect and school leadership established the location of the memorial and the school’s chapel to create a relationship that could become part of the curriculum program with a focus on the importance of faith and the spiritual teaching that involves both the living and the departed as one community. The selection of both poetry and scripture is an invitation and a reminder of faith to consider both states of being in the context of everyday and spiritual lives lived on campus.