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Memorial Church & Windhover Contemplative Center Visiting Information

Memorial Church Open Visiting Hours:
Monday - Thursday, 9 AM - 4 PM
Friday, 9 AM - 1 PM

Memorial Church is closed for University holidays, University closures, services, and private events. 
Windhover Contemplative Center is currently closed. There is no expected re-opening date at this time.

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Banner image featuring View of trees from Windhover contemplative center.

Windhover Dedication

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Text from Windhover dedication ceremony speeches

Wednesday, 10.8.2014




Welcome to Windhover.

THANK YOU for joining us this afternoon to celebrate the dedication of this contemplative space that was originally envisioned some 20 years ago. I welcome those who dreamed of this day for a long time— especially our lead donor, Suzanne Sumerlin Duca; and, Joe Oliveira, Nathan’s son; and, his family. THANK YOU for your ongoing commitment to this project.

I also wish to welcome and thank all of you who contributed to this inspirational project including members of the building planning committee; the program and operations team, and, especially our project manager Maggie Burgett.

Thank you to the architects at Aidlin Darling Design; Andrea Cochran Landscape; and the construction management team from SC Builders. Thank you President Hennessy, Provost Etchemendy, and former Dean for Religious Life Scotty McLennan, for your leadership. In addition, thank you to the Office of Religious Life, the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs, the Office of Land, Buildings & Real Estate; and the dozens of individuals who supported, planned and consulted along this path.

During our program this afternoon you will hear from our student body President, Elizabeth Woodson; our new Dean for Religious Life, Jane Shaw; Provost Etchemendy; Suzanne Duca; And, we’ll conclude with Jerry Yang who will formally accept Windhover on behalf of the Board of Trustees.

We understand the unique pressures and stressors today’s students experience. Windhover delivers the message that the quality of all intellectual endeavors is directly linked to fulfilling one's emotional and spiritual needs.  Inspired by Nathan Oliveira’s Windhover series, this space is a refuge from the daily stressors. Windhover will be appreciated not just for what one sees, but also how one feels—how this experience contributes to one's overall well-being.

Today we gather here at Windhover; in this oak grove, located in the heart of campus, yet seemingly removed from the fast-paced activities surrounding us. 

 The path to the building’s entrance – a progression through a long, private garden sheltered from its surroundings by a line of bamboo allows one to shed the outside world before entering. Personally, I like to think of it as path of discovery; a place that I’ve somehow accidently stumbled upon - a secret retreat that nobody else knows about.

Once inside, the space opens fully to the oaks, where louvered skylights wash the paintings with natural light, which is constantly changing as the day progresses, unifying art, architecture, and landscape.

Thick rammed earth walls (which provide a sense of grounding) complemented by the wood surfaces further heighten the visitor’s sensory experience.

And, of course, there is the centerpiece of Windhover—Nathan Oliveira’s paintings of wings that serve as a metaphor for flight and for the freedom of the mind.

Water, too, plays an important role, providing ambient sounds, while a reflecting pool and garden live in harmony with the surrounding trees.

And, one can experience the serenity of walking the labyrinth, which may be just the path one needs to follow after a long day of work or classes.

To learn more about Windhover’s journey, its mission and purpose, as well as the art and the artist, I encourage you to visit

A Couple Items of Note While Visiting

The building is open every day from 11 am-11 pm for contemplation via access with your Stanford ID card, with some mornings (prior to 11 am) set aside for programming opportunities, such as yoga and weekly tours led by Cantor docents.

Also, the space will fulfill its vision as a place to truly unplug – figuratively and literally – as we have designated this space to be tech free; so please unplug all of your gadgets when you visit.  I hope you visit often.

During an interview with Nathan Oliveira 20 years ago, he expressed his wish that the Windhover paintings be installed together in one special space, where they can harmonize with the environment outside.  Today, no doubt, Nathan is smiling upon us as we celebrate and honor his vision; and, more importantly, that we’ve created an inspirational, contemplative space for generations of Stanford students, faculty and staff.

- Greg Boardman, Vice Provost for Student Affairs

What does it mean, to have a place to think on campus?

We would expect that here at Stanford everyone is always thinking. But when students’ lives are full of input output, input output, do we really take the time to pause or reflect?

Last year, author Bill Deresiewiz came to campus, and shocked Stanford students. He called us out. "Slow down,” he said, “stop scheduling every hour of your day with something that is ultimately going to end up on your resume. Give yourself time to think about yourself and the world. Get off the treadmill achievement machine!"

We, as Stanford students, are not used to this… being bad at something? Not possible. But he had in fact found our Achilles heel… taking time to reflect, finding value in reflection. He identified us as the first generation of young people without a set time and place and expectation for thinking. At one time, that was achieved in church on a regular basis. Then, through the humanities focused college education. But now, we have abandoned its regular allocation into our everyday lives.

My first reaction to hearing about Windhover was admittedly skeptical – can a building really address that need? Can it change a culture? Maybe yes, maybe no. But it does provide an invitation, a reminder, an excuse, a validator of contemplation for which we are all in deep need.

I was once asked in a class what superpower I would choose, if given unlimited power. It was to be able to send emails from my brain in the moments preceding sleep. This is horribly sad, but I share it as a testament to the fact that it’s the only time, besides in the shower perhaps, that we are forced to stop and think. It’s not a coincidence that those moments are identified with light bulb insights and breakthroughs. We just need to give ourselves the chance to let loose thoughts come together and experiences debrief themselves.

Last year, throughout our campaign for ASSU Executive office, we spoke to hundreds of students about their Stanford experience. Mental health came up a lot and a common theme was the egregiously missing piece of students taking time to stop and think. Instead, we heard that being too busy for self-care means you are enviably strong, pulling an all-nighter means you are a super-human, and asking for help means you are weak. We even heard people say, “I’m stressed because I don’t feel like I’m stressed enough”.

The Windhover center provides a unique avenue to relief. It is not begging you to seek help; in fact it provides a challenge. It asks our students to take initiative, to explore, to sit without a task, to be comfortable with ourselves alone in a room, being without our iPhones or emails for a period of time. No one will make you come here.

But Stanford does not do mandatory – we pride ourselves on taking initiative, and Windhover gives us that chance.

Reflection is a fundamental part of development, and one that is easily lost in our fast-paced world of expected achievement. Whether it’s sitting outside looking at the trees, or standing on the subtly heated floors taking in the expansive art, or literally reflecting in the water-filled pool outside, we now have a space to think, to bring into practice that lost art of pausing, of appreciating the moment you are in.

It can be 10 minutes between classes or 2 hours at the end of the day, or it even may be that a student never sets foot in this building but passes by on their bike on the way to class or the gym or to get coffee and is reminded by this building that reflection is important. Pausing is important. It’s ok to be alone with yourself.

And the beauty of this space is it offers unlimited starting points for that reflection –the mathematicians may begin counting the rings in the wooden benches, the English majors may be reminded of a line of poetry recently studied, the engineers may marvel at the walls actually created of Stanford earth, the artists may be inspired to sing or dance or paint their thoughts.

Our students do face significant mental health challenges. But here, we are choosing to innovate how we think about tackling these challenges. Our students face and conquer other incredible obstacles in academics and athletics, through deep and intentional thought. Our new Windhover Center is giving our students the space and encouragement to do the same for ourselves.

Thank you to each member of our community, past and present, for creating this space and extending this permanent invitation to us to think deeply that we may live more fully.

- Elizabeth Woodson, Class of 2015/President, Associated Students of Stanford University

Let me begin by saying, on behalf of all of us in the Office for Religious Life, how delighted we are that this beautiful new space – the Windhover Contemplation Center - has come into being.  It is our privilege and honor to share responsibility for it with the Office for Student Affairs.

Thank you to all who have been involved in creating it, especially Suzanne Sumerlin Duca and all members of the task force and donors who steered this project from dream to reality, especially - in the Office for Religious Life - my predecessor Scotty McLennan.

We are invited into this beautiful space to contemplate.

The earliest use of the word ‘contemplation’ in the English Language dates back to 1225 and is found in the Ancrene Riwle [Rule], a manual for female anchorites – often called anchoresses: religious women set apart from society to pray, to meditate, above all to contemplate.

There, in the section on 'The Regulation of the Inward Feelings,' the handbook declares:

“the night-bird flies by night and gets his food in the darkness – just so shall an anchoress fly, by means of contemplation: that is with high thought and devout prayers for heaven by night.”

How serendipitous, uncanny even, that a text written nearly 800 years ago, using the word contemplation for the very first time in English, should liken the person who is a contemplative to a bird in flight, and thereby relate so profoundly to our own Windhover Contemplation Center with Nathan Oliveira’s stunning paintings of birds in flight in our Stanford foothills.    

"I've always thought if I had wings, I could fly," Oliveira said in 2002. "Well, I do have wings in my mind … and these paintings are like a catalyst that can take you where you want your mind to fly."

The image of flying is apt. Didn’t you all imagine you could fly when you were children? I remember, as a four year old, lying on the ground, believing that if I lifted my limbs I’d be magically taken up into flight, hovering in the breeze just above the garden. We often lose that belief as we get older - though I am so glad that Nathan Oliveira didn’t. But we can regain that sense of freedom – which is really what the image of flying is all about - through contemplation, by opening up our imaginations through art and poetry, to come to a new place in our minds and our souls.

As Gerard Manley Hopkins put it in his 1918 poem (written 1877, published 1918) titled “The Windhover” (which means, of course, kestrel – a bird that hovers in the air in flight):

“My heart in hiding, Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!”

The reach of contemplation has expanded since the middle ages – beyond its religious origins, beyond a selected few individuals set apart from society. Today, this wonderful Contemplation Center is open to all Stanford students, faculty and staff. You can be of any religion or none to engage in the practice of contemplation, in this extraordinary space and amidst these beautiful paintings.

The anchoresses of the 13th century rose at 3 o’clock every morning to begin their day of contemplation. The Windhover Task Force wisely felt that this was not quite the schedule for student life. So this space will be open for contemplation, as Vice-Provost Boardman has said, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. We hope there will be some night owl contemplatives in here, enjoying the quiet of the evening hours and the wonder of this place and this art.

But we do share two important things with those earliest contemplatives. First, this is a space set apart from the busyness of everyday life. Here, in the midst of Silicon Valley, is a device-free space filled with light, the touch of nature and incredible art, where we each have the opportunity to be still, to open ourselves to silence, to ponder, to walk the labyrinth.  This is not a place for heavy programming or activity. It is a place to be. And secondly, in coming here, we choose to put time aside in our routine to enter a different space – not just a different physical space, but a different mental and emotional space. Here, mind can connect with body, spirit and heart.

And so we offer heartfelt thanks for all that this Windhover Contemplation Center is and will be to so many generations of students, staff and faculty.

- Jane Shaw, Dean for Religious Life

As Greg, Elizabeth and Jane have already suggested, Stanford is—to say the least—an invigorating culture. 

The university attracts gifted faculty, staff and students who seek challenge and opportunity.  But the pressure to succeed can be immense and the need for quiet reflection from the cacophony we create acute.

We are located in the center of one of the most dynamic areas of the world.  Ideas spring from everywhere, all the time.  It’s hard to slow down, especially for our motivated students.  But it is essential.  There is more to life than the next big thing.

The idea that a well-balanced life should be central to the Stanford experience was already expressed by Jane and Leland Stanford in their Founding Grant.  The Stanfords were, to be sure, eminently practical people who worked hard to achieve success in their own lives. They had pragmatic ideas and wanted their graduates to become (quote) “useful citizens.” But they also deeply appreciated the transcendent and transformative nature of art and its ability to change our perspective and help us grow as human beings.

Windhover embodies the Stanfords’ belief that what they called the “cultivation and enlargement of the mind” requires more than just rigorous study.  It also complements our efforts over the past decade to find new ways for faculty, staff and students to strengthen themselves emotionally as well as intellectually.  We have been incredibly fortunate to have someone like Suzanne Sumerlin Duca understand and advance those efforts through her support for Windhover.

We are also fortunate to have had Nate Oliveira on our faculty, sharing his talents with our students and creating the paintings you see inside.  We are pleased to realize his vision for displaying them in a space designed for contemplation. 

I first saw Nate’s Windhover paintings in his studio in the foothills more than 20 years ago.  I remember thinking that it was hard to imagine a better or more appropriate setting for them than that.  But now Suzanne has created such a setting in the center of campus.

It took many years for this center to become reality.  Throughout that time, Suzanne has been a pillar of perseverance.  Many people might have given up.  But Suzanne is not many people.  Her patience and perseverance are legendary.

Suzanne’s commitment to this project helped inspire others, and we owe them a debt of gratitude as well.  They include:

  • Reece Duca, whose early partnership helped articulate the vision for Windhover and its value to the university;
  • Joe Oliveira and the rest of Nate’s family for helping us realize his vision; and
  • The Office of Student Affairs and the Office of Religious Life, especially Scotty McLennan and Greg Boardman, for recognizing the value of this space to the Stanford community and dedicating resources toward its stewardship.

On behalf of the Stanford community, I offer my deepest thanks to them and to the many other supporters, volunteers, faculty and staff who have made it possible for us to celebrate this space today.

Suzanne, as a token of appreciation, I’d like to present you with this photograph by Joel Simon. We hope that—whenever you look at it—you’ll remember the good you have done through your work here and the gratitude of the Stanford community.

- John Etchemendy, Provost

Every building has a story, and the story of Windhover is long and rich. 

So long in fact that the nineteen years that have passed from first vision to reality encompass one third of my life.  Like many good stories, Windhover was sparked by an unlikely event, encountered obstacles along the road that were overcome by the perseverance of an unlikely coalition of dreamers and doers, and now stands serenely as if it had always been here. 

Fittingly, the story began with an act of generosity.  My then husband Reece Duca masterminded a remarkable Christmas surprise that involved hiding a 6 X 8 foot painting by Nathan Oliveira that I had wanted more than anything in the world.  No easy feat, to be sure.

Sometime later, in 1995, I met Nate at a Stanford Weekend when he spoke of his dream of a contemplative space that would house the Windhover paintings, a series inspired by the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem of the same name.  He envisioned a space where people could experience “the mind’s flight”.  After five years of living what he was describing in the presence of my Christmas painting, I knew what I wanted to do.  I was shy about introducing myself to this man I so admired. I waited until I was the last person in the room. Then I approached him to ask him to sign the Stanford 100 Year Anniversary poster with its Windhover image.  I told him that I would like to help him fulfill his dream, which had become my dream.

The first of the dreamers was present only in spirit. The wise words of Jane Stanford, who believed in a life that balanced learned knowledge with spiritual development, are etched in relief on the walls of Memorial Church.  I have read them many times.  Across the years they speak to all of us. Thank you, Mrs. Stanford for your visionary leadership.

Our second dreamer was, of course, Nathan Oliveira. His dream, and his poetry in speaking about the dream, kept us inspired. Every moment in his presence fired our belief. Fortunately, San Francisco MoMa taped him talking about the paintings and this talk can be heard by visiting the Windhover website. There you will discover the humble, kind, simple man he was, and the poetry with which he spoke. Thank you, Nate.

Our third dreamer is Josh Aidlan, who, for his master’s thesis, designed a contemplative space, and whose dream of building one has been fulfilled here at Stanford. His firm, Aidlan and Darling, perfectly met all of our expectations. Nate would have been so pleased.  Thank you Josh.

You must be wondering what the obstacles were and why this winged project was so long in taking flight.  The first obstacle was overcoming a natural resistance to a project that seemed to have no “rational” purpose, no logical home.  A relationship with the Cantor was explored, but we weren’t a museum.  We did not fit neatly into any academic department.  The whole undertaking looked fuzzy.

Enter the doers: First Scotty McLennan, Dean of Religious Life, who championed the project and reminded us all that half the students at Stanford express no religious affiliation but consider themselves spiritual beings.  He believed that Windhover would fill a needed campus void. Thank you Scotty.

Reece Duca’s ability to synthesize information and ask good questions kept us moving forward.  His statement of purpose took the “fluffy” edge off of the project by describing Windhover as a place to decompress and re-find one’s center in this busy and highly competitive campus environment.  It would be, he said, a needed refuge for renewal.  Thank you, Reece.

David Voss, our development officer, who stayed with us even after being promoted to Vice Provost for Earth Sciences, rescued us after the five-year hiatus imposed by the development of the General Use Plan.  Windhover had been the victim of computations of square footage and had been removed from the list of approved buildings.  Thank you David for getting us back on the list.

After years of problems, from seismic to salamander, David Lennox, Campus Architect, offered us this site that is in area that was our original first choice.  Nathan saw it for the first time in November of 2010. Joe, his son, and I were with him and we were all speechless with gratitude. Nate pronounced it “perfect.” Sadly, he passed away ten days later.  Thank you David for this gift.

And now Windhover has taken flight.  Two weeks ago, as I sat with Joe Oliveira on one of the stone benches by the pond, watching the trees reflected in the water, a student walked by, key card in hand, to enter the building.  Unable to enter, she walked back by us and we spoke.  Julianne is a senior living in Robles.  She had been following the construction from her window and had tried a couple of times to go inside. I asked her if she would answer a few questions for me.  I wanted to know if she had heard what the purpose of Windhover is, and she answered tentatively: “A place to relax?” I said: “Perfect”.  I asked if she had ever heard that it was a museum, and she said: “No.”  I said: “Wonderful.” By now she was enjoying herself, clearly acing this test. Joe mentioned that it was a tech free zone. And she said: “No problem.  I’ll just use a pencil and paper.” When asked, she said she was majoring in C.S. I responded: “Oh, Creative Studies.  Such a wonderful major.”  There was a pause.  She looked mystified.  You know where this is going.  I started to laugh, and not just at silly me.  I had just learned that Windhover was going to be a success.  A Stanford Computer Science major was biting at the bit to use the space even if she had to use pencil and paper!

My thanks to all of you who have accompanied me on this journey, including my children Michael and Lindsey Duca, who are both Stanford graduates, my partner Ross, and Michael’s soon-to-be-husband Shawn. And of course Reece. 

In addition, my deepest gratitude for the donors, the campus staff and planners, the contractors, the construction crew, the landscapers and engineers and the many others too numerous to name who contributed their efforts, time and energy.

In closing, I am happy to celebrate with you the opening and true beginning of the Windhover Contemplative Center. It was created for all of you who share a life here at Stanford. I think you are amazing and I hope this space makes you feel that way. It’s a space for each of you, for the development of your emotional and spiritual growth, for flights of imagination, for creative inspiration or even for a little rest. You just need to go inside, to let your mind soar.  Let the magic begin!

- Suzanne Duca, Donor

That is such an inspirational story of how this building came to be, and I’m sure the artwork and architecture will be just as inspirational for all who come here.

For those of you I have not yet met, I am Jerry Yang, vice chair of the Stanford University Board of Trustees, and it is my honor — and great pleasure — to be here representing the Board today.

As the provost has said, Silicon Valley can be an incredibly exciting place, but sometimes we get so focused on pursuing the next big idea that we forget to pause and enjoy the moment.

The arts can offer us that respite.  They can be transformative. And nowhere is that more evident than in this space, viewing these works.

Suzanne  — and everyone whose generosity and vision have made this day a reality — thank you. I hope you are as pleased with this beautiful space as we are.  It is a wonderful gift to the Stanford community.

On behalf of Stanford University and the Board of Trustees, it is my great pleasure to formally accept Windhover.

Now, I will conclude today’s formal program and invite you all to take the opportunity to go inside and explore the space.  We also have some refreshments. I hope you will stay and enjoy them and the conversation outside.

Thank you for joining us!

- Jerry Yang, Vice Chair, Stanford University Board of Trustees