It came on the same day leaders from nearly 100 countries joined tens of thousands of South African for a memorial in Johannesburg.
The vigil at Duke Chapel was organized just in the last day or so by students and religious leaders eager to pay their respects to Mandela.
"Mr. Mandela fought for the freedom of all human beings and helped the moral arc of the universe to bend toward justice," said Duke Chapel Dean Rev. Luke Powery.
Mandela's legacy of justice drew hundreds into duke chapel's sanctuary.
It was a chance to offer song and sing the praises of South Africa's first black president who fought racism and endured 27 years of prison before getting there.
"Give us the strength eternal God to pass Nelson Mandela's name through the generations as a symbol of reconciliation," said Rabbi John Friedman, of the Judea Reform Congregation.
The vigil featuring prayer from different religious denominations came just hours after the massive Mandela memorial service in Johannesburg following days of celebration there.
"It's really hard to capture the atmosphere without really being there," said South African native and Duke sophomore Bus Sibeko. "So I've been looking to see what my friends are saying, but it'll never equal being there."
Sibeko helped organize Tuesday night's vigil for the hero who was president during her childhood.
"We're not mourning that he's dead, but rather we are mourning... being humbled by what he did for our country," said Sibeko.
Sibeko says the international presence in her homeland and the people hand in hand at Duke embody Mandela's dream of a rainbow nation.
"It correlates. America's got its race issues. South Africa has got its race issues," said Sibeko. "The rainbow nation thing is still something that we're all trying to work on every single day."
Sibeko was born in Johannesburg and is now on scholarship at Duke all because she had the chance to grow up in a South Africa where blacks were no longer barred from education and opportunity.
"We're not sad because he's dead, but just the realization of what he's done for you -- what kind of impact he's had in your life -- I wouldn't be at Duke if Nelson Mandela hadn't been there," said Sibeko. "I mean he dedicated 27 years of his life in prison," said Sibeko. "How I cannot sacrifice an hour of studying to show my respects and share this moment with my country."