Sisters of St. Joseph dedicate new chapel

The Sisters of St. Joseph and their associates commemorated Oct. 15 the reopening of their Brighton motherhouse’s Blessing of the Holy Family Chapel and the rededication of its new altar, baptismal font and ambry with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley.

The chapel was built in 1969 based on designs by Sister Louisella Walters, CJS, whose ideas were considered very innovative for the time, said Sister Margaret L. Sullivan, CSJ, who served on the renovation committee.

Central to her design was the unique manipulation of light by nontraditional stained-glass windows, such as the small bits of flame shapes cut through the wall behind the altar. Sister Louisella was forced to rein in her more cutting-edge ideas because of resistance to them, she said.

In addition, the limitations of construction materials and techniques meant Sister Louisella’s full vision for the chapel was not completely realized, she said. During the new construction, it became necessary to replace the ventilation and heating and air conditioning systems in the chapel, so they would work with the systems at the motherhouse. The sisters recognized the opportunity to expand that project to renovate the chapel, Sister Margaret said.

The project brought the chapel closer to Sister Louisella’s vision, and updated the layout to reflect liturgical changes since 1969, she said.

The Church has directed that new worship spaces should be designed to emphasize the whole congregation, rather than just the altar, she said.

It was important that the renovations be faithful to the spirit and history of the order, said Sister Joanne Gallagher, CSJ, a spokeswoman for the order, who also served on the renovation committee.

The baptismal font was an example of the renovation being consistent with the Sisters of St. Joseph’s constitution, said Sister Joanne.

As the water flows up from the center of the round black stone, it forms ripples that are reflected on the ceiling above. These ripples symbolize the order’s call for ever-increasing circles of Communion and community, she said.

Other changes were made to accommodate the reality of some of the older religious women, such as the replacement of benches with individual chairs and the removal of kneelers, Sister Joanne said. Other improvements to the chapel were the replacement of flooring, restoration of the organ and the enhancement of the acoustics.

Before the Mass, the archbishop participated with the sisters in the procession through five Heritage Board stations that recalled the history of the order and ended at the blessing of the new baptismal font and ambry.

“Thank God for the Sisters of St. Joseph and all you do,” Archbishop O’Malley told the sisters in his homily.

He praised the sisters as women of prayer and action, who work for unity and reconciliation. He then challenged them to continue in their religious life. “In today’s world that is so dedicated to entertainment, we as religious must make witness prayer,” he said.

During the dedication, the archbishop anointed the alter with holy oil. Standing at the center behind the altar, the archbishop, first poured the oil in small pools in front of him. Then, holding the right sleeve of his vestments with his left hand, with his right hand he worked the oil in the wood. Walking around the new altar in a complete circle, the archbishop made small circles with the oil on the altar until it was covered with an even, glowing coat.

After the incensing of the altar, it was wiped off by Sister Joan Duffy, the order’s president and Ross Miller, the sculptor who created the new lectern, baptismal font and altar. The altar was then donned with a cloth by Sisters Martina Marie Kelly, CSJ, and Elizabeth Conway, CSJ, and it was ready for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It was important to the sisters that the project be Earth friendly and use local artists, said Sister Joanne. Miller was one such local artist.

Miller said it was wonderful to see how the chapel has come to life compared to how it looked six months ago in the middle of construction.

Originally selected to create just the baptismal font, Miller said he was struck by the extent that the sisters went to during the process to make sure everyone’s opinion was heard. “They would put together groups of sisters asking what they liked and didn’t like,” Miller said.

When he learned that the altar project was available he made a presentation based on other projects he had worked on, and he was selected. Because he did not have a plan for an altar when he started, he made small dollhouse-sized models out of cardboard to show the sisters and get their feedback, he said.

The models grew in size as the altar project progressed, until Miller said he made a full-sized model out of heavy three-walled cardboard which he brought to the chapel for the final go-ahead. The final altar has a wooden top and a bronze base. The base started as a 2,000 pound piece, which was cut down to 1,200 pounds by a jet of water and garnet grit pressurized to 60,000 psi, he said.