By Diane Freeby
SOUTH BEND — “Christ truly is present in that sacred place and that is the reason why Saint Joseph High School exists.”
Principal Susan Richter echoed words said by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades as he blessed the high school’s newly-finished chapel and dedicated its altar during a special Mass last Wednesday, Nov. 28, in South Bend.
The Chapel of Saint Joseph is considered by many to be the crowning touch on a building completed just in time for the current school year. While students flowed through the doors of the new Saint Joseph High School at the end of August, construction workers continued work on the school’s chapel, located in the heart of campus.
“Finally we have the school’s soul,” smiled Saint Joseph High School chaplain, Father Terry Coonan. “It’s built at the center of campus for a reason. Now it feels like home!”
Richter, like many in attendance, showed emotion as she gathered her thoughts after Mass. “I said when the students came into the building it would become our home, but now we truly are home because we have this at the center and the heart of our school. Our students can begin using it and we can have Mass there daily. They can go in and pray and worship.”
Because the chapel seats about 100 people, a group of students, parents, teachers and staff represented the Saint Joseph family at the blessing. Many gasped as they entered the chapel, taken in by the religious artwork and classical architecture.
“I feel like I am in Rome,” commented diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Schools Dr. Mark Myers. Others commented on the beauty of the Nativity mural, painted by artist and Saint Joseph parent Ruth Stroik. The mural hangs just behind the altar and under the crucifix. Paintings of the Annunciation and the angel appearing to Joseph in a dream hang to the left and right of the crucifix, with the tabernacle in the center. Six stained glass windows, each depicting a scene from the life of St. Joseph, line the sides of the chapel. In the back are statues of St. André Bessette, the first member of the Congregation of Holy Cross to be canonized, and St. Kateri Tekakwitha who was canonized this past October.
“I thought those were two beautiful selections to perfectly go with the Saint Joseph High School tradition, honoring the Holy Cross brothers and sisters, remembering everything they’ve done,” said Richter. “They’re the ones that started this school and were here for so long. They will always remain a part of this school.”
With the lights dimmed, Bishop Rhoades was joined by Father Coonan, Father Camillo Tirabassi, Father Walter Bly and Holy Cross Father John DeRiso of nearby St. Joseph Parish. A blue-robed student choir and two violinists set the happy tone with the hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You” as Bishop Rhoades prepared to sprinkle holy water throughout the chapel.
“The beauty of this chapel is it will inspire so many to prayer, to experience God’s presence and love in our hearts,” proclaimed Bishop Rhoades. “We see St. Joseph, the patron of this school, adoring the newborn Baby Jesus in the arms of His mother, Mary. I think when someone comes into this chapel to pray, they come to do what Joseph did — to adore Him, the Lord Jesus. We see that so appropriately depicted above the tabernacle, where Jesus will be present in the Blessed Sacrament. ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us!’”
The main part of the liturgy was the dedication of the altar, which is a sign of Christ Himself. Following his homily, Bishop Rhoades placed a first-class relic of St. André Bessette in the altar. The relic is a piece of cloth with the saint’s blood upon it.
Bishop Rhoades then removed his chasuble and rolled up his sleeves to anoint the altar by pouring Chrism oil and applying it by hand across the entire marble altar top. After replacing his vestments, Bishop Rhoades removed his mitre and began the incensation of the altar. Father Coonan incensed the rest of the chapel as the people reverently made the sign of the cross.
Richter, student body president Charlie Hoye, school board president Matt Edmonds and theology teacher Josh Swaim then approached the altar to wipe it dry in preparation for the lighting of the altar. Campus ministers Holy Cross Sister Ann Therese McAndrew, Tami Goy and Lauren Walatka brought up the linen, candles and crucifix to properly set the altar. An altar server handed Bishop Rhoades a candle.
“Light of Christ shine on this altar and be reflected by those who share at this table,” said Bishop Rhoades as he passed the candle to Father Coonan who then lit the remaining altar candles. The Liturgy of the Eucharist began as light flooded the chapel.
Earlier in the Mass, Saint Joseph faculty members Jeanette McKew and Joseph Wisniewski proclaimed the Word, siblings Madeline and Liam Maher played violin and junior Christy Bythrow sang the responsorial psalm.
“It was an incredibly beautiful ceremony,” smiled parent Trish Maher following the blessing and dedication. “You could just feel the grace of the Holy Spirit. It brings tears to my eyes! When you send your children to Catholic school you’re, of course, hoping their spirituality grows and matures with them. To have a place like this to come for times of prayer at any point during their day, or to have times when classes can come for Adoration or they can share in liturgy here … it’s beyond my expectations and dreams.”
“It’s still registering that I got to witness something that’s going to be remembered in Saint Joseph history,” said freshman choir member Lexi Duddleson. “I’ve been coming here now for a few months and the school has been becoming more and more my home.”
“I think the artwork is really powerful and shows St. Joseph and the beauty of the Catholic faith,” added classmate Abby Kagel. “I have a feeling I’ll probably come here often!”
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