God makes all things new, yet sometimes that renewal can take longer than expected. For years, the Marian shrine in Rome City dedicated to the Immaculate Virgin, Patroness of America, has been a place of prayer and devotion, but not without complications. On Aug. 6, the feast of the Transfiguration, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades visited this site to celebrate Mass and further reconfirm its identity in the love of the Holy Trinity and the Holy Family.
The property was originally founded as a sanitarium in 1897 by Dr. W. G. Geiermann. He sold it to the Sisters of the Precious Blood in 1901, who ran the sanitarium to remedy infectious diseases using water treatments from the nearby Kneipp Springs. In 1903, the sisters built an addition with a chapel and continued to make additions. For 75 years, these sisters prayed, adored the Blessed Sacrament, and charitably served those who came to seek healing. However, for financial reasons, the property was sold to a group that did not maintain the Catholic identity of the property.
In his homily, Bishop Rhoades explained, “This was once a sacred place, but this oratory lost its sacred character after it and the sanatorium were sold by the sisters and eventually fell into the hands of a unitarian sect with heretical beliefs. They denied the divinity of both Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Thankfully, they did not tear down this oratory. Now, today, we can again call this a sacred place since it has been blessed with holy water, a sign of the cleansing waters of salvation in which we have been washed in Christ and made temples of the Holy Spirit. From this day forward, this oratory is again a place for divine worship.”
In addition to the blessing, Bishop Rhoades announced a new name of the chapel, the Oratory of the Holy Family. This name underscores the Marian nature of the shrine and its particular emphasis on living with purity in the example of St. Joseph, while centering all its activity on Jesus Christ, who was always the primary focus in the lives of Joseph and Mary. As an officially erected oratory of the diocese, the Blessed Sacrament may now be permanently reserved in the tabernacle for prayer and adoration. Bishop emphasized, “no Marian Center would be complete without the Holy Eucharist. Mary teaches us to open ourselves to Jesus’ presence, to receive His Body and Blood with faith, and to live what we receive. Mary allowed herself to be penetrated by God’s love and she lived the self-giving Eucharistic love of her Son. She helps us to do the same.”
More than 700 people were in attendance for the Mass and outdoor reception, with some even traveling from other states. Given the limited capacity of the chapel, numerous participants watched the ceremony on digital screens in adjacent rooms and outside. Part of the draw for the event was the exciting announcement that Bishop Rhoades would be consecrating a new altar for the oratory, designed by local sacred architect Phillip Breckler. Unfortunately, on the evening prior to the Mass, the marble altarpiece was irreparably damaged during installation and will need to be replaced. Although the consecration of the altar has been postponed, the events of the day were still a resounding success in the eyes of Al Langsenkamp, President of the Mother of Mercy Foundation, and Larry Young, Property Manager.
According to Langsenkamp, God continues to take care of them. Regarding the work of Divine Providence in the course of events, he shared, “we are excited that Bishop Rhoades will be coming back to do another Mass now!”
Since the altar could not be consecrated, the Mass was instead celebrated for the feast of the Transfiguration. Bishop Rhoades remarked, “It seems to me that it is more than a coincidence that this chapel is blessed today since the Transfiguration reveals Christ’s divinity, the great truth denied by the unitarian sect that came to own and occupy this site several years ago.”
He continued, “The Transfiguration was certainly an amazing and unforgettable experience for Peter, James, and John. Jesus’ face changed in appearance and shone like the sun, and His clothing became dazzling white. God is light, and Jesus wishes to give His closest friends the experience of this light which dwells within Him. He wants to protect them from any assault of darkness. The same with us. We all need that inner light of God and His love in order to overcome the trials of life and the assaults of darkness. I pray that people who come here to this center and chapel will receive and grow in this light, especially those who are hurting or suffering in any way.”
Bishop concluded, “Mary helps us to receive this light. We already know that this has happened through the years here at this center and here in this chapel, which today has again become sacred. Of course, this will only happen if we obey the words of the Father at the Transfiguration: ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.’ This is a place where I hope many people will come to pray, which is fundamentally listening to Jesus. In Hebrew idiom, to listen to someone’s voice means not only to hear, but also to obey. This means that we listen in our minds and hearts to what Jesus teaches us in the Gospels and that we strive to put them into practice. Mary teaches us basically the same thing the Father commands us in her words to the waiters at the wedding feast of Cana: ‘Do whatever He tells you.’ She waits for us and she prays for us. May she shine upon all who visit and pray in this sacred oratory!”
In addition to the First Saturday Masses and devotions held monthly at the shrine, the First Annual Walking Pilgrimage from Kendallville to the Oratory of the Holy Family will take place on Sunday, Sept. 25 at 1 p.m. Pilgrims are directed to park at the oratory, located at 2730 E. Northport Road, where shuttles will be available to transport to various starting points based upon desired walking distance. At 4:30 p.m., the pilgrimage will continue with Benediction at the oratory and a cookout. All are welcome.
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