February 22, 2017 // Special
Our Lady of the Road Drop-In Center oratory blessed
Ten years ago the South Bend Catholic Worker ministry began to care for guests, often homeless, at Our Lady of the Road Drop-In Center, located off of Main Street just south of the bus station. Since then, what began as a natural outpouring of the living works of mercy from the Catholic Worker House on St. Joseph Street has become a balance of Catholic active and contemplative life. After the building and blessing of the new chapel, visitors in future decades will experience a fuller presence of God with them.
On Wednesday, Feb. 8, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades blessed the Oratory of the Holy Spirit and celebrated the first Mass in the new space. The daily Mass readings of the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, former slave, convert and Canossian nun, were most appropriate in their references to new beginnings, the Holy Spirit and humble hearts. The chapel was packed with families with young babies, friends, Catholic Worker community members, seminarians, staff and others sitting, standing, singing, praying and feeling the Holy Spirit’s presence in the space.
“It is beautiful that the Blessed Sacrament will now be reserved here,” Bishop told the worshippers. “People can come here to be with the Lord, to pray and to be strengthened at Mass by the graces of the holy Eucharist. Here you are strengthened for your mission of charity, of outreach to the poor and needy of our community. I thank you for your witness of love here in South Bend.”
He focused on the concept of purity of heart, explaining the scriptural phrase from Mark 7 in historical context and in light of the upcoming season of Lent. “He (Jesus) explains clearly to them (disciples) that what defiles a person is not what food he or she eats, but what is in the heart. Clearly, Jesus is rejecting the legalistic teaching of the Pharisees who were so preoccupied with ritual laws and dietary prescriptions, but whose hearts were far from God. Jesus explains that nothing that enters one from outside, like food, makes one unclean. … Our Lord focuses on the condition of our hearts. He says that it is what comes from within that can defile us, make us unclean. It’s what comes from within that can separate us from God, like evil thoughts and intentions.”
He continued, “This Gospel made me think about the Beatitude of Jesus: ‘Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.’ A heart that is pure is open to God and His will. In a few weeks, we will begin the season of Lent. Our external penances should all be ordered to the purification of our hearts, to rooting out what keeps us distant from God. A pure heart is a loving heart that seeks to serve and obey Jesus.”
The physical design of the new chapel offers such an avenue to open one’s heart to God. The hustle and bustle of the Drop-In is not present; rather, there is a peace-filled quiet. In the nave a wooden staircase ascends, reminiscent of many Old Testament Scripture passages. Much like the spiritual life, from the main floor one cannot see the final destination, as the main chapel is not visible from the entrance. But, always mindful of hospitality and welcoming the stranger, a wheelchair lift was installed beside the cedar stairs.
Located on the second level of the former warehouse is the simple oratory. Facing east, the altar and candlestick holders are made from spiraled cedar wood. Underneath the altar is a thick red rug designed to remind those present of their unity through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. All around the walls are the warehouse bricks and metal piping, reminding visitors of the human realities in which they live.
Each piece of decor, both aesthetically pleasing and functionally useful, was chosen by the staff of the Catholic Worker over the past few years.
Margie Pfeil, co-founder of the St. Peter Claver Catholic Worker community and secretary of the board of directors of Our Lady of the Road, was the keeper of the dream of creating an on-site chapel.
“I have been dreaming of a chapel space since we first opened Our Lady of the Road 10 years ago. That upper room was in great disrepair, with an open hole in the west wall that had caused significant water damage and the death of more than a few trapped birds. So we first started repairing the brick in 2009.
“A married couple … took interest in our work there and said they would like to support renovation of the space as a chapel. We began restoring all the brick, removing the pulley system that had been suspended from the ceiling and putting on a new roof. We insulated the ceiling and Holy Cross seminarians helped to install wood paneling. All this work happened over the course of about four years — ‘little by little,’ as Dorothy Day advised. In the last year and a half, we raised more money to pay for the architectural plan and began framing out the new stairway and fire exit corridor on the first floor. … We installed a fire alarm system, the steel fire exit exterior stairs, the electrical wiring, the chair lift, lighting, heat and an accessible concrete ramp. We also reinforced the floor of the chapel with steel.”
Parishioners of Sacred Heart of Notre Dame sponsored the handcrafting of two wooden side tables for the presider and the gifts. Sacred Heart Parish of Lakeville helped pay for the new chairs. Holy Cross College donated the tabernacle and Father Austin Collins, CSC, donated a wooden alter set and ambo that he handcrafted for a church in Arizona.
Maria Surat, spiritual ministry coordinator at OLR, explained why the creation of a place to pray the chapel at the Drop-In was vital. “Pope Francis, in ‘Laudato Si’ laments how we as a people are surrounded by noise, lights, streets … how we all need to experience a space for stillness and silence, for quiet and reflection, a place where we can encounter our God and ourselves. Here we are pursuing the spiritual roots of the works of mercy … as well as grounding the good work done in their true source, the Eucharist.”
Surat shared how what the balance of the Catholic active and contemplative life looks like. When the staff and volunteers are actively working, mopping floors, making breakfast in the kitchen, cleaning toilets, sitting in conversation and coffee with guests, one person is also in a back room praying, focused and quiet. All are aware of what the others are doing — praying for the work being done as well as caring for the immediate needs at hand. She finds this most consoling and supportive, especially when the heaviness and brokenness of the world are experienced at the OLR Drop-In.
“To know that another person is taking a pause to pray for the work we are doing is incredibly supportive,” she reflected. “And now, they can pray in the chapel.”
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