Calling it a day of rejoicing, Bishop Robert Deeley blessed the new chapel and altar at the Transfiguration Hermitage in Windsor.
“Bless this chapel which we have been privileged to build with your help. May all who gather here in faith to listen to your word and celebrate your sacraments, experience the presence of Christ,” the bishop prayed.
The hermitage, home to Sister Elizabeth Wagner and Sister Bernadette Kasinathan, is a monastic community that follows the Rule of Saint Benedict. The sisters have dedicated their lives to praying for the needs of others, to solitude, and to work.
The new chapel, which measures approximately 24' x 36', is about four times larger than the one that was included when the hermitage itself was built and dedicated in 2007.
"We felt that for a community that is about a life of prayer, the chapel should be the most important place and not just a little room," said Sister Elizabeth. "Now, it is."
"You can imagine my joy when the chapel was completed, and we were saying our prayers in the chapel every day," said Sister Bernadette. "It's beyond words that I have this beautiful chapel to go to every day."
In his homily, the bishop said that the chapel is a place to meet God in Jesus.
"We need to be constantly open to the ways in which Jesus comes to us. We render ourselves open to finding Jesus in a spirit of faith and prayer. That is an important reason for this chapel," the bishop said. "Here, the women who live here and those who join them in prayer come to encounter God, to know his mercy, to be aware of his love."
The sisters said they had long hoped to have a beautiful chapel at the hermitage, but it wasn't until 2012 that their dream began to move toward reality. It was at that time that a beloved member of the hermitage's board, Gail Parker, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. She died just nine days later.
"A very dear, mutual friend came over here afterwards, and she hugged me and said, 'We'll build a chapel in Gail's memory.' And, we have," said Sister Elizabeth.
"We were supposed to do it in 2019, 2018, something like that, and when Gail died, they decided to accelerate the timeline and do it now in her memory," said Al Parker, Gail's widower. "What an honor, what a blessing. It's humbling. We put a lot of time into it, but it's well worth it to see this come to fruition and be done. It's awesome."
The Mass began with the altar bare and the tabernacle empty. The bishop then sprinkled both and other parts of the chapel with holy water, praying, "May God, the Father of Mercies, dwell in this house of prayer. May the grace of the Holy Spirit cleanse us, for we are the temple of his presence."
The Mass then continued as usual until the Liturgy of the Eucharist, when the bishop blessed the altar and tabernacle and incensed them both. The altar was then dressed with altar cloths and adorned with candles. The gifts during the offertory were carried to Bishop Deeley by Al Parker and other members of his and Gail's family.
The chapel cost approximately $230,000 to build, about 80% of which has been raised. The Parker family contributed to the project as did many other generous benefactors. The hermitage also received a grant from the Windhover Foundation.
Designed by Guillot, Vivian, Viethmann Architects from Burlington, Vermont, and built by Lajoie Brother, Inc., of Augusta, the chapel contains many special features including wood beams and knotty pine on the ceiling.
"All those knots are the cloud of witnesses, the people who have gone before or the people who will come later; however you want to look at it," said Doug Viethmann, the architect. "It's part of the feeling that there is more to it. It's natural. It's bringing it out of the land, but also, it's the feeling that there is something up there that brings us out of the space, as well as focuses us in."
A round window looks up into the treetops. And, as you walk into the narthex, there is an oculus allowing skylight to come in.
"The daylight comes in through windows around that skylight, and then, it twists as it comes down, so the square becomes a diamond and connects, creating sort of a star," said Viethmann. "It's a feel of bringing you up and out, and pulling you out, and pulling God and the Spirit in."
The chapel also features tall, narrow windows that are covered in art glass, a cupola, and beautifully carved wooden doors depicting the Transfiguration, which were designed by Larry Mellyn, a member of Saint Michael Parish, and built by Nine Points Woodworking in Worcester, Mass. The pews were donated by Saint Michael Parish and were originally at Saint Leo Church in Litchfield. They were shortened to fit into the chapel.
On a more practical level, the chapel is super insulated with radiant heat in the floor. Solar panels, which were installed through an arrangement with a private investor, put enough power in the grid to cover the cost of heating and cooling. The sisters pay the investor an amount each month and, in six years, can buy the panels from him at 45% of the original cost.
The Transfiguration Hermitage offers retreats and workshops. The sisters also sell fruitcakes at Christmas and other baked goods to raise money. If you would like to learn more about the hermitage or assist the sisters in their fundraising, visit their website at http://transfigurationhermitage.org/.