Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sacred Heart Chapel

Sometimes-- quite often, in fact-- I am astonished by the beauty of Sacred Heart Chapel at Saint Benedict's Monastery where I work. I work on the first floor of the "Main Building" of the monastery, also known as "the Motherhouse." The best way to get to my office is through the chapel. There is a side door, and a "back door" that is actually the front door of the monastery. But to get to the front door you have to go through a very private courtyard. To come through the chapel, however, usually means stopping at the information desk in the Gathering Place, a large atrium added in the mid-1980s when the whole place was renovated and the back of the church became the front of the church, and much more welcoming to the public. Before that, you had to come through that very private courtyard or an obsured side entrance.

I go back and forth through the chapel, then, to pick up any guests or visitors or vendors who come to see me. I really appreciate having a gigantic chapel as a block between me and vendors. No one just wanders back to see me or drops in. One vendor who tried to break that rule was soundly corrected and told to check in at the information desk in the future.

Today was a very hectic day-- for about two weeks we've had very hectic days. There is a funeral for one of the Sisters on Friday, so yesterday was full of preparations of the obituary and the prayer card, and we waited a long time for the funeral information, which meant pressure on the newspaper proofing process. Today two newspapers sent me notices saying we need to get advertisements in for special issues by Tuesday if we want to run in them. And we have a weekly newsletter, a major 8-page brochure, and very complicated new events calendar brochure underway. And there were a lot of the usual interruptions. Everyone is planning for the new year, and maybe their own work has slowed down, so they are checking in with plans and questions.

In the middle of it all a Sister called from one of the ministries at the far end of the campus and asked if I could come take a few photos of their volunteers who were there for a holiday party. They need them for the web site. So I stopped what I was doing and walked down there. Which was actually quite good because otherwise I would have had no break for a third day in a row. It was also nicer than I thought outside. It's gone up just above zero today, though it's been well below the last two. I took the pictures but didn't stay for the party.

Then, walking back through the chapel, I stopped in my tracks. The organ, which is maybe my favorite part of the whole place, looked stunning. There wasn't any direct light catching it or anything, but it seemed to really stand out and be well defined.

Luckily, I had my camera. So I took a few shots, of the organ and of the rheamy glass windows that were specially crafted in Germany during the 1983 renovation and are responsible for the light. The beautiful unpolished pillars in front of them, and of the inside of the dome, that dramatic feature of the chapel, over the altar.

S. Dolores Super, who is one of our organists, was passing through. She started and for a long time ran the Studium program for visiting artists and scholars. She was originally in education, and is celebrating her 60th year in religious life this year. I learned from her biography that as a board member for the local hospital she once testified in D.C. before a senate panel on health care on behalf of the poor and indigent.

She asked what I was up to and I told her how often the organ just really takes my breath away. She agreed and told me that one time when the religion writer Roberta Bondi was here, a scholar staying in Studium, she said that she'd just come from another monastery in the Eastern U.S. and, though she loved those Sisters and always looked forward to visiting them, "When I want beauty, I have to come here."

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