Blessing completes chapel’s rise from the ashes

The community of St Joseph’s College, Lochinvar joined with the Sisters of St Joseph on December 10 to celebrate an emotional blessing of the chapel and dedication of the altar, which had suffered fire damage.

Vicar-General Fr Andrew Doohan was presider for the moving liturgy, 12 months on from the blaze of November 10, 2018. When the alarm was raised on that Saturday morning, smoke was accumulating in the original 1893 building, in the room above the Dilley Library, but the fire brigade discovered the source of the smoke was the chapel.

Three “hot spots” had apparently been smouldering for hours and filling the chapel with black smoke. Three candles, missing from the sacristy, had been used, it seemed, to start the fire.

The doors and windows were all closed so there was no structural damage to the building, but six pews near the hot spots were burnt, and the smoke damage throughout the building was excessive. Everything in the chapel was covered with a layer of soot, including items inside the sacristy cupboards and drawers.

A team of men and women carried out the labour-intensive work of hand-cleaning the walls and ceiling. Other items such as marble and painted sculptures, statues and stations of the cross, and the pipe organ, required specialist cleaning expertise.

As St Joseph’s College principal Patricia Hales noted in her reflection at the blessing and dedication of the altar, “this chapel is the very heart of this community”.

“It is the place where the Kingdom of God is preached and lived; the place where the Sisters and students of Lochinvar have gathered in times of triumph and tribulation; the place where the message of Jesus has been brought to life; the place where contemplation has led to change; where lives have been inspired by the Spirit; where grace has been given and shared; this is the place where those who gather, re-commit to living the Gospel message in a world and a time, that paradoxically, can be confusing, complex, dynamic, challenging, and exciting,” Mrs Hales said.

“When we look around the chapel now, and observe how, through the labour of many, it has risen from the soot and ash of 12 months ago, it is appropriate that we look to the words of the First Draft Constitutions of the Federation of the Sisters of St Joseph, 1969, that you see published in the booklet today — ‘Drawing on the past, we will never take refuge in the past, but together, in partnership with the Holy Spirit, we will confront the world of the future fearlessly, to bend that future to the dynamic of the creator’.

“While in the aftermath of the fire, our instinct may be to live in fear, to close and lock the doors, to nurse and protect, and as a ‘parent’, ‘bubble-wrap’ the chapel, our duty is in fact the very opposite. It is to take courage, and to encourage all, to physically and metaphorically, throw open the doors and cross the threshold, so that together as one, in this place, we will feel the walls and windows resonating with joy and peace and love; we will hear the Spirit whispering to us, and know, that through each other, we will feel God’s presence with us and among us and gracefully accept God’s invitation to live life to the full.”

Mrs Hales acknowledged Fr. Andrew’s leadership of the inspiring liturgy as well as Sr Louise Gannon and Sr Jeannine French for their extensive work in preparation of the liturgy, and Mrs Erin McCort, leader of college ministry, for working alongside them to bring the day to life.

“Often when we have events at the college, I am known to say we have witnessed ‘Team Lochinvar’ at their best, and today is no exception,” Mrs Hales said.

To find out more about what it means to dedicate an altar, see Liturgy Matters: Altars Matter.

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Brittany Gonzalez Image
Brittany Gonzalez

Brittany Gonzalez is Communications Co-ordinator in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.