Inside… the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Welcome to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception!  I’d been meaning to visit here for quite a while, and I was very grateful to get the opportunity to go.  My parents and I were on vacation in Vermont one summer, and it just so happened to be the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The Catholic Center, where I would typically attend Mass, was not holding Mass that day because they’re based on the schedule of college kids, and school had not started up yet, so not many students were around.  The Cathedral was holding Mass, though, so I finally had an undeniable reason to visit.

The Cathedral’s exterior is rather modern: a smooth, sleek thing.  But I absolutely love the landscaping!  There are trees surrounding the building in an organized pattern, creating a beautiful array of branches that create cool shifting columns as you walk along the path.

The inside of the worship space is beautiful and modern, and unlike any church with which I am familiar.  The pews here are set up in the round, which was interesting.  The smooth ceiling created an airy space flooded by natural light through skylights.  It was a lovely space, albeit a little unusual to me, but I liked it.  When we entered, we arrived in the middle of a recitation of the rosary.  My parents and I did not know that was scheduled, but we jumped in as soon as we caught on.  

We also spent some time in the lobby of the church, where they had statues and numerous relics.  I liked this image of Mary, and I thought it was especially well chosen for this particular placement.  The color scheme of the light teal with the browns is a soothing, natural palette.  It echoes the natural beauty of Vermont exceedingly well.  

The amount of relics here was incredible.  I recognized some of these saints, but I was also unfamiliar with several.  Bodily relics kind of freak me out a little bit, if I’m being completely honest, so this challenged me somewhat.  But the testimony of faith here is undeniable, and I valued that regardless of my own squeamishness!

This cathedral was a good representation to me of my experiences in Vermont.  The set up was a little bit different than I was used to, but it was beautiful in its personal way.  The theme of nature was prominent throughout, via the colors and landscaping.  I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but I did my best to eagerly jump in as soon as I got my bearings.  There were some things that I was not used to, but I recognized that my discomfort was based in unfamiliarity and challenged myself to see the good through the unusual.  There was also the consistency of universal truth and regularity.  I was instantly connected to a group larger than myself, and welcomed as a part of the community.  

This Mass really was a condensed metaphor for my move to Vermont.  It’s amazing how many places you can find God when you start looking for Him!

Inside… St. Thomas More

For longer than I have been alive, my extended family has been scattered around the country.  I grew up in New Jersey with my immediate family.  My mom’s side of the family has pockets in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Indiana.  My dad’s side of the family spread from New Jersey to Utah, Nevada, California, and even Alaska for a few years.  This means that I grew up with an interesting dynamic with many of my relatives.  My dad’s parents live less than two hours from me, so we see them about once a month.  My mom’s brother and his wife live about three hours away from me, so we see them a couple times during the year.  My mom’s parents, and her sister and her children, all live in Indiana and Pennsylvania, so we see them once a year for Easter (as I mentioned in my Święconka post).

My dad’s siblings and their families, however, live much further afield.  Utah and California are not a day-long road trip away, so I rarely get to see my aunts, uncle, and cousins.  For many years, all that I really knew of my relatives were a handful of phone calls and the occasional photo on Facebook.  I still have love for them, because they are my family, but it was this weird, somewhat anonymous love for people that I could not remember ever meeting in real life.

In December 2014, my uncle Claus died in a helicopter accident.  This was my first experience with death affecting my family.  My dad was really hurting, and my mom and sister were somber.  We booked flights to Utah as soon as the funeral arrangements were settled.

Beyond the emotional magnitude of loss, this trip was full of questions.  For me, this flight would be the first I would take at an age that I could actually understand.  (The previous time I was on a plane, I was a toddler and barely remember it.)  It would also be the first time that I met my numerous cousins—well, once again, I had met some of them before, but I was too young to remember.  It would also be the first time my parents, sister, or I were attending a Mormon funeral.  We had no idea what to expect, beyond a few tips from Google.

As it often happens, the research we did briefly in the haze of rushed packing ended up being outdated or inaccurate to our specific experiences.  We were told to not wear red to the funeral for cultural reasons…  and then watched as many members of his ward arrived in red, white, and blue to celebrate my uncle’s military service.  We found numerous references to these mysterious ‘funeral potatoes’ that were never explained.  All we knew was that the women of the ward were going to make food and deliver it to the immediate family so that they wouldn’t have to deal with cooking in the midst of everything else.  While that did happen, and we were very grateful for the meals provided, there were no funeral potatoes in sight, only (yummy) enchiladas.  It felt like everything our research prepared us for just didn’t happen, and things were basically what I was used to.

And yet, I felt like I was floundering.  Having flown across the country and plopped into an entirely new environment, I felt ripped away from my home community and placed in a foreign land.  I was disoriented, and didn’t know what to expect.  My immediate family was with me, and that was some source of comfort to me, but we never got much alone time, so I couldn’t meaningfully recharge my “home” battery.  My only experiences with death were around Catholic funerals that I had attended or served at, so I was used to certain language that just wasn’t present in Mormon services.  I wanted to lean on my parish life, lean on my youth group to find solace and community while I was working through the feelings of loss—but they were several hundred miles away, and I couldn’t reach them.

Since our time in Utah included a Sunday, my immediate family and I drove a little ways out of the city to attend Mass.  The church was absolutely beautiful, as you can see for yourself below.

I loved the colors of the stained glass windows.  That particular color scheme has a lot of my favorites in it, so I felt very comfortable here.  It was like God was giving me a special nod with the design of this church.  The airy sunlight streaming in from the walls brightened up the space immensely, and the mountains were visible through the windows.  This church was nestled in such a beautiful area.  There was a sense of peace throughout the space that I desperately needed at that time.  Here, in this Mass, was familiarity.  I no longer felt ripped away from my faith life.  I was connected once again to the rites I know, and I felt back in touch with my home parish because we are all unified in the Eucharist.  It was also a beautiful moment of mourning, because in the Mass, Heaven and Earth kiss, and I knew my uncle was present to us in a way I had not yet felt.

Despite the heavy weight of my emotions at the time, I felt happy in this church, and I will always be grateful for the sense of connection and community that I was afforded in this beautiful mountain church.

Inside… St. Catherine’s of Meath Street

As you may have noticed by my Instagram posts recently, I am in Ireland!  I have been so immensely blessed by the opportunity to study abroad for a semester in Dublin.  I have wanted to visit Ireland for many years, so it is really exciting and fulfilling that I get to be here.

My second Sunday in the city included the first regular, local Mass I attended.  The beautiful church known as St. Catherine’s of Alexandria welcomed me with open arms.  I felt very connected to this church because of its devotion to Mary and its recent devastation.

During a tour of the area within my school’s orientation, our guide brought us to this church and taught us about its role in the community.  In the past few years, this church burned.  A fire was set in the building and the space suffered heavy damage.  My high school chapel recently went through a similar crisis, so I knew the pain that this community felt.  The people of the parish rallied together to restore their church.  My favorite manifestation of this was their campaign to fix the roof.  A donation of five euro would sponsor a tile on the roof, and each sponsor received a plaque to thank them for their contribution.  Through the aide of this strong neighborhood, the church was restored to the beautiful space that it is now, as you can see below.

Screenshot_20180914-235132_Video Player

In an alcove in the back of the church, a small shrine is set up in remembrance of the fire.  Several photographs are framed on the walls to show the damage, and a statue that was partially destroyed was left in its “tragically beautiful” burnt state as a tribute.  There are candles to light as an offering at the feet of this statue.  When I first entered the church with our tour guide, I was still looking at him as he described this alcove.  When he finished speaking and gestured to the back, I turned to look at the statue, and instantly smiled.  This particular image was of Mary Help of Christians.  The Salesians have a very strong devotion to her, and seeing her in this alcove instantly created a sense of home.  I felt the Holy Spirit surge within me as I looked upon Our Lady’s face, smudged with ash and smoke, but still beautiful.  I thought of my home chapel, and how we also had an image of our mother get covered in soot but still remain a regal display.  To see something so similar here…  I knew God was connecting threads in my life right then.  I knew that I was meant to be here.  I knew that I had found a new spiritual home.

I returned for Mass shortly thereafter, and in all honesty, it felt like the Twilight Zone.  Everything was the same but a little bit different.  The most jarring change from Masses back home in America and Mass here was the speed.  It was like the entire congregation was dialed up to eleven!  Everyone spit back the responses as quickly as they could, even though that put people at mismatched paces.  The Mass was full of cacophonous enthusiasm, and I was a little bit lost in it, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  The priest gave a lovely homily with a charming story about his childhood experiences as the introduction, and it was precious.  I was very amused by his dire warnings that winter is upon us once more because the students have returned to school and the choir has returned from their summer hiatus.

I am eager to return to this beautiful church soon.  Its history and its imagery remind me that God is my home everywhere, and that He is watching out for me and weaving my life together into a beautiful tapestry.  Every place I go, every experience I have, is intentionally used for His plan.  I am so excited to see what more He has in store for me!

Inside… My high school chapel (again)

You may have already read my first post about my high school chapel, but recent events made it worthy of a revisit.

On Friday, May 18th, at around 1:30 in the morning, the chapel caught fire.  It continued burning for a couple hours, before finally being extinguished at around 4 AM.  This fire was no small matter; it was a four alarm fire that brought responding officers from three additional municipalities.  There were at least 168 firefighters who arrived to help.  It was suspected, but (last I checked) unconfirmed, that the cause of the fire was electrical problems.  Thankfully, no one was hurt.

In my previous post, I mentioned that I had some mixed feelings about the chapel space.  Our chapel was renovated during my senior year of high school, and that was very hard for me personally.  I loved how things had been before, and it took me a while to warm up to the new design.  I still feel that the first version of the chapel was my true home, and I never quite connected as well with the new space.  But when I heard that the chapel was so ravaged that it would need to be knocked down completely, I was forced to a standstill.  I struggled to wrap my head around the fact that the very walls which housed me for four years would be gone.  The roof that watched over me while I fell in love with Jesus and grew in devotion to Him would be gone.  Every last physical remnant of the space where my faith started to have actual, personal, real meaning to me would be…  gone.

When a tragedy hits somewhere holy, it always begs the question of “Well, where was God?”  I don’t have a good answer; I don’t know where He was when the spark first caught.  I don’t know where He was when the skylights melted through.  I don’t know where He was when His house was turning into coal and ash.  But I do know that I saw His signature in the remains.  I know that He was not completely absent.

Many things were destroyed, yes, but some things were saved.  First and foremost, the tabernacle was rescued by some brave firefighters.  All of the stations of the cross were destroyed except the station where Jesus meets His mother, Mary – at a place called Mary Help of Christians, that’s a big deal.  Some of the sisters have shared stories of their meaningful personal trinkets that accompanied their prayer books being spared, even though the books themselves were consumed.  For example, Sister B talked about a butterfly pin that had sentimental value to her.  A charred Bible was left open on a pew to the book of Job, serving as a poignant reminder of the nature of struggle and suffering.

DdlIcHsW4AEPRty
Image from Sister B on Twitter

There are many more pictures posted on social media.  It was surreal to scroll through them all.  Seeing tiny images of the destruction in two dimensions on my phone made it almost feel like someone had photoshopped it all, and that it hadn’t really happened.  But it did, and now we have to move forward.

In June, I stepped back on campus for regularly scheduled adoration.  Since the chapel was unavailable, we set up adoration outside.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was very pleased with what did happen.  Gathered in a courtyard full of young people who were talking and laughing and playing games, and then praying and singing to the Lord, was incredible.  It felt so wholesome and connected.  I distinctly felt like I was in a modern oratory being watched over by Don Bosco.  Whenever I think of Salesians now, this will be one of the most prominent memories I have.  Being outdoors led to some great imagery in my prayers, as well.  I was very strongly reminded of this verse:

“Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?” Matthew 6:26

I don’t know why our chapel burned down – but I know that God is with us even in the ashes.  We have felt His presence in the protection that He granted the Sisters as the chapel blazed.  We saw His signature in the wreckage when meaningful things seemed purposefully saved.  We have seen Him working in the hearts of those who have chosen to donate to the Sisters to help them offset the cost of rebuilding.  And most of all, we are grateful that His love never leaves us, even when physical things do.

Inside… My high school chapel

A quick note…  Some time after I first drafted this post, my high school chapel caught fire in the middle of the night and was completely destroyed.  I have left the post below as it was originally drafted because I believe that those thoughts and feelings are still authentic and valid.  Click here to see my additional blog post with discussions of the fire and the devastation it caused.  

This is my high school chapel after it was renovated. In all honesty, I still have mixed feelings about it.

The old design of the chapel was very near and dear to my heart. It was where I had seen my sister go through school, and where I arrived a few years later. It was the room where my freshman induction was held, and where retreat and school Masses were held. It was the room where I fell in love with Eucharistic adoration and where I found my home every month when I returned to His displayed presence.

I remember hearing that the chapel was going to be renovated, and I was a little sad, but I figured it would happen after I graduated. Then I heard that it would be renovated in the midst of my senior year, that I would graduate inside the brand new chapel. I tried to tell myself it wasn’t that big of a deal, but if I’m being honest, I was devastated. There had been a lot of changes on every level in my high school in the second half of my time there, and “taking away” (really, just changing) the chapel that I loved just put the cherry on top.

The chapel was closed for a while, and in the mean time, we had adoration in the school gymnasium. That may sound like it was weird, but it was actually pretty cool. Our theology teacher’s dad built us a “burning bush”, so the monstrance was elevated and illuminated with numerous candles. Sometimes we would scatter more candles on the floor all around us. I brought a floor pillow that I deemed my adoration pillow to every session, and it worked better than I thought it would. I should have known that God’s presence would still burn just as brightly even if His surroundings changed.

Eventually the chapel opened again, and we had a re-dedication Mass to celebrate the changes. The altar had been moved backward in the space, and the choir section which had existed behind it had been moved to the side of the chapel next to the organ. The altar itself was different than it had been before, and the entire decorative installation behind was new. The cross itself was also different – the previous one had been suspended from the ceiling before the new one was mounted here. The pews were now cushioned (which was super nice, but also less fun. We used to really enjoy sliding along the waxed wood to get to our places). The kneelers were upgraded, and the aisles were slightly different. The carpet was new, and some statues had moved. And thus, we were given what you see below. I took this photo during one of the first nights of adoration in the new chapel.

0613171953b

I was hesitant at first, but over time, this new chapel has started to enter my heart. It is not the same home to me that the previous chapel was, and I still mourn that loss in some small way. Regardless, this space has taken on meaning for me, and I think that speaks to the spirit of God inhabiting a place. Environment is important, yes, but God’s presence is the core of what make a place meaningful, and this chapel’s change allowed me to accept that in a new way.

Inside… Our Lady of Consolation

While I don’t have as many pictures of this church as I would like, this tabernacle is too gorgeous for me not to share.

This is from Our Lady of Consolation.  I came to this church a few times with my choir in high school.  We sang for Mass on some select weekends, and we did a Christmas concert there for their community.  My senior year was the inaugural year of this partnership, though I hear they have continued to return regularly since then.

The church is structured in the semi-round, (that’s the best way I can think to describe it.)  The altar space makes up the edge of a semi circle, and the pews radiate from around that point.  This tabernacle is to the side of the church, a beautiful and colorful space.  I was instantly drawn to this tabernacle because it looks like glitter.  I’m a huge fan of anything sparkly, and this design called to me.   The curve of the doors allows for the light to be caught at every single angle, and it was so mesmerizing.  I could hardly turn away from it.  Behind that, the mosaic behind it is so intricate and detailed.  The colors are so rich and varied.  This is the type of tabernacle set up that draws you in and keeps you there.  It seems a bit unconventional to me, but I was really blown away by it.  I knew I had to take a picture of it, so as soon as Mass ended and the congregation started clearing out, I turned my phone back on and headed over.

IMG_20151205_180006101_HDR

This church also fascinated me with its incense.  They had this super cool chandelier-style fixture that was up by the ceiling… most of the time.  When they used incense in the Mass, however, they brought the fixture down from ceiling.  They dumped massive amounts of incense into the fixture, and it released equally massive plumes of smoke into the air.  I have never seen such poignant, physical reminder of our prayers rising to God.  It was awe-inspiring – and since I love the smell of incense, it was really comforting to me personally.

Something that I had never experienced before was television screens at a Mass.  Before Mass began, two screens on either wall forming the edges of the semi-circle displayed a slideshow with upcoming events and announcements.  During the liturgy itself, the screens showed live footage from various, discretely placed cameras throughout the space.  This meant that the lector got a tight focus while they were reading, as did the priest when he was preaching and praying.  They would pan across our choir while we were leading songs.  I wasn’t really a huge fan of it, personally, because I found myself getting distracted by the cinematography.  But I did really appreciate the close, detailed shots of the Body and Blood of Christ during the consecration.  If I attended that parish more often, I think I could grow accustomed to that view.  It made the consecration feel so much more intimate, because I felt like I could be that much closer to Christ as His presence was made manifest in the Eucharist.

 

Inside… the Catholic Center

This will be the first installment of what I hope to make a regular series here: Inside…[fill in the blank with a church]!  There are so many beautiful spaces to worship in this world, and I’d like to share with you the ones that I am blessed enough to visit.  Over time, I hope this series expands to include a very wide range, maybe even with international features!

giphy
Found on Giphy

 

To start out, I thought I would feature my current church: the Catholic Center.  The chapel space here at the Catholic Center is on the smaller side, but it is a beautiful space nonetheless.

Outside of this main chapel space, we have a lounge area (complete with a wood fired stove, numerous squishy couches, and a ping pong table.)  There’s study rooms, a library, the various offices of the staff, and a kitchen where we cook meals for “Dinner & A Talk” events or for the Salvation Army soup kitchen.  There’s also a bulletin board that is always filled with opportunities for students to get involved.

It is in one of those study rooms where I meet for Bible study every week.  That particular room features most prominently a cardboard cutout of Pope Francis, a print of Pope Saint John Paul II visiting a ski slope, and a large print of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  We also have additional comfy couches where the other young women and I gather to read Scripture.

In the chapel space, there is a large painting of St. John Newman, and of St. Augustine, for whom the chapel is named.  Its wooden surfaces make the entire space feel very warm and inviting, and the colors in the paintings are reds, oranges, and yellows in an effort to reflect that.

There are a couple things which I find to be unique to the Catholic Center.  At the end of every Mass, the priest leads the congregation in a series of three Hail Mary’s.  These prayers are offered for all the intentions of the diocese.  Salesians have a strong devotion to Mary, Help of Christians, so these prayers added to the Mass definitely helped me feel more at home very quickly when I first heard them.

Another thing that I find interesting about the Catholic Center is our tabernacle.  Specifically, there is a thin veil draped around the outside of the tabernacle.  I’ve never seen a tabernacle veil on the outside before.  This prompted me to question its meaning, and I have since connected it as an antitype of sorts for the veil in the Temple enclosing the Holy of Holies.  I now love this prominent visible reminder of the sanctity of the Eucharist.

A close friend of mine at the Catholic Center once told me her favorite fun fact about the space, and it also nods to the importance of the Eucharist.  The school’s campus is “up the hill,” and the Catholic Center specifically is built on the highest point in our city.  The tabernacle is purposefully elevated and centralized.  In other words, the tabernacle of our church rests on the highest point in the city.  How beautiful is it that the home of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our lives, is fittingly displayed on the greatest geographical summit in the area?

I love this church.  It is a beautiful space to encounter the Lord, and a home away from home during my studies.  I am so grateful for the community that I have found here, and I look forward to spending more time here over the years to come.