On Sunday, October 11, 1931 Sacred Heart Monastery Chapel was solemnly dedicated by Bishop Thomas Joseph Toolen of Mobile. Last Sunday we celebrated the 89th anniversary of this dedication as a solemn feast. For eighty-nine years this Gothic edifice has stood tall at the center of Sacred Heart Monastery both figuratively and in reality.
Since 1931, the outlines of Sacred Heart Chapel have become the most recognizable symbol of our Community – a call to prayer, a promise of peace, an assurance of loving concern, and a witness of faith, both to the sisters themselves and to all the people whose lives we touch.
In this sacred space we come together to experience and celebrate our oneness as a Community. We witness the progression of sunlight beaming through its beautiful stained-glass windows from early morning, when we raise our voices for Morning Praise (Lauds), through midday gatherings for Eucharistic celebrations until evening, when the fading light of the setting sun accompanies Evening Prayer (Vespers). The shifting colors and angles of light echo the varied experiences and seasons of life itself while silently proclaiming God’s enduring presence among us.
Our lives as monastic women literally begin and end beneath this hallowed meeting place. Women seeking to enter our monastery knock on the main door of the Chapel and ask the Prioress and Community for admittance. After joining the monastic community, all major celebrations occur in this space–entrances into to the Novitiate, monastic professions, vow renewals, jubilee celebrations, installations of Prioresses, etc. When a sister dies, her body is welcomed into this Chapel by the Prioress and Community one final time. At the door, the casket is met outside the chapel entrance, draped with a pall, and escorted into the Chapel where it will remain until the funeral liturgy. Following the funeral, the Sister’s body is processed out of the Chapel and solemnly taken to its place of rest in the monastery cemetery.
During the difficult time of the pandemic, the bells of the monastery Chapel ring out at 3:00 pm each day, outside of the usual time for communal prayer. Joining other Benedictine monasteries in this practice, the bells summon us to pause and to pray specifically for an end to the pandemic and for those suffering from its terrible effects. Also, this pandemic has interrupted our usual ministry of hospitality to guests, including those who join us for the Liturgy of the Hours and for Eucharist in our Chapel; however, members of our Community have found creative ways through technology and social media to bring our common prayer to others.
Sacred Heart Monastery Chapel is the place we repeatedly come to and go out from as a witness of fidelity—God’s fidelity to us, our fidelity to one another, and our fidelity to the People of God both near and far.
With the Church we repeat the words from the prayer for the Dedication of a Church:
“God our Father, from living stones, your chosen people, you built an eternal temple to your glory. Increase the spiritual gifts you have given to your Church that your faithful people may continue to grow into the new and eternal Jerusalem. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
To learn more about Sacred Heart Monastery Chapel, you can take our Chapel Tour by clicking here.
By Sister Janet Marie Flemming, OSB