by Quentin Bet
A gray stone building stands proudly on the corner of Boylston and Ipswich, its beautiful Gothic architecture capturing the eye of many passers-by. This structure is Saint Clement Eucharistic Shrine, one of Boston’s most breathtaking places of worship. The building, which was constructed in 1925 by the Second Universalist Society of Boston, has a striking exterior with tall narrow windows and graceful tracery. A sculpture of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus is perched above the portal, welcoming all who enter the Roman Catholic shrine.
I recently visited St. Clement’s as a means of escape from the stress of college, a much needed break amidst the flurry of midterms and assignments. The shrine offers daily Mass, as well as 24-hour Adoration of the Eucharist. Though the doors are locked between 9:00 pm and 6:00 am, St. Clement’s still offers special access for those who wish to adore the Sacrament during these times. I decided to take advantage of the accessibility and slip into the shrine for a few minutes last week.
My time at St. Clement’s is still vivid in my mind: the shrine’s interior is very dim, and it takes my eyes several minutes to adjust to the dusky stillness. Late-afternoon sunlight filters through a high stained glass window, offering just enough brightness to gently illuminate my surroundings. The shrine is beautiful, with sweeping archways and impressively high ceilings. Although the interior is magnificent, it is also simple and without distraction. As I sit on a wooden pew, my attention is focused directly to the front of the shrine. The Eucharist, which stands on display behind the altar, seems to glow with a golden luster. It is the only part of the shrine to be brightly illuminated, capturing the gaze of everyone in its vicinity.
According to Fr. Peter Grover, O.M.V., the director of St. Clement’s, simplicity is one of the shrine’s biggest assets. It allows visitor to focus on the Eucharist, rather than be distracted by any bells or whistles. There is a quiet monastic feel to the space, one that invites contemplation, reflection, and a focus on the Eucharist. Fr. Grover was initially brought to St. Clement’s 22 years ago to assist with the shrine’s restoration, as many of his family members are skilled carpenters. The renovations succeeded in capturing the Christ-centered atmosphere that the shrine has become known for.
During my visit to the shrine, several other people were scattered throughout the pews, either deep in prayer or in adoration of the illuminated Sacrament. Despite each person’s individual intentions for being at the shrine, there is a sense of oneness among those gathered. According to Fr. Grover, the people are what make the shrine so special. For Sunday Mass, St. Clement’s— which can comfortably seat between 150 and 200 people —typically has all of its pews filled, with only standing room available. The shrine draws in a diversity of people, including a large number of young parishioners. Many students from surrounding colleges flock to the Boston-based church for both Mass and Adoration.
St. Clement’s offers a variety of ways for parishioners to get involved, such as serving as lectors or Eucharistic ministers. The shrine also has two youth groups, Pure in Heart Young Adults and St. Clement Shrine’s Young Adults, which meet each week to discuss the Scriptures and grow in faith. Additionally, the Back Bay Mobile Soup Kitchen distributes food and basic necessities to the homeless, a direct way to live out Christ’s example.
While St. Clement’s is currently flourishing, it wasn’t always the shrine as we know it today. Originally built as a Universalist church, the complex was eventually purchased by William Cardinal O’Connell, the Archbishop of Boston at the time. On December 8, 1935, the church was officially dedicated to St. Clement, and on May 3, 1945, the church was inaugurated as a Eucharistic Shrine by Archbishop Richard Cushing (later made a Cardinal). While the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary presided over the shrine for many years, the Oblates of the Virgin Mary arrived in the 1970s and are the current overseers.
St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine has served as a bright spot in Boston for decades, and its pleasant atmosphere continues to draw in many people to this day. The serenity within its stone walls serves as a refuge and a remedy for those who are overwhelmed by the trials of this world, and its focus on the Eucharist serves as a source of joy and hope for steadfast believers.