Pilgrim's Progress is a new feature highlighting sites of interest for Catholics in the Boston Area.
Long before Pope Francis urged Catholics to engage and serve the “peripheries” of society, the late Richard Cardinal Cushing, Archbishop of Boston, took a very similar sentiment to heart. For one must travel to the heart of Boston to stumble upon the gloriously humble nook where the St. Francis Chapel is lodged. Flanked by Ben & Jerry’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, one could have trouble identifying the space as a likely home for the Church. But that’s exactly how it was intended to be: “the heart of Christ in the heart of Boston.” The church is immersed in the bustle of daily life, where convention attendees, lawyers, baristas, and priests share a common space.
The chapel was founded in 1969 in the newly-constructed Prudential Center, and has been staffed by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary since 1983. In 1992, when the Prudential Center underwent a dramatic renovation, the Oblate priests and brothers were fundamental in overseeing the chapel's relocation to its present site. The Oblates of Virgin Mary, approved by Pope Leo XII in 1826, were inspired by the life of Venerable Bruno Lanteri (1759-1830) who had a profound love for the Virgin Mary and (in a vein familiar to BC students) the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.
Today, the order sees itself as entrenched in the everyday, as the St. Francis Chapel illustrates. Particularly, though, their charism is their dedication to the evangelization of modern culture, especially through mass media communication and foreign missions. One Oblate, Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV, is well known for his appearances on both CatholicTV and EWTN. As Lanteri instructed his followers, “Say with courage: nunc coepi—now I begin, and walk always in the service of God. Do not keep stopping to look back, because he who looks back cannot hasten forward.”
As one enters the chapel, the glass walls which frame the foyer are indicative of the seamless transition between outside world and House of God. It’s as if Christ Himself pulls you in with the alluring power of His love and holds you close and safe. Suspended over the altar hangs a spell-bindingly intricate San Damiano crucifix. To Christ’s right stands a wood-carved statue of St. Francis of Assisi—and to the left is an all-world collection of three relics from St. John Paul II, St. Faustina Kowalska, and St. Maximillian Kolbe. Through the presence of the fibers of hair, bone, and beard of each saint respectively, one can’t help but feel cloaked in the unique spirit of the chapel. And though the outside business and busyness is seemingly inescapable, within the chapel, the peace overpowers you. This same Spirit resides every day on Boston College's hectic campus, especially in the numerous options for daily Mass and confession, positioned thoughtfully between lunch breaks and the commute home.
The very act of visiting the St. Francis is a spiritual exercise in itself. It is a profession that the presence of God isn’t removed and simply situated in the compartmentalized spaces of our day. The St. Francis Chapel is a tangible expression that God not only resides but thrives in the mess and rush of the day-to-day. And maybe that is where He wants to be before anywhere else.
Featured image courtesy of Boston's Hidden Sacred Spaces