By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — What better day, said Bishop Robert W. Finn, to dedicate the last major piece of the Catholic Center in downtown Kansas City than the Solemnity of the Assumption.
Bishop Finn joined diocesan employees and other invited guests Aug. 15 for the consecration and dedication of the Chapel of Our Lady of Ephesus, further broadening the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph’s devotion to Mary to whom the Diocese had been dedicated since its founding under the title of Immaculate Conception.
“It is the dwelling place of God. It is the beating, living heart of the building,” Bishop Finn said in his homily as the chapel was blessed and its altar, built to reflect the house in the ancient city of Ephesus, Turkey where Mary spent her last years on earth, was consecrated.
The first floor chapel, converted from meeting space in the 10-story office structure once commonly known as the historic New York Life building, will now serve as a spiritual heartbeat for not only diocesan employees, but for the broader community as well, just as Mary’s house in Ephesus attracted thousands of pilgrims, Christian and non-Christian alike, Bishop Finn said.
Directly above the altar is a precise oil-on-canvas reproduction of “The Coronation of the Virgin,” which was a gift to Bishop Finn that he in turn gave to the chapel.
The original painting was done by Diego Velazquez, court painter for King Philip IV of Spain, and completed in 1645 as an altar piece for the oratory of Elisabeth of France. The original now hangs among other works by Velazquez and other Spanish masters in the renowned Museo del Prado in Madrid.
The huge artwork caught the eye of Bill Quatman, one of four members of the Quatman family who attended the Aug. 15 dedication, along with his mother, Evelyn, his sister Georgia Quatman Lynch, and her husband, Jim Lynch.
Bill and Georgia are the grandchildren of George Quatman Sr., who made it his family’s mission to restore and preserve the ancient house in Ephesus in the early 1950s in gratitude for the complete recovery from polio of grandson David, the brother of Bill and Georgia.
Bill Quatman noted the position of Velazquez’ painting, which shows Mary being carried to heaven by cherubs and crowned by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is appropriate, he said, that it is high up on the chapel wall behind the altar that is a model of Mary’s last home.
“Tradition says that Mary was first buried up on the hillside immediately behind the house, and it was from that hill that she was assumed into heaven,” Bill Quatman said.
“So here you have her home,” he said, pointing to the altar, “and above and behind that, you see her entering heaven.”
Flanking the painting are statues of St. Paul, who established the church in the once-thriving port city, and of St. John the Evangelist, the apostle to whom Jesus entrusted his mother as he was suffering on the cross.
Tradition also holds that it was St. John, the first Bishop of Ephesus, who built the home for Mary on Nightingale Mountain, Bishop Finn told the congregation.
The ancient city’s links to church history did not end with the Assumption, Bishop Finn said.
“In the year 431, the church would gather in Ephesus for a great ecumentical council — the third in the church’s history,” he said.
“In the Basilica of Mary in Ephesus 1,580 years ago, the council fathers affirmed and proclaimed Mary, ‘Theotokos — Mother of God,’” the bishop said.
“The narrative records that as far as the eye could see, the faithful stood in torchlight vigil outside the Basilica prayerfully awaiting the announcement by the church of a mystery they already knew: Mary is the mother of us all,” Bishop Finn said.
Bishop Finn also noted Daughter of Charity Sister Marie de Mandat Grancey, whose sainthood cause the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is sponsoring, and whose portrait is displayed at the chapel’s entrance.
Sister Marie, born into French nobility and wealth in the 19th Century, was inspired by the mystical writings of Blessed Catherine Emmerich that described Mary’s home in Ephesus in detail, though it had been abandoned by centuries of turmoil in the region.
Serving as a missionary in nearby Smyrna, Sister Marie financed the expedition that discovered the site which was more well known at that time as a pilgrimage site for Muslims.
“Sister Marie was able to acquire the venerable site and saw it established as a place of pilgrimage not only for Christians, but for Muslims,” Bishop Finn said.
“Popes since Leo XIII have seen in the house of Our Lady of Ephesus a place of prayer, pilgrimage and peace for all children of Mary, from many diverse cultures and creeds,” the bishop said.
“At that site, the popes have granted special graces and the privilege that the Mass of the Solemnity of Mary’s Assumption may be celebrated every day at Mary’s House to joyously recall that dogma of faith that tradition tells us took place on the hill beyond the house,” he said.
As the small house in Ephesus became a place of solace and prayer, so should the small chapel in downtown Kansas City, Bishop Finn said.
“This becomes the hearth and furnace which warms and fuels everything we do and are,” he said.
“Come often, dear friends, when you have a moment to hand all over to Jesus Christ, to rediscover the breadth and length, the height and depth of God’s love,” the bishop said.
“We hope others will come here, Catholics and others, Christians and non-Christians alike,” Bishop Finn said.
“God is clearly here for us all, and perhaps this place will serve as a cause of unity and a reminder to everyone that we have a Mother, ever ready to help us,” he said.
“We are children who, with all our needs, anxieties and speaking any prayer whatsoever, run to our Mother and find refuge and security under her cloak,” Bishop Finn said.