By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
RAYTOWN — When Father Angelo Bartulica arrived at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in late winter 2014 to begin as pastor, he told the parishioners that a perpetual adoration chapel was needed. Then he added the kicker: he wanted perpetual adoration to begin Ash Wednesday, a short 12 days away. Twelve days.
Our Lady of Lourdes had no useable chapel, although for several years work had been done sporadically in the former school building to remodel the former principal’s office as a chapel. To enlarge the space, two walls were removed, a while later plastering the concrete block walls had begun, and then the work stopped. For several months before Father Bartulica arrived, the room had stood empty, except for paint cans, rollers and drop cloths.
Parishioners immediately sprang into high gear.
“I couldn’t afford to act as we had time to get this done,” Father Bartulica said with a smile. “I wanted to capitalize on the parish’s initial enthusiasm.” He let the parishioners take charge of the project; his one insistence was on a hard wood floor.
Mother Julia Kubista, Director of the Sisters in Jesus the Lord whose convent is on the parish campus, said a perpetual adoration chapel really appealed to her, a native of Minneapolis-St. Paul where there are 50 such chapels. She remembered hearing about two college students, one a Catholic, the other a non-Catholic Christian. The Catholic student took his friend to St. Agnes Church in St. Paul and informed him that Catholics believe that the Body of Christ was truly present inside. The Protestant student shook his head, “No, you don’t. If you truly believed that, how could you leave him all alone?”
That resonated with her. Mother Julia organized her sisters, volunteers and vendors. “It was all the Lord’s doing that we got it done in time,” she said.
Two miracles occurred during those 12 days. The organizers had many parishioner volunteers, who plastered, painted, cleaned and hunted down furnishings, but the floor was, well, a big question mark and the days were flying by.
Mother Julia said she spoke with a parishioner, asking him if he knew any contractors or flooring men who could install a hardwood floor, fast. He answered simply, “I can.”
The perfect planks were found and purchased, and then she learned they had to become acclimated to the particular climate in their new home, which took three days. That would take them to the Monday before Ash Wednesday, just two days. Feeling a bit panicky but certain that if it was God’s will that all would be finished in time, it would be, “I asked him, ‘can you do it in two days?’ He said, ‘Sure.’”
While the plastering, painting, plank purchasing and pew searching was going on, volunteers under the direction of Katei Gross worked to assemble and schedule a team of adorers to cover 168 hours weekly — 24 hours a day, seven days a week — until more adorers could be organized and scheduled.
“We invited parishioners to become adorers with information in the bulletin and on the parish website,” Gross said. “I also created email blasts that were sent out to all our parishioners and to email addresses I had for other churches in the diocese. Father Angelo made announcements from the pulpit and we signed up adorers after Mass. We sold Eucharistic Chaplets to raise money to pay for the candles we would need to burn 24/7. Our best means of communication — word of mouth!”
Gross said the Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association was a “huge help,” providing organizational charts, books, sample invitations and letters, and encouragement.
She said adorers agree to adore at their committed hour or hours as long as the chapel stands. If they can’t keep the commitment for whatever reason, they are to notify the Adoration Team which will begin searching for someone to fill that hour(s). Or if someone can’t keep their appointed hour or if that time slot is vacant, the Adoration Team fills in. “We’ve had broken hips,” Gross said, “flat tires, doctor’s appointments and just plain forgot as reasons at all hours of the day or night. Every time, someone has been found to cover.”
The attics revealed treasures that, to Mother Julia, seemed heaven sent. Two long pews were found and brought down to the chapel, cleaned, polished and covered with tarps to keep them dust free. Folding chairs were arranged behind the pews.
Four window slits on the chapel’s south wall let in a hint of natural light but really needed some kind of covering to make the chapel feel more faith-filled. What kind of covering?
Meanwhile, the parishioner laid the flooring, finishing that Monday evening.
A volunteer searching the attics for other items needed in the chapel stumbled across four stained glass window coverings that were almost exactly the same size and shape as the windows. Our Lady of Lourdes’ former pastor, Father Steven Rogers, had found the coverings in a rummage store and bought them, possibly for those very windows as the work had been started on the chapel during his pastorate. Cleaned up, they fit perfectly, allowing that hint of natural light to surround the coverings. Immediately the chapel lost its erstwhile principal’s office feel and became more spiritual.
In order for Christ to be always present in the chapel, a tabernacle had to be found. A parishioner remembered that Our Lady of Lourdes School students had presented a tabernacle to the parish about 50 years ago. It was quickly found, cleaned, polished and placed on the altar in the chapel.
On a snowy Ash Wednesday morning, Mother Julia and three novices gathered in the chapel with a group of volunteers, rolled up their sleeves and set to cleaning and getting everything ready for Father Bartulica and the Eucharistic procession to arrive later that day. Wielding brooms, mops and furniture polish, the crew worked quickly, cleaning and arranging candles, incense, paintings and Stations of the Cross. It was about noon when Mother Julia heard someone yelling, “Mother Julia, they won’t close! The doors won’t close!”
Mother Julia laughed at the memory. The entry guard plates at the bottoms of the doors kept them from shutting. “Someone had to remove the plates and we had to pull out all the old screws with hand screwdrivers. But we did it. Then the doors had to be cut to fit, raising clouds of dust. We ran around throwing tarps and blankets over the furniture and the altar to keep the dust off.”
The chapel was mostly complete; all it lacked was a sanctuary lamp. Until they could get a lamp, one was borrowed from the church. The tarps, blankets, cleaning supplies and brooms were whisked away and Mother Julia and her novices straightened the Stations of the Cross and the paintings and lit candles and incense. As Father Bartulica and the Eucharistic Procession were crossing the parking lot from the church, the first adorers entered the chapel and knelt at the prie dieux in front of the altar.
That was the sight that greeted the pastor as he entered the chapel carrying the monstrance with the Body of Christ. As Gross said later, “As Our Lord entered the chapel, He was welcomed by the flicker of candles, the aroma of incense, and the prayers of our adorers.”
The chapel was named Pope John Paul the Great Perpetual Adoration Chapel.
Time passed. A statue of Mary was found and installed in a niche between the two entrances to the chapel. A sanctuary lamp was purchased and hung on the chapel’s west wall. The furnishings and decorations are comfortably in place. There is always someone at prayer in the chapel, even in the dead of night. The only time the chapel is closed is during The Triduum.
A petition box rests on a table near the statue. Gross said, “I see that box … and it makes me realize just how many people, how many problems, how many sorrows and joys are coming to our little chapel. I can touch that box, touch those lives and pray for them. I can be with them, be part of their lives and part of their petition.”
Part of the vestibule was furnished as “a comfy visiting area” with chairs, lamps and tables, where people can step outside the chapel for conversations, she said.
Daily Mass is celebrated in the chapel, rather than in the church. It’s more intimate in the chapel, Father Bartulica said. And it saves money, since the church doesn’t need to be heated or air-conditioned every day.
The parish recently celebrated the chapel’s first anniversary. There are 94 adorers currently scheduled, Gross said, and about 99 percent are parishioners. She added that the parish would welcome everybody to come adore Christ present in the Holy Eucharist.
Gross said it would be impossible to name all those who donated money, supplies, books, time, talents, even afghans for cold winter nights. “The chapel brought out the best in us,” she said, “because the Lord creates miracles within us and within our lives when we share time with him. That call goes out to all of us. We love spending time with friends. The chapel lets us spend time with the best friend we will ever have in our lives.”
Mother Julia said that “the chapel is something we can do and keep doing.” She watched a novice rise from prayer and quit the chapel as a couple entered and took her place. She smiled. “It’s a real joy to finish my prayers and someone else is there, already in prayer.”
Father Bartulica said his parishioners “are living their faith and acting out what we believe in: the presence of the Body, Blood and Spirit of Christ in the Eucharist. The most important thing we can do has and is being done: the Lord is being adored.”
While many parishes offer adoration at certain times during the liturgical year, the Pope John Paul the Great Perpetual Adoration Chapel is one of two such chapels in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph; the other is Mir House of Prayer in St. Joseph.