Shepherd’s Presence • Bishop O’Connell prays during the blessing of the new Perpetual Adoration Chapel.  John Batkowski photo
Shepherd’s Presence • Bishop O’Connell prays during the blessing of the new Perpetual Adoration Chapel.  John Batkowski photo

By Lois Rogers | Correspondent

Our Lady of Victories Perpetual Adoration Chapel in Holmdel’s St. Benedict Parish has been a prayerful work in progress for five years.

View photo gallery here.

On May 3, the fifth Sunday of Easter, the tiny chapel, carved out of existing space from an unneeded entrance to St. Benedict School and a small room where weekly collections were counted, became a reality.

With scores of parishioners looking on reverently, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., blessed and dedicated the jewel of a chapel alight with glowing stained glass windows and illuminated by murals flowing gracefully from one wall to the other that link the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and Luminous Mysteries.

Standing just a bit to the side of the glorious Marian Monstrance that holds the Eucharistic focal point of this sanctuary, the Bishop prayed that those who enter here will “draw close to Christ, the true vine.”

In doing so, he was drawing from the core image of the day’s Gospel when Jesus tells his disciples, “I am the vine and you are the branches: He that stays in me and I in him brings forth much fruit …” (John 15:5).

As a touching example of the importance of Eucharistic Adoration, the Bishop shared the story of an old man who would sit before the tabernacle for hours every day. When asked what he prayed for, the old man responded: “I just look at him and he looks at me.” He urged all present to do take the opportunity to do the same, saying the Adoration Chapel is the place where the “whole process” of Jesus as the real presence of can be experienced. It is the place, he said, where you don’t just tell Jesus you love him, you show him.

And indeed, after the chapel had been dedicated, many who witnessed the event stayed to do just that. Among them was a benefactor who underwrote the chapel and wished to remain anonymous. In a warm reflection, the benefactor talked about hopes for the chapel, designed not only for the edification of adults at prayer but children, as well.

Linking Mary to Jesus by way of artistic imagery that children would connect to was very much at the forefront of the project, said the benefactor who worked in tandem with muralist Janice Casper, a member of St. Monica Parish, Jackson.

The aim of both was to create a sacred space that was peaceful and graceful and helped to convey how powerful and wonderful it is just to sit in the presence of Jesus. The benefactor said a hope was to bring Jesus into close proximity with children and adults, drawing him near instead of being far away on an altar.

Casper, known primarily for murals that enliven medical and professional facilities, said she was overjoyed to take on this mission. The murals flow with images that appeal to both children and adults, she said.

Further enhancing the chapel are the stained glass windows, a statue of Our Lady of Victory, the monstrance and a gleaming tabernacle, all contributed by donors who came together within 48 hours after the project was announced online, said the benefactor.

St. Benedict pastor, Father Daniel F. Swift, who is soon to become pastor of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford, spoke two days after the blessing about the role he envisions for the chapel in the life of the parish.

He talked about the genesis of the project, noting that it had been incorporated into plans to renovate the parish and school plant in order to create more meeting space to accommodate the 90 ministries that flourish there.

“St. Benedict was busting at the seams and needed to expand,” Father Swift recalled. The school and church space was inadequate, and we held a feasibility study to see what was most needed. The study resulted in a decision to reconfigure existing space for meetings, but that no renovation would be undertaken either on the church or for an Adoration Chapel.

When the benefactor stepped up almost immediately and offered to pay for the work, Father Swift, who had long hoped to add an Adoration Chapel to the campus, said he replied: “if you are willing to pay, I’m not afraid of the work.”

That being said, though, he remembers that he expressed concerns as to whether enough adorers would come be available to fill the hoped for 168-hour a week schedule. The reply from the benefactor: “If you build it, they will come.”

There’s a good indication the benefactor is right, he said. “As the work moved forward, interest began to grow. When it came time for appointments, the stained glass windows and the monstrance and murals where (underwritten) very quickly.”

A series of information sessions with Father Victor Warkulwiz, national director of the Apostolate for Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, increased interest even more. “We are now at the point where the rubber meets the road,” said Father Swift, who noted that 30 parishioners have joined the commitment to help sign and schedule adorers.

To date, 300 parishioners have expressed their interest in devoting an hour – and frequently more – to staying with Jesus.

Among them is Gerry McKeever, the lead usher who has signed up for a 9-10 p.m. slot once a week. Just after the dedication, he shared how energized he felt by the commitment, saying that the one hour of prayer would help to bring blessings to the church. McKeever spoke joyfully about the wide spread belief that “every church that has an Adoration Chapel becomes more vibrant.”

Lois Brennan, a member of the parish for 42 years, is one of the coordinators helping to fill the schedule. She agrees with McKeever that the chapel will be both a boon and a blessing to the parish. “Its’ going to help people grow in faith,” she said. “This is a very loving, giving church, and the members want to have someone here 24/7 praying to God.”