By Rose O’Connor, Correspondent, and Mary Stadnyk, Associate Editor
Judy Paul has warm memories of the chapel in Notre Dame High School. As a student who attended the Lawrenceville school in the 1960s, she remembers often visiting the chapel to spend time in prayer. She vividly recalls Nov. 22, 1963, and how members of the school community gathered in the chapel to find solace and comfort after learning about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
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“People were just wandering and [we were] shell-shocked,” Paul recalled. “Many of us came in here to pray.”
It was such memories from more than 50 years ago that drew Paul back to her high school alma mater the morning of March 31 as she attended Mass and witnessed a sacred milestone in the chapel’s history, the consecration of a new altar by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.
“I am so thrilled to be here today to celebrate with you the consecration and dedication of this altar,” Bishop O’Connell said as he began the celebration of Mass. “It is a joy for me and I am sure it is for you as well.”
The solemn, ancient ritual of consecrating an altar unfolded after the homily with members of the school’s Madrigal Choir chanting the Litany of Saints. The Bishop poured Sacred Chrism on the altar’s surface and then spread the oil with his hand. After the altar was incensed, two students, who were altar servers, dressed the table with altar linens and candles. The candles were lit by Msgr. Walter Nolan, a retired priest of the Diocese and former Notre Dame High chaplain, who was among the priest concelebrants. Other priests in attendance were Father Dennis Apoldite, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Trenton, and also a former school chaplain; Father Jason Parzynski, current chaplain, and Father Michael Hall, director of the diocesan Office of Worship.
In his homily, Bishop O’Connell reflected on the Gospel, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, saying, it is “one of the best short stories that has ever been written. There are three main characters and three ways of approaching life.
“When Jesus tells stories, he tells them for a reason and he wanted the people of God, the people who surrounded him and the people who heard his words to realize that his father was full of mercy and compassion and forgiveness,” said Bishop O’Connell. “All we have to do, no matter where our lives are taking us, no matter where our minds have taken us, is turn back to the Father and say, ‘I’m sorry, take me back.’ How fortunate we are. How blessed we are as sons and daughters of Christ to have that kind of father. Today let’s rejoice, let’s be grateful for that gift.”
Msgr. Nolan addressed the school community on the importance of the altar, explaining why priests reverence the altar with a kiss. “Because the altar represents the Christ. It allows us to offer him our humanity so that we can receive his divinity,” he said.
Father Parzynski extended appreciation to Msgr. Nolan and Father Apoldite for their attendance and gifts. Msgr Nolan donated the altar and Father Apoldite donated the votive candles and kneelers that are placed before the statues of Mary and Joseph.
Speaking on the altar blessing, school president, Mary Liz Ivins, said, “It was so beautiful to see this very particular ritual. I think it enriches our children’s understanding of the sacredness within our Church. We live our faith day to day, and I think it’s so important sometimes to see these sacred rituals just to feel that awe in the presence of God. “
Judy Paul’s sister, Maria, a 1969 graduate, said she was pleased to see faith traditions continued.
“The students all seem so happy to be here, which is quite a wonderful thing. I pray this will continue for years to come.”