ORLANDO | “It is with great joy, hope and faith that we come to give thanks to God for this chapel,” said Bishop John Noonan, Aug. 9, as he prepared to dedicate the altar and bless the remodeled chapel at St. Isaac Jogues Parish in Orlando. His presence was a welcome surprise for those attending daily Mass.
Built more than 25 years ago, everything in the chapel was original to its beginnings. Large tiles replaced an old, worn carpet, pews replaced faltering chairs, a fresh coat of olive paint enlivened the atmosphere and a new Carrara white and rose marble altar and ambo reverenced the holy space with its graceful lines. Large rose marble Greek letters for Alpha and Omega adorn the face of the ambo, a proclamation of God.
Pastor José Muñoz recounted the chairs in the chapel were originally donated and began breaking – even collapsing, once with a parishioner in it. “Little by little we were losing chairs,” he said. “And parishioners,” Bishop Noonan quickly added, as the crowd burst into laughter. The mood was joyful and full of gratitude.
The space not only transformed physically, but served to ignite the hearts of parishioners. This was a community project. “A few years back, the parish was waning,” noted Father Muñoz. In an effort to refurbish the space and encourage the faithful, he was determined to refurbish the chapel.
“When someone spends so much time in one place, it becomes part of their home,” he explained. “It is the spiritual part of our home that people identified with. Parishioners love the chapel. We come here for Eucharistic Adoration, funerals, weddings and retreats.” When he notified the congregation of the remodel and solicited their help, people came forward offering to donate funds and help clean. “This is beautiful because we are working for our parish and our community. People are very proud.”
Amauri Sedano is a frequent participant in the Mass, traveling from south Kissimmee to find peace in the sacred space. He first learned of the parish when he worked there as an electrician. Unsure of his beliefs at first, he found solace and assurance in the chapel. “A few years ago, I gave my heart to Jesus…,” said Sedano. “Sometimes I come at night and just sit here.” The Caminante, who walked from Ecuador to the United States in 2012, donated and installed new energy efficient lights. The Cuban native said he has much for which to be grateful. “For God, everything, the best,” Sedano told Father Muñoz in tears. “It’s funny, he put in the lights, but Jesus put the light in his heart,” said the pastor.
As Bishop Noonan began the dedication, he said, “Today we bless the lectern, this altar as a symbol of our faith. Just like the day we were Baptized, we came to church. The first thing we did was to welcome the Lord into our lives.” He explained that, just as we were anointed at our Baptism with the oil of chrism, the altar too would be anointed. “Because this is where we come each day, to place our heart on this altar so that God too can fill our hearts with his love,” he said. “So let us rejoice and be glad because this is the day the Lord has made.”
He noted that the altar is blessed at each of the four corners and the center, symbolizing the wounds in Jesus’ two hands and feet, “and the heart inside of Jesus—so in a special way, we are anointing the body of the Lord Jesus.”
The chapel previously accommodated 70 people and now fits 90, not including space for the chorus and seating for people with physical disabilities. He hopes the stained glass for the windows behind the altar will arrive soon. On the left will be the Nativity of the Lord and on the right the Resurrection. “These are the most wonderful moments of our faith,” said Father Muñoz. “As many funerals are celebrated here, we wanted to remind people that the Resurrection is our greatest hope. This is not the end. We are a humble community, but one family. This is the place where we come to learn and grow every single day.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic August 15, 2019