At eleven this morning, a group of worshippers had gathered at Unity Acres — both residents and folks from near–by — for Sunday Mass. It was a cool, brilliant sunny morning. In the gardens just in front of our chapel, early spring flowers are in evidence: the crocuses are perhaps even a little past their peak, the daffodils and tulips are yet to bloom. Today is Palm Sunday: at Mass we listen to Luke’s account of the culmination of Christ’s journey to Jerusalem, a triumphant entry(19: 28–40) swiftly followed by the Passion (22: 14 — 23:56).
Our little chapel, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is located on the ground floor of our Main Building, which we commonly refer to as ‘B’ Building — I’m not quite sure why. It is here that we gather for Sunday and week–day liturgies, and for communion services on those weekends when Father Jones is unable to be at Unity Acres to celebrate Mass with us. Whether it’s for big celebrations, for Anniversaries, holidays or Holy Days, whether for funerals or for picnics, or whether simply for regularly scheduled Masses, it is the gathering of the people which counts. The people so gathered are themselves ‘living stones’ in this temple of the Holy Spirit.
Still, the place in which we gather has become quite special and dear to us, through the efforts of those who have come before, and the efforts of the present community: those who labor, and those who sing, those who do good works in this venerable and holy house.
The Main Building at Unity Acres, back in the days when this property was the Oswego County Tuberculosis Sanatorium, had been the Children’s Building, and the space which we are now using for our chapel had once been, we’ve been told, a school room for the young TB patients then living at the Sanatorium.
We’ve been told as well that our chapel had not always occupied its location in B Building. A few years ago, while searching for a dress coat suitable for a deceased member of the community whose funeral we were preparing, one of our staff discovered in the back room of the clothing room in the North Wing, a beautiful mural painted on a west facing wall. Our chapel, it seems, was once situated in the North Wing, before being transferred at some later moment to B Building. This mural, painted by Jim Homer, had been hidden behind a rack of donated suits for several, several years. Subsequently the section of sheetrock containing Jim’s mural was cut out and framed by Mark Coon, and it now hangs in the hallway leading to the current location of our chapel. The mural itself is a depiction of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, of the embrace of father and son (Luke 15, 11–32), which incidentally was the Gospel read at Mass two weeks ago today.
The chapel had been moved into the North Wing, in the spring of 1978 and was finally moved to its present quarters — I’m not quite sure when. The pews, the altar, the statues, the Stations of the Cross — all were given to Father McVey for use here at the Acres, when a hospital chapel, somewhere up north in the Ogdensburg Diocese (so I was told) had been shut or was itself completely renovated. Our Stations are labeled in French, Jesus tombe pour la premiere fois, and so on, so perhaps these came to us somehow from some French–Canadian parish.
In years gone by, there have been a few occasions when it was necessary to make certain repairs and improvements to our chapel. I recall that when Father Jones, Peg McCarthy and I were first becoming involved with Unity Acres, that Fred Petell was busily occupied with refurbishing the statues of Saint Joseph, Mary, and the Sacred Heart, as well as the altar. The statues needed repainting, and had been put into Fred’s care and custody for the duration of the project. Some years later, in late 1994, a fire broke out in one of the rooms directly above our chapel. Thanks be to God, no one was injured at the time, but extinguishing the fire caused serious water damage to the chapel below. At that time, Father Ted Sizing was at Saint Francis Farm, and was able to offer to organize teams of volunteers — college students doing week–long retreats at the Farm — putting up new wallpaper, repainting damaged wood–work and so on. Still later, a leaky roof — since fixed — caused damage to the chapel’s tin ceiling panels, and these had to be repainted.
But now the time has come again for a renovation of our well–loved chapel. Mark Baker has written a fine description of the work currently under way.In Exodus, when Moses first hears the voice of God, God’s word to Moses is: “Moses, Moses: Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” (Exodus 3: 5, Third Sunday of Lent) We are perhaps inclined to regard our humble little chapel, tucked away in this unlikely corner of a disused TB Sanatorium, in Orwell, New York, also as holy ground. It has pleased God for forty years to cause His Name to dwell here, and He has sojourned among us here. Yes, this has indeed become Holy Ground.