By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor
The chapel at St. Anthony Motherhouse was filled with worshippers on Oct. 4 as they gathered to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis as well as the renovation of the chapel and the shrine of Blessed Marianne Cope.
The renovations have kept the chapel closed since early August, and there was a real sense of celebration as many gathered to mark its reopening with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert Cunningham.
Sister Grace Ann Dillenschneider, OSF, co-director of Franciscan Collaborative Ministries, said the primary reason for the renovations was to make Mother Marianne’s reliquary more accessible. “We wanted to make sure that everyone who came to visit her could come close,” Sister Grace Ann said.
The renovations created a new shrine which was relocated within the chapel, built a new altar of repose for the Blessed Sacrament and moved the main altar back. Sister Grace Ann said it was very important that any changes be in keeping with the rest of the chapel. The diligent alterations take care to incorporate architectural features like the arches, rich wood and crosses found in the rest of the chapel.
“It still has that beauty and harmony and peaceful atmosphere that it has had since it was built,” Sister Grace Ann said. “There’s a real simplicity and a beauty about it that I think fits Mother Marianne.”
She added that special thanks were due to the workers who completed such detailed work, to the community members who helped with funding or with renovations, and to Sister Rose Raymond Wagner, OSF, who played a vital role in ensuring that the beauty and harmony of the chapel were retained.
Sister Grace Ann said that the Mass was also special in that it brought together the three bishops of the Syracuse Diocese, retired Bishop James Moynihan, auxiliary Bishop Thomas Costello and Bishop Cunningham.
“Whenever I speak in front of Franciscans I’m always a little nervous — intimidated, you might say,” Bishop Cunningham joked during his homily, “because Francis said, ‘Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.’”
He told those gathered that Francis was a realist. “He experienced poverty and he knew injustice. He personally knew illness and pain, rejection and humiliation,” he said. And yet despite this suffering he was able to take great joy in his untiring efforts on behalf of the poor and sick, Bishop Cunningham said.
“There is something unique about him. He had a personal warmth and sensitivity about people as individuals,” Bishop Cunningham said.
Francis was able to draw near to people and touch them not out of sentimentality but out of genuine love, he said.
He reminded those gathered of the same commitment shared by Blessed Marianne Cope, who left behind her fellow sisters in Syracuse to help those suffering from Hansen’s Disease (or leprosy) in Molokai, Hawaii.
“Blessed Marianne rebuilt the shattered faith of those who had been forced to leave their friends and family and go to Molokai,” Bishop Cunningham said. “In imitation of Francis, she drew near to them and showed them God’s peace.”
He said that Mother Marianne gave up the comforts of the life she once knew and took comfort instead in serving the needs of others.
“She followed the way of Francis in the simplicity of her heart,” Bishop Cunningham said. “We pray that the Eucharist will always be the heart and the center of our lives as it was for Francis and Blessed Marianne.” He encouraged those gathered to reach out to others with the love, joy and humility characteristic of St. Francis.
Bishop Cunningham also said he hoped that those who would visit the chapel in years to come would find solace in the faith that St. Francis and Blessed Marianne shared.
“And may they preach the Gospel in all its eternal newness by the quality of their lives,” Bishop Cunningham said, “and yes, when necessary, using words.”