WASHINGTON, D.C. – An ongoing renovation of the main chapel at the Edwin Cardinal O’Brien Pastoral Center reached a milestone recently when construction crews completed work on the central part of a new plaster ceiling over the sanctuary. The white plaster, trimmed in blue, replaces a patchwork of institutional dropdown panels and fluorescent lights. Now, a pair of red and gold ribs forms an eye-catching cross that intersects above the altar at a suspended boss image of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and rows of pendants illuminate the sanctuary, giving the chapel a much more reverent ambience than it had before.
The Edwin Cardinal O’Brien Pastoral Center, on Michigan Ave. N.E., is global headquarters for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), the only Catholic jurisdiction responsible for providing pastoral care to families in the United States Military, veterans receiving treatment at the nation’s Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers, and U.S. citizens working for the Federal Government outside of the U.S. The AMS acquired the five-story building in 2005 from the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD),which built it as a seminary and later used it to house priests studying at the Catholic University of America. When the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., became Archbishop for the Military Services in 2008, he made renovation of the chapel a top priority.
Archbishop Broglio said:
“The Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives as Catholics. Where we worship is important. It makes a statement about who we are and what we consider central to our lives. It was a singular gift to be able to renovate the chapel so that might better reflect the centrality of the Eucharist.”
Thanks to generous benefactors from Fairchild and Hill Air Force Bases, the first stage of the facelift took place in 2010, when Archbishop Broglio procured a marble altar, an ambo, statues, and flooring in addition to a gilded tabernacle, Stations of the Cross, and other sacramental fixtures. The addition of hardwood pews enlarged seating capacity from 25 to 75. In 2013, new stained glass doors were installed, depicting the coats of arms for both the AMS and His Excellency. These additions were all made possible by the excellent craftsmen of Henniger’s Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio. Not only did their President, Tom Cousineau, make certain that superb works were installed, but also the craftsmen they sent made certain that everything was just right. Work on the new ceiling began in early October and will reach completion after workers return on Monday, Jan. 23, to complete a small, unfinished section over the choir loft. The same choir loft, meanwhile, will be adorned with three murals, one depicting the Good Shepherd, and the others depicting Pope St. John XXIII and St. George respectively.
The final stage of renovation is set to take place later this year with design and installation of new stained glass windows. Each of the windows will contain an upper and lower section. The upper sections will depict images of saints, including the Roman centurion (i.e., military officer) who famously told Jesus: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” (Matt. 8:8). The lower sections will display images of the seven sacraments and priestly duty of preaching along with the seals of the U.S. Military branches.
The chapel is used mainly for weekday noon Mass, but also for special liturgies such as on the occasions of the annual seminarian retreat over Labor Day weekend and the biennial convocation of Catholic military chaplains every other fall. Archbishop Broglio celebrated the first Mass under the new ceiling on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, following more than two months of construction while daily Mass was displaced to his private chapel on the residence floor.
Those interested in contributing to finishing the chapel or donating a stain glass window are invited to contact Mary Lavin at email@example.com.