Mercy Fort Smith Chapel Blessing Stresses "All Are Welcome"

October 13, 2016

Father John K. Antony and Father Norman McFall presided over a Mass on Thursday to bless and rededicate St. Edward Chapel and four prayer rooms in Mercy Hospital Fort Smith.

The celebratory Mass included the transfer of the Blessed Sacrament from the chapel’s temporary location to its new enlarged and renovated space. The Tabernacle rests beneath the crucifix in the sanctuary.

A new stained glass depicting Jesus ministering to the sick welcomes visitors at the chapel door, and stained glass panels from the former chapel line a small vestibule. Inside, recessed lights illuminate custom installations of the Stations of the Cross on each side of the nave. Terrazzo flooring, lighting and raised, curved panels delineate the small sanctuary, which is bounded on each end by stained glass that dates back in the chapel’s history.

 “These important sacred spaces help ensure we provide for the spiritual and emotional needs of an ever-growing number of patients, their families and our co-workers,” said Martin Schreiber, vice president of mission for Mercy Fort Smith.  “In time of illness and emotional distress, St. Edward Chapel and prayer rooms will bring great comfort and spiritual respite to all who enter.”

Sister Chabanel Finnegan said the new chapel serves to remind co-workers and visitors that Mercy Hospital is not only a work place, it’s a sacred place. The chapel is meant to be a place of calm for everyone, she said.

“We want it to be a chapel where anyone feels welcome and it is a place where they can be quiet or pray, think or deal with issues,” she said. “It’s also a place for someone to sit and just be.”

Indeed, the Mass opened with the gathering hymn “All Are Welcome.” In Father Antony’s homily, he encouraged worshippers to let the chapel be a place free of the “marketplace” of our world. 

“When we step into the temple, we step out of the ordinary world and into the world of the saints,” he said. 

He acknowledged the work of the Sisters of Mercy who laid the foundation for health care that Mercy hospitals and clinics carry on today. The chapel in each hospital reminds us of Mercy’s core values, he said.

Important to the renovation was ensuring the chapel is more of a focal point in the hospital , Schreiber said. Formerly, when the chapel’s doors were closed, it was easy for a visitor walking by not to recognize there was a sacred space beyond them.

Mercy leaders decided that a new stained glass at the chapel’s entry could alert visitors to the chapel’s presence. They commissioned stained glass artist Cathy Fritschie Gilbert, who is known for her work in churches throughout Fort Smith. Gilbert studied photographs and texts Schreiber and Sr. Chabanel provided and listened to their desire for the stained glass to reflect the Fort Smith community’s diversity and reverence to Sisters of Mercy founder Catherine McAuley.

The planners approved Gilbert’s first sketch.

”A lot of times, I’ll mull something for awhile – and I know when an idea has come together,” she said. “This time, it just sort of fell onto the paper.”

Sr. Chabanel responded, “She really got what we were trying to say.” 

The chapel now carries the name St. Edward Chapel “to honor our past,” Sr. Chabanel said. The Sisters of Mercy’s original Fort Smith infirmary, completed in 1904, was named for St. Edward the Confessor, whose namesake, Bishop Edward, supported the sisters’ healing ministry.

Thursday was the Catholic Feast of St. Edward and the reason why Oct. 13 was chosen as the day to rededicate the chapel, Father Antony said.

Chapel fundraising co-chairs Walter Echols and Bennie Westphal thanked community members for supporting the project. 

“This project was entirely donor funded,” said Westphal, chairman of Mercy Health Foundation Fort Smith.  “It feels good knowing so many people share this passion for maintaining a faith-based, high-quality health care ministry here in Fort Smith.  We thank all these donors for their belief and partnership in our mission.”

John Davis, executive director of Mercy Health Foundation Fort Smith, said $600,000 was raised for the chapel improvements, the first to the sacred space since the hospital building opened in 1974.

Hospital President Ryan Gehrig said the chapel renovation is the beginning of a major building revitalization for all of Mercy Fort Smith.

“It was important, and intentional, to start with the chapel because it’s about who we are and the mission and values that we offer - not just to our patients - but to our community.”

St. Edward Chapel is located on the hospital’s first floor, adjacent to the Hennessy Education Center. As in the past, Mass will be held at 11:15 a.m. Monday-Thursday and noon Friday in the chapel. The public is welcome.

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