With the architect's model of a new chapel at the Franciscan Life Center in the foreground, Sister Barbara Johnson of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, executive director of the center, prepares for the ground-breaking ceremony on July 13 with Father Douglas L. Mosey, president and rector of Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell; Sister Suzanne Gross, administrator of Franciscan Home Care and Hospice Care; and Mother General Shaun Vergauwen. The 6,000-square-foot structure, which will include the chapel and a multipurpose room, is scheduled to be completed next summer. (Photo by Mary Chalupsky)MERIDEN – The Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist broke ground for a new 6,000-square-foot chapel and multipurpose room on July 13 at the community’s 24-acre Franciscan Life Center.
Family, friends and members of the religious community stood along ribbons that marked the outline of the new building during the sun-showered ground-breaking ceremony, which included a welcome, prayer, blessing and hymns, followed by a reception.
The yearlong project will replace the existing 800-square--foot Paul VI Center, where the chapel seats 48 people. The sisters have attended Mass there for nearly 25 years. About 60 sisters and lay members of the community currently squeeze into the chapel for daily Mass by adding chairs around the perimeter.
“We’ve outgrown our chapel,” said Mother General Shaun Vergauwen, of her community, which currently includes 87 sisters with 15 women in formation in 12 locations worldwide. “This will be our third chapel on the property. It’s something we’ve needed to do for a very long time.”
Currently about 35 sisters live in four houses at the center, located on the Meriden-Cheshire line.
The original chapel was housed in the Paul VI Center, built in 1987, which also served as the residence for the community. In 1988, a fire destroyed the home and chapel except for the tabernacle, altar and a charred wooden cross.
A center to replace the chapel was rebuilt in 1989 and renamed after Pope Paul VI, who granted the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist permission to become a new religious order in 1973, and who wrote the encyclical Vitae Humanae on human life, which is close to the community’s charism. Archbishop John F. Whealon of Hartford, who welcomed the sisters to the archdiocese in 1970, blessed the center.
The new building will be connected to one of the sisters’ four residences on the property. The multipurpose room will be partitioned off from a 100-seat chapel and sacristy by a wall of glass doors.
When the glass partition is opened, the chapel will be able to accommodate an estimated 250 people for profession ceremonies and other special occasions. In recent years, the sisters have turned to Holy Angels Parish in South Meriden to hold their ceremonies.
In keeping with the Franciscan love of nature, the chapel’s windows will provide sweeping views of the trees and flowers beds that the sisters have landscaped since moving to the property on Finch Avenue in 1982.
The new building will be “green” according to John Sullivan, co-owner of Sullivan Brothers in Wolcott, general contractor, who also served as construction manager for the Queen of the Apostles Chapel at Holy Apostles College and Seminary.
Features will include radiant heating, LED lighting, use of solar heat from windows and energy- efficient insulation. The sisters also plan to recycle the cherry wood walls in the existing chapel; it was milled from trees on their property.
The last Mass in the existing chapel will be celebrated July 24. It then will be deconsecrated and demolished. Daily Masses in the interim will be celebrated in the Paul VI Center’s living room, which will also be used as the dining room for the coming year.
A new parking lot is also included in the construction project, which is estimated to cost under $2 million. The architect is Don Hammberg Associates of Farmington.
A name for the chapel has not been determined.
The property in Meriden serves as the motherhouse for the order, which has 12 locations across the United States and abroad. The sisters serve their communities mainly through counseling, education, home health care and hospice care.