Under the sweltering heat of a 90 degree day, volunteers worked for approximately 12 hours, June 28, to transform an old construction trailer into a chapel for the Metropolitan Youth Service Center in Dorchester.
Father Joseph Baggetta decided to construct the chapel as a spiritual outlet for the adolescents of the juvenile corrections facility, which houses troubled boys and girls ages 13 to 21. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts had provided an old classroom within the facility to be used for worship, but Father Baggetta felt that something more was needed.
"I've always wanted to have a separate entity, a separate place away from the building where kids can go to worship, to receive the sacraments, to have Bible study, to learn about the faith and to begin that change in their life," he explained. "We want to bring hope to these kids' lives and to do something to stop the violence."
Father Baggetta felt that a chapel, a “center of Catholic morality,” was essential at the facility to combat “violence on the streets.” The youth need to be “infiltrated with the Christian values of reconciliation, of acceptance, love of self and others, and respect,” he said.
Knowing that he could not construct a new building, Father Baggetta decided to renovate a used construction trailer, which would become a permanent fixture in the yard of the facility. He sent letters to a number of parishes in the archdiocese asking for assistance. Parishes, priests and prayer groups responded to by raising most of the $12,000 needed to convert the trailer into a chapel.
Members from several Knights of Columbus councils volunteered their time and effort to repair the 12-by-60 foot trailer. They scraped, painted, wallpapered, built closets and stairs, installed stained glass windows, new air conditioners and lights. Over the course of the day, the chapel became “beautiful” inside and out, said Father Baggetta, who noted that the Knights also helped landscape, planting shrubs and flowers outside the chapel.
"The Knights are very much committed to their Church, their community, their country and their faith," he said. "This is one way that the Knights have come forward to say that we want the violence to stop by changing the inner hearts of one kid at a time."
"We all felt a sense of accomplishment that we were able to help out young people in need," said Knight Arthur Whittemore, who noted that the Knights returned on two subsequent days to finish work on the trailer. "We were there to help them and to help Father Joe pass on the message of hope and the message that they are loved by God."
Father Baggetta also received permission to retrieve an altar and lectern as well as statutes, paintings and vestments from several closed churches throughout the archdiocese. “In order to maintain memory — that which closed, we opened,” he noted.
The Chapel of Hope, as it was named, will be a place where the youth can attend Mass, Bible study, and prepare to receive the sacraments. According to Father Baggetta, 60 to 70 percent of the 1,500 adolescents who pass through the facility each year are Catholic.
Father Baggetta, who has worked at the facility for 24 years, stressed the importance of reaching the youth during their time there. At the facility they feel safe and are not afraid, he said, but when they return to society they lose the support system that he and others provide.
"It's so important for them to be exposed to the Church, to the Chapel of Hope, because now when they go back to the community they know that the Church in the community is there," he explained. "There is a place that they can go. There is a safe haven. They know that the Church is there to give them hope."