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BOSTON -- Tucked away in a corner of the Prudential Center, St. Francis Chapel has been a quiet refuge of prayer amidst the busyness of the Back Bay since 1969.
Cardinal Richard Cushing established St. Francis Chapel, along with other "workers' chapels," to make the sacraments available where people lived and worked. The Oblates of the Virgin Mary have run St. Francis Chapel since 1983, offering daily Mass, confessions, Eucharistic adoration, and spiritual direction.
"When I took over as provincial, the cardinal was sure to tell me that he looks at this place as one of the two oases of mercy in this diocese," Father Jim Walther, OMV, provincial rector of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, told the Pilot.
The other "oasis" the cardinal referred to is St. Anthony Shrine in downtown Boston.
On Nov. 1, the feast of All Saints, Cardinal Seán O'Malley celebrated Mass with the Oblates at St. Francis Chapel to mark the 50th anniversary of the chapel's founding.
In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley expressed gratitude to the Oblates for providing "so many life-giving activities that make God's grace accessible to people who pass through the Back Bay."
Cardinal O'Malley compared the feast of All Saints, a memorial to saints whose names are not known, to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He noted that the formally canonized saints are only a small percentage of the saints in heaven.
The gospel reading in the liturgy featured the Beatitudes, Christ's promises about finding happiness in circumstances where people would not expect to find it. Cardinal O'Malley noted that the Beatitudes are descriptive of Christ and his saints.
He ended his homily with a reflection on the fifth Joyful Mystery of the rosary, when Mary and Joseph are searching for Jesus, knowing that if they do not find him they will never be happy.
"We have to know that, too. We have to search for God, search for Jesus in our lives. And only when we truly find him and love him and know how much he loves us will we be happy," Cardinal O'Malley said.
Like the Beatitudes, St. Francis Chapel provides grace in an unexpected place.
Speaking to the Pilot after the Mass, Father Tom Carzon, OMV, recalled how Pope Francis asked the Church to "go out to the evangelical peripheries."
"All the peripheries pass through the chapel," Father Carzon said, noting that it is regularly visited by students, people on vacations or business trips, people attending conventions or receiving medical care, and people who live and work in Boston.
Father Carzon said he thinks many people who visit the chapel are surprised that sacraments like confession are available there.
"People can be surprised by God's grace, surprised by God's mercy," he said.
The Oblates' ministry at St. Francis Chapel is different from that of a parish. They do not provide catechesis or hold baptisms, weddings or funerals. But, Father Carzon said, many people who are in their parishes on the weekend visit the chapel while they are working during the week.
Father Carzon said the chapel can help "bridge the gap" for people who are away from home or feel alienated from their parish, allowing them to stay connected with Christ through the sacraments.
Father Carzon said that the feast of All Saints reminded him of all the saintly people who have frequented the chapel over the years. He expressed gratitude to the volunteers and staff of St. Francis Chapel who have enabled the Oblates to carry out their mission.
"The presence of the cardinal is certainly a profound expression that what we do here is a service to the whole Church of Boston," Father Carzon said.