The Dedication of The Immaculate Conception Oratory in Saint Norbert Hall

In the Spring of 2010, the Headmaster’s Council decided that several administrative offices, including the Headmaster’s office, would be relocated to The Patio. Rearranging other office spaces in Saint Norbert Hall left empty the administrative suit of offices created in the space of the original library of Saint Norbert Hall. Plans were made to relocated the chapel to this more prominent and much larger space of the original library.

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Construction underway in 2011.

Over the last four years, construction was completed for the Technology Center, located in the area of the former chapel and sacristy, and the Oratory and Spirituality Center space. All of the work was supervised by Mr. James Tosi, Director Facilities. Much of the work was completed by the Archmere facilities staff: Mr. Larry Osborn, Mr. John Grace, Mr. Robert Graham, and Mr. Dan Lutz. Mr. Denis O’Flynn O’Brien ’74 provided a conceptual design and floor plan for the Oratory space, in collaboration with Fr. Andrew Ciferni, O.Praem., Fr. Joseph McLaughlin, O.Praem., and myself. Mr. Tosi engaged contractors for the installation of the hardwood floors and woodwork, the installation of an emergency exit door and stairs, and the new glass entrance door.

I suggested the Arts and Crafts design of the furnishings and finishes for two reasons: 1) the simplicity of design combined with the warmth of the natural materials and jeweled-toned colors create a restful and uncomplicated place for prayer, and 2) the period aligns with the construction of the original historic buildings on campus – The Patio and The Manor – though adopting different, yet related styles. The altar, ambo, credence table, Holy Water font pedestal, and podium for the Book of Remembrance were uniquely designed for this space and executed by Mr. Bob Taylor with Mr. George Campion. The congregational chairs were made by Amish craftspeople, and the benches were resized and refinished from the pews in the original chapel.

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Dedication Mass Opening Prayer.

A main feature of the space are the stained glass windows, especially commissioned for Archmere by Willet Stained Glass Studio, under the guidance of Susan Bockius and designed by artist Jane Collins. The windows, moving from left to right as they are viewed from inside the Oratory, depict significant milestones or aspects of the life of Saint Norbert. The warm color palate in the center moves to cool colors at each window, highlighting the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. Individual prayers for each of the windows were developed by Frs. Ciferni and McLaughlin, and are based on key words of focus for each window: scientia, peacemaker, wisdom, pietas, apostolic community, reverence, zeal, respect, faith, hope, and charity.

Another feature that has been commissioned but not yet installed for the space is a three-panel icon featuring images of Saint Norbert, the Immaculate Conception, and Saint Augustine, designed by Peter F. Pearson.

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Fr. McLaughlin consecrates the Eucharist.

On Sunday, we dedicated the Oratory to the Immaculate Conception. In 1932, the Priory of Archmere Academy – The Patio – was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.

Appropriately, Sunday was the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Also called the Purification of the Blessed Virgin and Candlemas, this feast, which is also the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, is celebrated every February 2 in the Catholic Church.

Saying “Yes” Every Day

Where has summer gone? After a busy start of the school year in August, and event-packed September, who can remember the summer as October begins?

Fortunately, we have the opportunity to pause each year on October 7 – the Feast of the Holy Rosary – to pray the Rosary with Father McLaughlin in the formal garden before the statue of Mary. This year, the rain forces us to take our prayer into the Patio Music Room before the painting of the Assumption of Mary.

The Battle of Lepanto, Paolo Veronese

The Battle of Lepanto, Paolo Veronese

Along with 35 or so mothers of current and former students, I enjoy joining in the Rosary that reflects on moments in the life of Jesus – joyful, sorrowful, glorious, or luminous mysteries of Christ. In 1572, Pope Saint Pius V established October 7 as the Feast of the Holy Rosary in thanksgiving to God for the victory of Christians over the Turks at Lepanto – victory that prevented Islam from spreading into Western Europe. Pope John-Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries, or “Mysteries of Light,” in his 2002 Apostolic Letter entitled, The Rosary of the Virgin Mary. The five reflections are “The Baptism of Jesus,” “The Wedding at Cana,” “Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom,” “The Transfiguration,” and “The First Eucharist.”

While the central figure of the October 7 feast day is Mary, the great prayer of the Rosary underscores Mary’s “yes” to God, and focuses our prayer to Jesus through Mary. Originally attributed to Saint Dominic, the Rosary is thought to be modeled after the 150 psalms with 150 “Our Father” prayers followed by decades of the “Hail Mary.” Hypnotic and meditative, the prayer requires us to consider the events in the life of Christ as we pray over and over again two great prayers of our faith.

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I first recall praying the Rosary in grade school, remembering how sometimes I was distracted by the heat in the classroom or how I became drowsy after just having had lunch and recess. The prayers seemed so repetitive and boring as a child. Only after I grew older do I now appreciate the contemplative power of the Rosary. I am especially grateful for it on anxious nights before bed when my mind cannot rest. I begin the prayer and feel as though I am resting my head in the arms of Mary. That image and feeling of complete resignation offer me the peace and comfort I seek in those sleepless moments.

In recent weeks I came across an alternative idea about the life of Saint Norbert that helped me consider how conversion of our hearts and God’s call in our lives might really come about.

In speaking with Father Ted Antry, O.Praem., after a Mission and Heritage meeting at Archmere, we started to discuss Norbert’s call by God. The account, found in Chapter 1 of The Life of Saint Norbert, Vita A, explains that Norbert was on horseback on his way to Freden when a storm arose and a bolt of lightening scared his horse, throwing him to ground. It was then when Norbert heard the words of Psalm 33 spoken to him, “Turn from evil and do good.”

The Conversion of Norbert

The Conversion of Norbert

Father Antry suggested that the conversion of Norbert may have been articulated in that final defining moment on the way to Freden. However, Norbert may have been considering a call to conversion, to a different way of life, several years before when he was at the imperial court of Henry V. Norbert became disenchanted with Henry’s use of force against the Pope, and he left the Court along with his position as the son of noble parents. In other words, a study of Norbert’s life may suggest that his conversion was a process of discernment over several years, culminating in the vision of establishing a new religious community.

I like this explanation of Norbert’s conversion because I find it more plausible based on my own personal experience. I do believe that many of us have not had that singular defining moment – “the thunderbolt” that completely changes our lives. Rather, discernment happens over time. This discussion about Norbert’s conversion also led me to consider the story of how Mary said “yes” to God’s call during the Visitation of the angel Gabriel.

After Saint Gabriel told her that she would be the Mother of God, I would like to believe that her affirmative response was not a simple one. I would like to think that Mary, as an example for us today, had to have prevailing faith to learn more about the plan of salvation for humankind that included her. Not just once, rather each day, she had to say “yes” to God with a blind faith that each of us would very likely find difficult to manage.

When I consider the 501 students enrolled at Archmere this year, their families, and all those who support our community as parents of graduates, alumni, grandparents, and friends, I am overwhelmed with joy by our responsibility to make sure Christ is present in our words and actions, so that transformative experiences are possible every day. In the coming weeks, we will be welcoming to campus the grandparents of our students, our alumni celebrating class reunions, and other alumni, parents of graduates, and friends who will be attending the events of this year’s Homecoming. These lasting relationships are the signs of transformative experiences – ones that allow us to share our mutual belief in God and make us want to care for one another – loving God and neighbor, the two greatest commandments.

During this month of the Holy Rosary and of Respect for Life, I hope that all of us may take the time to offer prayers to God through the intercession of Mary for the courage to say “yes” to God’s call – a call to serve within our families, the Archmere community, our local communities, and the world.