Parish's contribution to U.S. bishops' focus on Jesus' Real Presence will be 'to see it from a Marian perspective,' friar says
DETROIT — Fr. Athanasius Fornwalt, FHS, likes to imagine the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Heart as a fountain of grace from which little lambs and sheep, symbolizing the children of God, come to drink.
The image has particular significance to Fr. Fornwalt as his parish, St. Mary of Redford in Detroit, begins construction on a new Eucharistic adoration chapel.
Fr. Fornwalt is a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit, founded in Phoenix in 2016 by Bishop Thomas Olmsted. In 2017, Fr. Fornwalt and five seminarians from his order came to Detroit to start a “house of studies.” As cleric master for his order, Fr. Fornwalt supervises the five seminarians as they study for the priesthood at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.
In 2019, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron asked Fr. Fornwalt to oversee St. Mary of Redford, where all six friars now live. “We see it as Mary’s home on the west side of Detroit,” Fr. Fornwalt said.
The building of the new chapel comes at an appropriate time, with the U.S. Church currently in the midst of a three-year National Eucharistic Revival. “I think our parish contribution to the Eucharistic revival will be to see it from a Marian perspective,” Fornwalt said. “Here, we talk about Our Lady as having a Eucharistic heart. She ponders her Son continually in her heart.”
Shortly after Fr. Fornwalt's arrival, the friars and parishioners began "thinking and praying" about what to do with a small chapel connected to the church, which was part of an old convent at the parish that is no longer in use.
“Eventually, the idea came that it could be an adoration chapel,” Fr. Fornwalt said. “This has truly been an effort of the entire parish, which is a beautiful thing.”
The parish hopes the chapel will be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If all works out as planned, Fr. Fornwalt hopes it will become the “heart of the parish,” where people can “ponder the mysteries of Our Lord’s life through the heart of Our Lady.”
The image of the Blessed Mother — the fountain of grace coming from the heart of Mary — Fr. Fornwalt believes is integral to the parish's plans. He said the image comes from one of Mary's many titles, the Good Shepherdess.
On Feb. 11, 2022, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Fr. Fornwalt recalled attending a ceremony for a Catholic sister who was making her first vows. Fresh on his mind at the time was his meeting with St. Mary of Redford’s parish council about the chapel. While at the event, he met an attendee whose "life’s work" had been to encourage Eucharistic adoration, he said. When Fr. Fornwalt told the person his parish had received a pledge to fund an altar for the adoration chapel, the man told him this was a sign from God that St. Mary’s should move forward.
During the same event, in the homily at Mass, Fr. Fornwalt heard the description of the image of Our Lady, the Good Shepherdess. And the image stuck with him.
Although the friars and parishioners have not yet decided on a name for the chapel, Fr. Fornwalt is certain it will be Marian. Above the planned altar, he said, is a stained-glass window — original to the structure — of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
“We will be trying to draw attention to that,” he said.
Plans for the adoration chapel are mostly complete, with some of the finer details being worked out. Work so far has included painting, new flooring and repairing the radiant heat system, which had caused some prior steam damage to the structure. The entire project is being funded by donations. “We have had some very generous benefactors so far,” Fr. Fornwalt said.
Fr. Fornwalt anticipates the entire project to take a number of years, but by the end of the current seminarians’ semester, the parish hopes to have the painting completed, and the flooring should be finished by the end of the next semester. The altar has been commissioned and should be installed immediately after the repair work is done.
The goal is to open the chapel for adoration during the Easter season of 2023. “I don’t know if we will have chairs or pews,” Fr. Fornwalt said. “I am still figuring that out.”
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