By Joe Bollig
OLATHE — It was impossible to miss the atmosphere of joy and excitement at Villa St. Francis here last week.
Residents had a special visitor: Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann. And he was there for a special event: the dedication of their new, beautiful chapel.
The 1,350-square-foot chapel, which has a capacity of 72 persons, is similar in most respects to any Catholic church, with a couple of notable exceptions.
First, most of the space is open to accommodate people in wheelchairs and folding chairs. Second, the doors are flanked by two large glass partitions that open accordion-style. The chapel occupies the former assisted dining room, while the former chapel was converted into a physical therapy room.
In addition to chapel renovations, the Villa renovated two wings of the facility, forming two separate “neighborhoods.” At the heart of each neighborhood is the dining facility and common living room. Although the renovations reduced capacity in those wings from 34 to 24 residents, the “neighborhoods” make dining and socializing much more convenient.
The renovations began in 2011 and were completed this year. The total cost was $1.8 million.
Many residents are lifelong Catholics and are delighted to now have a chapel that in many ways resembles their former parishes. Mass is celebrated daily at 10 a.m., and the chapel is open at all times.
“It means a lot to them to go to daily Mass,” said John May, chief operating officer for Villa St. Francis.
“A number of our Catholic residents go in and out all through the day and night,” he said. “A lot of them go there to pray the rosary. Their access is better now than when they lived in their homes.”
The concelebrants of the Mass dedicating the chapel included Father Bob Burger, who resides in the facility’s attached apartment for priests; Msgr. Ray Burger, who will celebrate most daily Masses in the chapel; Father Bill Bruning, pastor of Prince of Peace Parish, which includes the Villa in its boundaries; and archdiocesan vicar general Father Gary Pennings. Msgr. Gary Applegate was master of ceremonies. Also present was Father Leo Cooper, a resident.
In his homily, Archbishop Naumann addressed the topic of Catholic identity and human dignity.
“Our liturgy today is one of the most beautiful in the church,” he said. “The dedication of this chapel and altar reminds us of our own identity as Catholic Christians. In a few moments, we will begin by sprinkling ourselves with holy water, reminding us of our baptism, and sprinkling this altar as well with that symbol of life — the waters of baptism that give us life in Christ.”
“And in a few moments, we will anoint this altar with chrism oil, the same oil used this time of year with confirmations of our young people,” the archbishop continued. “So baptism and confirmation are those sacraments that reveal to us our identity and dignity. With those same symbols we consecrate this altar and set it apart.”
The archbishop also thanked the administrators and board for their leadership in completing the facility renovations and new chapel; the Villa’s benefactors and staff; and the Medical Sisters of St. Joseph and the Sisters of St. Anne, both from India, who serve at the Villa.
And finally, he thanked Father Bob Burger, who served as chaplain since 2008.
“Today, we also give thanks in a very special way for Father Bob Burger and his remarkable priestly ministry,” said the archbishop. “He just turned 90 a few days ago, and today is his official last day as chaplain at Villa St. Francis.”
“We are grateful for his many years of priestly service here in the archdiocese,” the archbishop added. “He’s been a great shepherd and great pastor in so many different contexts. . . . At a time he could have been fully retired, he continued to serve here these past years as the chaplain of this wonderful community.”
Msgr. Burger will celebrate daily Mass except when Father Bruning celebrates Mass on Thursdays.