Father of Mercy Chapel Architectural Design

Father of Mercy Chapel exteriorThe exterior of Father of Mercy Chapel was designed to resemble Our Lady of the Angels Chapel, affectionately known as the Portiuncula (Little Portion).  The Portiuncula Chapel is significant to our community because it is one of the chapels that Francis rebuilt; it is where Francis received St. Clare when she left her father’s house to join him and eventually founded what we know today as the Poor Clares. It was also the birthplace of the Order of Friars Minor.  This “Little Church”  also holds great significance to the founding of the Franciscan Sisters, T.O.R.  As the Holy Spirit was working to bring the original sisters together to form our community, a replica of the Portiuncula was being constructed on the campus of the Franciscan University of Steubenville.  On August 15, 1988, the Solemnity of the Assumption, our community celebrated Mass at the campus’ Portiuncula, the birthplace of our community.  Architectural design by: The Design Alliance.   General Contractor: Massaro Corporation.

The interior of Father of Mercy Chapelinside of Father of Mercy Chapel was designed to be in the center of our Motherhouse complex because the Eucharist is the center, source and summit of our life.  Our life of prayer is a continuation of the Eucharistic grace which flows into our daily life of work and ministry.  Further, the Eucharist, as the heart of our sisterly love, unites our praise and worship into the one voice of the bride to her Beloved and nourishes our vibrant fraternal life in community.

We did not originally set out to have the floor plan resemble the San Damiano Cross, however, God’s providential design was at hand.  As you walk into our Chapel you enter into the spirituality of the San Damiano Cross which widens at its center to include those who accompanied Jesus in His passion. The Universal Church was formed at the side of Christ when His Heart was pierced open for the salvation of the world.  As members of Christ’s San Damiano CrossBody, the Church, we are one with Christ in the most profound way in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The shape of the San Damiano Cross reminds us that we are not mere observers of Jesus’ passion, but united with Him as Mother Mary was at the foot of Her Son’s Cross.  For this reason and for the Franciscan significance of this Cross, we chose to have the San Damiano Cross as our processional cross, ushering us into the Divine Mystery of the Eucharist.  Each pew is marked by the San Damiano Cross, signifying that we are with Mary and John at the side of the Cross, not mere bystanders.  In a similar way, the San Damiano Cross provides the back drop for our Stations of the Cross, inviting us not to just pray the stations as onlookers, but to truly be with Jesus in His passion so that we can learn to have compassion, to lovingly companion those who are suffering. Liturgical Consultant: Rolf Rohn of Rohn & Associates Design, Inc. Click arrow for Significance of the San Damiano Cross

The San Damiano Cross is significant for Franciscans because it is this Cross from which Christ spoke to St. Francis:  “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.”  Further, St. Clare and the Poor Ladies would have prayed before this Cross for St. Clare resided at San Damiano for 42 years until her death.  Even when the residence of the Poor Ladies changed, the original cross went with them.  The San Damiano Cross depicts a rich spirituality, conveying the presence of our loving Father, depicted by the Hand coming down from heaven in blessing His beloved Son.  This cross portrays Christ Jesus as both crucified and glorified, uniting us to Christ in His death and resurrection.  His blood is seen falling upon John, Mary and the others who accompanied Him at the cross.

Artwork in chapel

The artwork in Father of Mercy Chapel flows from our Franciscan spirituality; those elements that are essential to our identity as Franciscan, TOR Sisters.  It begins and ends with the Trinity and highlights the life of Jesus and Mary and their powerful role in uniting us back to God here on earth and in the fullness of Trinitarian life with God forever in heaven.  Click arrow for Elements of Franciscan Spirituality

  • Our hearts resonate with St. Francis and St. Bonaventure who experienced God as Supreme Good and Love, Trinity and Unity.[1]   Through experiencing God as Supreme Good and Love, we get a glimpse of the dynamic love relationship within the Persons of the Trinity which is utterly selfless and most fruitful.
  •  With Francis, we desire to claim our identity as children of our heavenly Father,[2] who shows Himself to us most perfectly through sending us His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.[3]
  • The Incarnation and Paschal Mystery reveal the selfless and fruitful love of the Trinity, over-flowing in abundance, to reconcile all creation to the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. Immersed in the Trinity, we find our true home and identity.
  • Central to our spirituality is our intimate relationship with Jesus Christ expressed through the three loves of Francis—the crib, the cross and the Eucharist.
  • Openness to the Holy Spirit, God’s Divine Love within us, is essential to living fruitfully our spirituality, charisms and mission. [4]   Our Holy Father Francis exhorts us to desire one thing alone, namely the Spirit of God at work within us.[5]
  •  Francis experienced in Mary the model par excellence in following Christ, and he exhorted his followers to imitate her embrace of poverty and humility.[6]  Francis not only looked to Mary as an exemplar, but he entrusted himself and the Order to her as Mother, protectress and advocate.[7]

[1] Cf. LaudDei; LaudHor; EspPat; RegNB 23:9-11, 17:18; Journey 6:2.
2Cel 7:12, LM 2:4; cf. IEpFid 1:7.
Cf. Adm 1:1-4.
Cf. SA 10, 20; VC 37.
  TOR Rule 32; RegB 10:8.
Cf. 2EpFid 4, 5.
LM 9:3.

Rose window- Trinitarian Love poured out

Rose Window:  Trinitarian Love Poured Out:   The rose window, as a circle, portrays the infinite reality of God who is the source from which all good flows and to which all returns.  As the source and culmination of Divine Love, the Father of Mercy, portrayed by the Hands, showers His love and grace upon us so that we might share in the divine love and unity of Trinitarian life.  These are the same Hands that created us, loved us and are restoring us back to Himself through the gift of His Son in the Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection and the out pouring of the Holy Spirit.  The dove and the fire represent the Holy Spirit, the love of God.  Through its images and the gold light shining through it, the window conveys divine love and life and the loving participation of the Trinity in the paschal mystery.  The rose window and the wood relief of the crucifixion scene create the one story of God’s merciful love poured out for us.  Created by: Artisan Rich Buswell of Lynchburg Stained Glass

Nativity Scene:  As Franciscans the nativitynativity scene in Father of Mercy Chapel scene is particularly dear to us.  Francis was at awe that God who created the Universe would send His only Begotten Son to become man so that we could become one with Him.  In 1223 at the hermitage of Greccio, Francis, in the abundance of his great love for Christmas, created a live manger scene, complete with ox and ass, to welcome the Christ Child.  The friars and people from all around gathered to celebrate anew this wonder of God’s love.  While the forest resounded with the praises of God, Francis, before the crib, “filled with affection, bathed in tears, and over flowing with joy” chanted the Gospel and then preached about the birth of the poor King whom he tenderly called the Child of Bethlehem.  In astonishment and wonder the virtuous knight, Sir John of Greccio, saw a small baby boy in the crib who Francis tenderly picked up and embraced (c.f. LM 10:7).  From this time on displaying a crib scene has became a popular way of celebrating the wonder of Christmas in Churches and homes throughout the world.

Passion Scene:  Central to our Catholic faithPassion scene in Father of Mercy Chapel is the paschal mystery in the passion, death and resurrection of Christ.  The wood relief behind our altar not only depicts the suffering Christ, but also His victory over death and sin.  From the Fathers of the Church until present, the blood and water flowing from the side of Christ has been described as the streams of our salvation and the birth of the Church and the Sacraments. The blood and water has also been described as the Mercy of God won for us by the very gift of Himself on the Cross, which we receive most profoundly in the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  There are powerful Scriptural texts in the Old Testaments that become fulfilled through Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.  We have captured some of these in the wood relief:  Moses striking the rock in the desert was a “type of Christ,” and the water flowing out to provide drink for the Israelites dying of thirst prefigured the life giving waters that Christ provides.  Another powerful fulfillment of the Old Testament is found in Ezekiel 47 when Ezekiel describes the water flowing from the Temple. Most directly the wood relief portrays the passion scene found in St. John Gospel, especially from chapter 19 which captures the intimacy between Jesus and Mary, Jesus giving Mary to John (and to us) as his mother, Jesus’ thirst for souls, and His Heart being pierced.   Designed by artist: Renate Rohn of Rohn & Associates Design.  Click the arrow to view How the Passion Scene Portrays our Spirituality and Charisms

As the passion scene takes central place in our Chapel, it takes central place in our spirituality and charisms.  For Franciscan’s we understand Christ Crucified to be our “Passover into God,” not only for ourselves but to be united to Christ in His redeeming work for the salvation of the world.  Our spirituality is to be with Mary at the foot of the Cross, receiving and giving God’s Merciful Love.  Our central charism is Crucified Love from which flows Mercy, Poverty and Contemplation.  The passion scene behind the altar enables us to see what mystically happens during each celebration of the Eucharist.  As the Eucharist is the font and summit of our Catholic faith so it also is for our spirituality and charisms. To be with Mary at the foot of the Cross is lived out most fully by participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  As the Catechism states, In the Eucharist, the Church is as it were at the cross with Mary, united with the offering and intercession of Christ. From the graces of the Eucharist, we go forth to become Eucharist for others—to bring Christ’s life, love, healing, forgiveness, strength, and nourishment to a broken people longing for the touch and presence of their God (Constitutions 79).

Mary at the foot of the crossThe image of Mary is in a stance of welcome, extending her right arm out to us, guiding us to look with her at the compassion of her Son and His pierced Heart.  The depth of Christ’s Love is caught in this gaze, and the abundance of His Mercy is poured out as we see the spiritual reality of His precious Blood and Water becoming the stream of our salvation and giving birth to the Church and the Sacraments. Mary, like the stream, becomes a conduit of God’s grace and mercy through her union with Christ in His ultimate offering of Himself on the Cross.   Like Mary, we are called to become vessels of God’s grace and mercy for others.  Our Constitutions express Mary’s significant role in our mission to make known God’s Merciful Love: As her own maternal Heart was expanded by the sword of sorrows at the crucifixion, so our hearts are expanded to embrace the world through our life of prayer and penance in union with Jesus and Mary.  In a special way, we are with Mary at the foot of the cross at each Eucharist, offering and being offered with Jesus for the salvation of the world (See Catholic Catechism 1370).  In Mary’s Heart, we experience the loving care of our Mother, trust with confidence in her advocacy, and receive the holy wisdom which always shows us the way to Divine Love, incarnate in Her Son.  Our Mother and advocate teaches us the true meaning of our vocation: to be contemplative penitents for love of God and for the world.

All of us are called to be with Mary at the Foot of the Cross.  In some seasons the pain is felt so poignantly that we know the cross, but often we forget that we are not alone. Mary’s arm is outstretched, embracing us and directing our gaze toward the merciful love of her Son.  Through Jesus’ compassionate sacrifice of Himself, He is united with us in all our sufferings.  Mary teaches us how to be with Jesus at the foot of the cross, enabling these most difficult times to become opportunities to draw us closer to Christ Crucified, a union that not only heals our souls but can become a profound prayer of intercession and atonement for all those in need of God’s Merciful Love.

Divine Mercy image in Father of Mercy ChapelDivine Mercy Image: Resurrected Christ who is still mystically with us pouring out His mercy

Divine Mercy is central to our community mission and charisms.  The purpose of all we do is to make known God’s merciful love in the world.  The red and white rays emanating from Christ’s heart in this image signify the blood and water that flowed from Christ’s side as He hung on the cross.  His blood and water are a sign of His infinite love and mercy poured out for our salvation.  The resurrected Christ, victorious over death, shown in a vision to Saint Faustina, has red and white rays of light emanating from his heart.  These rays signify God’s Divine Mercy flowing unceasingly for all mankind.  Our community’s mission shares in the Church’s primary mission to give witness to the love and mercy of God that freely forgives all sin, heals and reconciles us to God, and bestows new and divine life.  We are immensely grateful for our benefactors, the Kardos family, for sponsoring this artwork for Father of Mercy Chapel, in honor of the late Pope John Paul II, who is known as the great “Apostle of Mercy” for our times.

Assumption of Mary Painting: Our Heavenly HopeArtist: Lisa Andrews.
Jesus’ story, Mary’s story, our story, does not Assumption Mary Andrews TOR Sistersend at the Cross.  The Cross is the Bridge or Passover into the heavenly fullness of God, Trinitarian Love forever.  God in His providential care for our community, ordained the founding of our community to be on the Solemnity of the Assumption, the last day of the Marian Year 1988.  By establishing our community on the Solemnity of the Assumption, our Merciful Father continually beckons us toward our final home and draws us ever deeper into the mystery of being His children and the daughters of Mary.  Our Constitutions describe the beautiful grace it is for us to be her daughters:  In her Assumption, we are filled with hope as we await the fulfillment of eternal life, and confidently look to her as our advocate to intercede for us on our earthly pilgrimage.  As exemplar of the Christian and consecrated life, she teaches as only a Mother can—through a union of hearts.  From Mary, we learn how to be beloved daughters of the Father, for she most perfectly received the gift of the Father’s love and responded trustingly to the Father’s will (cf. Luke 1:38).  All of us are beloved children of our Merciful Father and cared for in a special way by our heavenly Mother during our sojourn here on earth.  The art work by Lisa Andrews in our Father of Mercy Chapel highlights this grace and gift of Mary and her Assumption. I hope these reflections on the painting of the Assumption will renew our hope through Our Lady’s intercession and draw us ever more deeply into union with her motherly heart, where she teaches us the unfathomable Mercy of our Heavenly Father and the fullness of Trinitarian love, awaiting us in Heaven. Click the arrow to read The Artist’s Experience of Painting the Assumption and Its Fuller Meaning

“I paint classic realist paintings because I am captivated by the integrity of the natural forms that tell of the beauty that is to be found all around us.  I build my paintings upon the three elements of classic fine art:  unity, harmony of proportion, and clarity.  By staying true to these elements, I feel I can create an image that is both beautiful and pays homage to God and His divine creation.”  Lisa particularly enjoys painting devotional images, doing extensive research and sketches beforehand so as to bring familiar religious themes to contemporary viewers in new compositions.   Most important in the creation of these devotional paintings is prayer:  “In my experience, prayer is as great a preparation for painting a religious theme as anything else!  Creating a captivating work of art that is finely painted is not my only purpose.  While painting, I constantly think about the people who will ultimately view and be inspired by my work.  It becomes a collaborative process that motivates me for excellence.”  In regard to her experience painting the Assumption she expressed:  “Being asked to paint an image of The Assumption for the Father of Mercy Chapel was both an honor, and a great responsibility…   So, the first thing I did was pray that the Holy Spirit would guide me in developing a composition and executing a painting that would be worthy of this great challenge.”  I experienced this collaborative effort through the personal visits and various forms of communication with Lisa throughout the project, sensing, in every communication, the prayer that went before each important step.

True to her word, Lisa did extensive research before picking up her paint brush.  Through her research, she found an image called The Throne of Mercy by the great Jose de Ribera.  She writes, “Something about the vulnerability of the pose of Christ and the way He was lifted on a veil into the loving and protective touch of the Father gave me another way of thinking about the process the Virgin might have experienced as She was lifted from this earthly life.  For, as we know, she was assumed, she did not ascend.”  In her painting of the Assumption, Lisa has Mary’s arms outstretched, signifying the acceptance of her status as Coredemptrix, and echoing her Son’s outstretched arms at the crucifixion and her reception of His body from the cross. This pose also bespeaks of the hope we have through Christ’s resurrection for her arm reaches up in joy as she is taken up by angels to Him now in glory.  With her face turned toward the heavenly light, away from her earthly trials, her veil, representing earthly obedience and humility, falls away, and her right hand drops the sudary cloth used to wipe away sweat.  Having let go of the toils and sorrows of this life and radiant in the light streaming toward her, highlighting her spotless garment as the Bride of Christ, she reaches toward her heaven, a crown of stars shimmers before her, her eyes ablaze with the light of heaven and her gaze steady toward her Divine home where the Father, Son and Spirit, the fullness of Trinitarian Love, await her.

Closing Reflections:  Through a Union of Hearts

The painting of the Assumption, as essential part of the spirituality of Father of Mercy Chapel, completes the journey of Mary and gives us hope for our own journey for the story does not end at the foot of the Cross or the pieta, but in the redemption won for us by Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.  When you come and visit Father of Mercy Chapel, you will see the similarities in the pose of Mary at the foot of the Cross, where her gaze is fixed on her Beloved Crucified Son, Her arm is out-stretched to touch Him and receive His grace and her other arm is extended in a gesture of becoming a vessel of God’s Mercy and of extending an invitation to join her at the foot of the Cross, as the Catechism describes we do each time we are at Mass.  As Mary invites us to the foot of the cross, she is also depicted in the Assumption in a pose of welcome.  Mary, as our Mother, desires to show us the way through life’s trials to the fullness of Trinitarian life and love in heaven for “…she teaches as only a Mother can—through a union of hearts.”

The Prodigal’s ReturnArtist: Lisa Andrews.

“Now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come back to life again; he was lost and has been found.”  Luke 15:32

The Prodigal's Return by Lisa AndrewsHere the familiar parable of the Prodigal Son is represented with a particular emphasis on the powerful reality of conversion.

The son, having fallen to his knees to acknowledge his loss of dignity, has humbly asked for what he deserves: the right to be merely an employee in his own father’s house. The father, in fidelity to his own loving nature, has already extended an affectionate welcome and declared the value of his son restored by calling for a feast and a new garment.

In this painting, the Prodigal son is caught between a humble kneeling position and a readiness to stand upright. He steadies himself by grasping the Father’s outstretched arm, accepting the merciful restoration of dignity offered to him. He is able to rise only because the Father has drawn near to cloak him with the spotless garment.

The Father’s upraised hand draws our attention to the brother, who views the scene with perplexed jealousy. He is not yet aware that he separates himself behind a wall from the merciful love experienced by the Prodigal Son. The steps leading him to the same eternal love are right in front of him, if he only chooses to see.

The allusion of the white garment to a renewed life is further expressed in the water flowing out from a well (modeled after an old etching of a cross-shaped well pump in Haifa; a donkey drives the pump, symbolizing the “suffering servant”). The waters of the well spill from the base of the cross, out into the parched, stony foreground where the son’s remaining worldly goods have been cast aside. The water flows out of the picture plane into our own, inviting us to share in the restorative conversion.

There is the story of the Prodigal Son, in which the father, having embraced his son on his return, gives this instruction: “Bring quickly the best robe…” (Luke 15:22).  In the Greek text, it says, “the first robe”, and that is how the Fathers read and understood it. For them, the first robe is the robe in which Adam was created and which he lost after he had grasped at likeness to God. All the clothes subsequently worn by man are only a poor substitute for the light of God coming from within, which was Adam’s true “robe”. Thus, in reading the account of the Prodigal Son and his return, the Fathers heard the account of Adam’s fall, the fall of man (Gen 2:7), and interpreted Jesus’ parable as a message about the return home and reconciliation of mankind as a whole. The man who in faith returns home receives back the first “robe”, is clothed again in the mercy and love of God, which are his true beauty.  The white garment presented at Baptism is meant to suggest these great connections in salvation history, and at the same time it points toward the white garment of eternity, of which the Apocalypse speaks (Rev 19:8)—an expression of purity and beauty of the risen body.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus)
The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 219-220





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