ELMIRA — Demand to launch a perpetual-adoration chapel in Chemung County was so great in the early 1990s, Father Eugene Weis found it hard to say no.
“If it’s that important to the people, it’s that important to me,” Father Weis said, recalling his support for founding such a chapel while he was pastor of St. Casimir Church.
That possibility became reality in December 1992 when a chapel opened in St. Casimir’s basement — and, a quarter-century later, the facility is still going strong. Its 25th anniversary will be celebrated Sunday, June 4, with a Mass beginning at 3 p.m. at St. Casimir that is open to the public. A reception will follow at Elmira Country Club.
Father Weis, now a senior priest who resides at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse near Rochester, credits Rose Marie McLaughlin and her sister, Angie Sgro, for spurring him to pursue construction of the chapel. In addition, he noted, hundreds of people had already volunteered to serve as adorers.
The chapel was opened under the guidance of Father Joseph De Luca, a priest of the Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament, who devoted his ministry to establishing and strengthening perpetual-adoration efforts around the country before his death in 2014.
Key to the Elmira chapel’s contents is a monstrance containing a consecrated host, placed prominently on an altar. A handful of pews and kneelers, as well as a chair, are available for adorers. At the rear of the chapel are scapulars and rosaries that can be purchased for a small fee; prayer books and religious-oriented reading material; and a board on which prayer requests are posted.
The setting is an inviting one for people to focus deeply on their connection with Christ, McLaughlin said.
“You get away from all the disturbances of the outside world. You can spend quiet time with Jesus and become closer to him,” remarked McLaughlin, the chapel’s head coordinator, who took over that role from her sister four years ago. “We are so busy with everything else, we don’t realize the gifts God has given us. And we should be appreciative of that, with one hour or even half an hour to spend with the Lord.”’
In addition, McLaughlin asserted, spiritual rewards are contained in this special type of prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament.
“I hope it’s made me a better person, that’s for sure,” she remarked, adding that she is aware of miracles that have occurred as a result of prayer in the St. Casimir chapel.
In keeping with the perpetual nature of this special devotion, at least one person is always in the chapel to engage in eucharistic adoration or other forms of silent prayer. This involves a combined commitment to fill one-hour time slots 24 hours per day, seven days per week — that’s 168 slots weekly — all year round with the exception of the Easter Triduum. According to McLaughlin, approximately 250 people currently volunteer as adorers, coming from Elmira as well as surrounding communities.
“There are many good people, many good people. I think the people that are involved in adoration deserve credit for spending time with the Lord,” she said.
Father Weis — who plans to be in attendance for the chapel’s silver-anniversary acknowledgement June 4 — calls his role in establishing perpetual adoration at St. Casimir “one of the nice things of my priesthood.”
“It’s the power of the Holy Spirit working,” Father Weis said of the chapel’s longevity.
The chapel at St. Casimir is among only a handful of perpetual-adoration facilities in the Diocese of Rochester. St. Ann Church in Hornell, which launched its chapel in 2001, houses the only other one in the Southern Tier. McLaughlin acknowledged that it’s a challenge to keep all the adoration slots filled, especially in light of an aging population as well as adorers who have moved away. However, she said, the schedule is maintained successfully thanks to the dedication of the current adorers. For instance, unfilled slots are often covered by adorers who add 30 minutes each to their previous and ensuing one-hour commitments.
A memorable example of this dedication occurred during a bad snowstorm some years back that prevented people from coming to the St. Casimir chapel. McLaughlin brought the monstrance to her house, and she and her sister strove to keep praying around the clock to maintain the perpetual coverage.
“She kept saying ‘you’ve got to stay awake, you’ve got to stay awake,’” McLaughlin said of Sgro, laughing.