Repairs renew shrine

$500,000 renovation brightens the chapel, adds radiant heat

Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2005

During the Liturgy rededicating the chapel at the Shrine of St. Therese on Tuesday night, Bishop Michael Warfel found it easier to read.

"There's a little more light in here than there's been in a few years," he said among the bright white walls.

It's the same wonderful, holy place, but it has a different look, he said.

The shrine, whose cornerstone was laid in 1938, underwent a $500,000 interior renovation, which began in February. The sanctuary at the front of the chapel was made larger with the removal of the steps at the front. The crucifix hangs over the altar under the new wood ceiling instead of on the back wall.

Someone in the pews pointed to the new doors on the confessionals.

"Those are confessionals, not storage rooms," Warfel said, amid some laughter.

After the service, Thomas Fitterer, who has directed the shrine since 1986, said that although the building has undergone some improvements, the shrine remains simple.

"That's what St. Therese was all about," he said. Canonized in 1925, she was named the patron saint of the Diocese of Juneau in 1951.

The chapel is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the summer, Fitterer said. It will be closed to the public July 28 through 31 for a retreat on the grounds, except for Sunday Mass.

Located on an island linked to the rest of the shrine grounds by a causeway, the chapel has a special setting, Warfel said. Overlooking the waters of Lynn Canal more than 20 miles from downtown Juneau, "of course, the setting helps," he said. As if to make the point, the sun broke through and glistened in the trees outside the new windows on the evening of the longest day of the year.

Better still, there is now radiant heat coming from the floor, he added.

Warfel said the setting may bring people out, but they often leave with conversion stories, fitting for the shrine of a saint declared Patroness of Missions by Pope Pius XI.

"What we want is people to be filled with Christ," he said. "They will carry him out to the day-to-day world."

The chapel is a holy place, Warfel said, but he asked what gives a building the sense of being holy.

"It's you," he said. "Buildings are not created so they can go to heaven. Have you ever thought of that? What makes it holy is not the bricks and mortar, but the spirit of the living God."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at

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