Janna Reynolds, The Catholic Virginian

For the first time since the doors of St. Francis Home opened in 1973, the home’s four weekly Masses will be celebrated in a “proper” chapel, according to Bruce Slough, executive director.

Before the chapel was completed at the beginning of July, Masses were held in a small multi-purpose room.

Prior to May of this year, the space in which the chapel was built had served as a storage area for many years. (Photo provided)

The chapel, repurposed from what was a “dark and damp” storage room for the last two decades, was dedicated by Bishop Barry C. Knestout on Tuesday, July 9, following a ribbon cutting ceremony for residents held earlier that day.

Michael Denton, who serves on St. Francis Home’s board of directors and is a member of the Order of Malta, had the idea to give St. Francis Home a chapel and provided the leadership to make it happen. 

Slough said Denton had been planning the project for the better part of seven years, but the feedback Denton received for most of that time was that the project wasn’t going to happen.

“It’s been a goal for a long time,” said Slough. 

Art Lohsen of Franck & Lohsen Architects in Washington, DC provided the design for the chapel at no charge. 

After the Diocese of Richmond Housing Corporation approved the design, John Locher, a principal at Taylor and Parrish Construction in Richmond, became involved in planning the construction.  

Locher arranged the specialty work for the chapel, such as electrical, plumbing, carpentry and HVAC, with his firm’s subcontractors.

“There were a number of subcontractors who, in addition to Taylor and Parrish, donated their time and materials,” said Slough.

Because all work was completed by the firm and its subcontractors in their spare time, Taylor and Parrish estimated that the job would be completed within three months.

“When they told me (the timeframe) at the project kickoff meeting in May, I was thinking much longer,” said Slough. “Even though we had the existing space, it practically had to be rebuilt from the bottom up.”

The project included replacing the walls and floor, installing new electrical and mechanical systems, repairing the roof and incorporating a new alarm system, among other tasks.

Rob Welch, whom Slough described as a friend of St. Francis Home, arranged the donation of many of the chapel’s fixtures — the altar that holds the tabernacle, the tabernacle itself, candles, some statues and the presider chairs — from the Catholic Historical Museum of the Roanoke Valley.

The main altar has the capacity to contain a relic, which the home is “working on” acquiring.

Pew seating with kneelers for 24 people came from St. Benedict Church, Richmond. The layout of the pews allows flexibility for accommodating wheelchairs and walking support equipment. 

Slough said the chapel is capable of holding up to 50 people for special occasions like the dedication Mass.

A fitting tribute to the home’s namesake, the chapel features a St. Francis statue holy water stand. The holy water was brought to Richmond by members of the Order of Malta from the fountains of Lourdes in France – water that has been proven by the Church to have healing qualities. 

Slough said that the order sends people to Lourdes each year for healing, and those individuals are able to bring back some of the water.

Residents of St. Francis Home are already using the chapel. 

“It is first and foremost a tangible demonstration of the Catholic identity of St. Francis Home, but it also provides a sacred and solemn place for both worship and silent prayer,” said Slough. “Because of the nature of the residents, that is an invaluable resource for them.”

St. Francis Home, which provides services for older adults with limited financial resources from a variety of faith backgrounds, encourages ecumenical services which will be held in the chapel. 

Traditionally, one Protestant service has been held and a Catholic Mass celebrated at the home on Sunday afternoons. 

 “We hope that the new chapel will encourage Catholic families to consider having their loved ones live at St. Francis Home,” said Slough. “We believe that the faith-based aspect of our mission is a big differentiator.”

Editor’s note: For more information about St. Francis Home, contact Jeff McInnis, administrator, at 804-237-5606.