Altar dedicated by Bishop Nevares

By Joyce Coronel, The Catholic Sun

Nestled at the foot of Camelback Mountain on 15 acres of Sonoran Desert, Mount Claret Retreat Center is one of the crowning jewels of the Diocese of Phoenix.

The facility is home to the Cursillo movement, hosts Catholic organizations such as the Christ Child Society, and serves as the site for many retreats. Diocesan employees are on site make two of their own retreats each year during Advent and Lent.

The altar in the newly renovated and redesigned chapel was dedicated by Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares in a Mass celebrated Feb. 15.

It was a moment 13 years in the making.

Tom McGuire, director of Mount Claret, said the idea to reimagine the chapel sprang up years ago as he, Fr. Paul Sullivan, and Fr. John Muir, vicar general and co-moderator of the curia, sat inside the chapel and dreamed about what they would do with the space if they had money to renovate.

“We came up with a list of 12 things, most of which we accomplished on this project,” McGuire said. The building itself is still round, but everything else has changed. “We completely gutted the inside.”

“The idea was to respect the circular design of it but beautify the altar and create a little bit more sense of a focal point for prayer,” Fr. Muir said.

The former altar was circular, but the new one is rectangular. Another key feature is that the tabernacle opens to the main chapel but also to an Adoration chapel on the other side of the wall that separates the chapel from the Adoration space.

Prior to anointing the new altar, Bishop Nevares removed his chasuble and donned the gremial, an apron. He poured Chrism oil on the altar in five places: the center and each of the four corners. Then, he spread the oil over the entire surface of the altar as the congregation prayed.

Prior to anointing the altar, Bishop Nevares explained the rich symbolism of the ceremony to the donors and dignitaries in attendance.

“This altar consecrated will remind us always of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ underwent for each of us on the cross. It’s also the heavenly banquet table,” Bishop Nevares said. “As we celebrate holy Mass, we’re not only remembering the past, we’re also remembering that you and I are pilgrim people … on the way toward our heavenly homeland.”

Prior to pouring the Chrism, Bishop Nevares chanted prayers that harkened back to the altars established by Noah, Abraham, and ultimately by Christ on the Cross.

The incense used during the dedication of the altar symbolizes the incense given to the Christ Child by the Three Wise Men and symbolizes the divinity of Christ. “As the incense rises, so also our prayer will rise before the heavenly throne,” Bishop Nevares said.

After the altar was anointed, Rita Lee and Celine Minton came forward to dry and decorate it. Minton is the artist who painted the Marian mantle behind the crucifix and who did all the painting and goldleaf work for the renovation. She said the building committee wanted to go with a mission-style design in line with the overall look of the retreat center.

Minton’s next project will be to complete paintings of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Joseph to flank the altar. There is a niche for each that features a painted blue drape that echoes the one behind the altar.

Lee, an interior designer and the project manager for the renovation, said the blue represents the mantle of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Diocese of Phoenix. It also represents the relationship Jesus has with His mother.

The total cost for the chapel’s renovation, including the campaign, the architect, the builder’s cost, and the artwork, plus furnishings, was $2 million, McGuire said. The original chapel, built in 1969, was in need of an update. Donations from Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, the Catholic Community Foundation, Serra Club, Catholic Cemeteries and Funeral Homes, the Cursillo Movement, the Diocese of Phoenix, the Christ Child Society, the Scaramella Faith Foundation, and 280 individual donors paid for the renovation.

Lee, the project manager who put the design team together, emphasized that the artists and artisans are all local.

Everything in the chapel, except for the pews, from the painting, goldleaf work and wood carving, was done by local artists like Minton and woodcarver Vicente Munoz. The woodworking was fashioned by Beyond Woodworking in Tempe.

“It’s not something from a catalog — it’s not something you’re going to see anywhere else,” Lee said. “We have local artisans in this state and in this Valley whose work is beyond what you could find and who are Catholic individuals who take this beyond more than a job. It’s really a ministry.”

Fr. Muir said he was rejoicing on multiple levels during the blessing of Mount Claret’s chapel and the dedication of the altar. He grew up in the area and remembers riding his bike to the retreat center and praying inside the chapel.

“I was rejoicing for all of the married couples and people who are going to experience so much healing and so much spiritual transformation there in the years to come,” Fr. Muir said.

“The chapel is going to play an even more powerful role in those transformations.”

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