A Treasure Found for the Church

How a fisherman made a new adoration chapel possible in Baltimore

A miraculous find leads to an adoration chapel with historical roots.
A miraculous find leads to an adoration chapel with historical roots. (photo: Olivia Obineme, the Catholic Review)

Can you imagine the look on a fisherman’s face when he pulled in a catch that nearly 20 years later would take on an important role in devotional life at Baltimore’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary?

That’s what eventually happened when an anonymous fisherman threw his line into Loch Raven Reservoir, which is in a suburb about 20 minutes from Baltimore’s downtown. He reeled in a surprise treasure.

Baltimore’s Archbishop William Lori described the treasure and the circumstances in his homily on Corpus Christi Sunday, Nov. 23. On the feast, he was inaugurating the new Eucharistic adoration chapel in this basilica, a historical and architectural landmark also known as America’s "first cathedral."

“The story of how this chapel came to be is truly remarkable,” Archbishop Lori said, as he recounted that long-ago day.

“By and by, he discovered that he had caught something,” the archbishop said. “Because of the resistance he felt as he reeled it in, he was sure he had caught a large fish. To his astonishment, however, what he pulled out of the reservoir was not a fish at all: It was a large, magnificent Gothic monstrance.”

The man wasn’t a Catholic, so he didn’t know what this beautiful object was, but thinking it looked “churchy,” he took it to a Catholic church.

The priest told him it surely was a “churchy” object.

“But it was such an unusual and beautiful monstrance,” Archbishop Lori noted, that the priest told the fisherman to bring it downtown to the basilica. There, it was very gratefully accepted, but it remained in storage for years.

“Fast-forward to 2012,” the archbishop continued.

Soon after coming to Baltimore, the archbishop learned of the existence of the beautiful monstrance and of the remarkable circumstances which brought it there. He also learned that Msgr. Arthur Valenzano, the basilica’s rector, had already set aside a space in the basilica’s undercroft for an adoration chapel.

That settled it: The space would be enhanced and beautified and the providential monstrance restored for the chapel, which would become “a place specifically dedicated to prayer for priestly and religious vocations.”

“In other words,” Archbishop Lori decided, “using a monstrance fished out of a lake, we will ask the Lord to send us new ‘fishers of men’ — both here in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and in the whole Church.”

The fisherman’s catch is now a constant reminder of Jesus’ words in Matthew 4:19: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

As Archbishop Lori inaugurated this newly renovated adoration chapel, with this miraculous monstrance, he said that the chapel,  “from this day forward, will be set apart for fervent and persevering prayer for new vocations to the sacred priesthood and to the consecrated life.”

Msgr. Arthur Valenzano, the rector of the basilica, described the fisherman’s catch as “one of the most beautiful monstrances in that Gothic style — it draws your attention to Jesus.”

The wondrous monstrance, with its central and side spires, suggests the front of a cathedral. The side spires house small silver statues of Sts. Peter and Paul. In the tall central spire, a shrine-like space enthrones an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Delicate filigree work decorates the monstrance, while below the luna, where Jesus appears in the Host, a pair of angels kneel in adoration while the Holy Spirit descends as a dove.

Msgr. Valenzano began Eucharistic adoration in the undercroft chapel in 2011. He had inspired perpetual adoration in his former parish 14 years earlier.

For the chapel’s new look, he credits Father Joseph Marcello, Archbishop Lori’s former priest-secretary in Baltimore.

“He brought his wonderful taste,” said Msgr. Valenzano. “It reminded me of the Cure of Ars, who did anything to make the church more beautiful. Father Marcello took that same attitude.”

Now back at a Connecticut parish, Father Marcello modestly credits many people working under the archbishop’s direction to do something beautiful for God.

He described how, working with the architect, “we took design cues from the side altars in the upper church of the basilica and wanted to make the new chapel an ‘extension,’ as it were, of the upper church. So the same marble floor has been extended into the chapel [and] the same railings as are found upstairs. The altar itself is inspired by the design of the side altars of St. James and St. Michael upstairs.”

Atop the altar is an octagonal baldachino with white Corinthian pilasters and brilliant blue tiles.

One of the most striking features of the chapel, to Father Marcello, “is the blue tile work inside the baldachino, which recalls not only the waters from which the monstrance emerged, but also the call of the Lord to his disciples to ‘put out into the deep.’”

Under the baldachino is what Archbishop Lori called the “centerpiece of the chapel” — the Lord Jesus Christ himself, present in the holy Eucharist and enthroned within the monstrance.

During the inauguration, he processed the Blessed Sacrament in this monstrance from the upper basilica to the adoration chapel for the first time. He entered through the chapel’s doors, which are inscribed with another Gospel verse he brought out in his homily:

"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore for the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Luke 10:2).

“Indeed,” Archbishop Lori said, “this adoration chapel has been built precisely so that we might respond to Our Lord’s request for our prayers that he send new laborers into his harvest.”  

  At the same time, the adoration chapel and its location remind the faithful of all the priests ordained here over the centuries. It is right behind the tombs of six of the archbishop’s predecessors.

Among them are Archbishops John Carroll, who was the first bishop in the United States; Ambrose Maréchal, who consecrated in this basilica in 1821; Francis Kenrick, who ordained St. John Neumann a bishop in 1852; and Archbishop James Gibbons, who ordained the Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, a priest in this basilica, on Dec. 22, 1877.

Even the new design of the chapel has historical roots, due to following the upstairs model. As Father Marcello observed, “We hope it's something Benjamin Latrobe, the architect of the basilica and of the U.S. Capitol Building, would recognize and approve of and hope that Our Lord is pleased with it, too."

“This chapel is in one of the most historic churches in the whole country, dedicated under the patronage of Our Lady,” Father Marcello added. “All of these things point to great blessings from God, which with confident hope we pray will bring about the immeasurable blessing of new priestly and religious vocations, brought to fruition, in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and beyond.”

Because it is a downtown parish, perpetual adoration is not possible. But people will be praying for 40 hours of adoration, recalling the 40 hours' devotion, spread over five days a week.

“I have great confidence we’re going to see a wonderful and generous response to these prayers,” said Msgr. Valenzano, who received a surprise at the inauguration. Archbishop Lori announced that the adoration chapel “will be dedicated in honor of one of the finest priests I have ever known,” and he read from the plaque that it was dedicated “with heartfelt gratitude, as a perpetual testament to the goodness and the priestly example of” Msgr. Valenzano, “through whose faith, hope and love countless souls have come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, who is here present in the Most Holy Eucharist.”

Archbishop Lori concluded: "Christ our King, Christ our Priest, Christ our great Good Shepherd, look with kindness on the prayers offered here in order that they obtain an abundance of new priestly and religious vocations" and “a very great number of souls” will hear the Lord tell them, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”