Visting Christ in Cape Cod: Our Lady of Life Adoration Chapel Draws Parishioners and Vacationers Alike

This adoration chapel along the shores of Massachusetts has enhanced people’s faith.

A statue of the Mother of God and Baby Jesus is seen outside of Our Lady of Life Adoration Chapel on Cape Cod.
A statue of the Mother of God and Baby Jesus is seen outside of Our Lady of Life Adoration Chapel on Cape Cod. (photo: Courtesy of John McDermott)

Cape Cod in Massachusetts, a perennial major summer destination drawing visitors and vacationers to its miles of sandy beaches along the Atlantic, is home to another favorite place — that was dedicated in the fall: Our Lady of Life Adoration Chapel at Holy Trinity Church in West Harwich, midway along the peninsula. This freestanding chapel is designed to resemble a Gothic church.

The history of what began here as the first perpetual adoration chapel in the Diocese of Fall River dates to January 19, 1997, when the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in a chapel inside the main church after noon Mass. Adoration has continued ever since.

What began that day eventually grew into Our Lady of Life Adoration Chapel, when the parish received a large private donation specifically to build a new freestanding adoration chapel. Construction began in June 2000, when Cardinal Seán O’Malley was then bishop of the Diocese of Fall River. On Oct. 13, 2002, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, Bishop O’Malley dedicated this new Our Lady of Life Adoration Chapel and the Blessed Sacrament was transferred from the parish’s old chapel to this new smaller-scale “church.”

The faithful come to adore the Blessed Sacrament in Our Lady of Life Adoration Chapel.
The faithful come to adore the Blessed Sacrament in Our Lady of Life Adoration Chapel.(Photo: Photo by parishioner Mark Dennen)


Built of stone quarried in New Hampshire, the chapel immediately brings to mind the solid and beautiful lines of traditional Gothic edifices, with its peaked slate roof lined with fleur-de-lis ornamentation, pointed lancet windows, and even cast-winged angel depictions along the roofline that are both decorative and serve to hold snow from sliding off.

With the parish and grounds located on Main Street, the chapel immediately became a familiar sight for residents and scores of visitors to the Cape. 

“A lot of people stop in not just from the parish but from the surrounding area and other parishes,” Father Thomas Washburn, the pastor, told the Register. “Here on Cape Cod we’ve got a lot of vacationers all through the summer. Especially those who have vacationed here regularly have gotten to know the chapel and really make it a regular stop as part of their vacation time. It’s not unusual, especially in the summer, to go in there and sometimes see even a whole family taking a little break from the beach and all of the other vacationing things. They’re finding some time to spend with the Lord as well. So it’s a broad reach, which is wonderful.”

It’s not unusual for Ray Sweeney, the parish’s plant manager, to see 100 cars a day stop just during times he is working outside the chapel. To reach it, regulars and vacationers walk along a lovely landscaped setting and pass a tall Carrara marble statue of Madonna della Strada — Our Lady of the Streets. In this rendition, Mary holds the Child Jesus as both seem to invite people to continue to adoration.

The chapel’s interior continues the Gothic theme. “A lot of the interior design just happened to be timing with the closure of some churches,” explained Father Washburn. The splendid stained-glass windows came from St. Matthieu Church, a French parish that closed in the 1980s. And the white wooden altarpiece, with its built-in reredos, classic Gothic lines with triple arches and spires, came from a church several states away. Then above the original tabernacle, liturgical craftsmen formed a large new tabernacle that looks like it has always been part of the altar. It holds the monstrance, and adoration begins when the doors are opened. When adoration is over, its arched doors close and reveal a cross.

The blue background of the apse is sprinkled with stars, while the blue dome’s celestial designs appear to shower golden streams from heaven down toward the altar and monstrance. Distinguishing this holy place from the rows of pews seating 30 people is a simple-yet-elegant, custom-crafted altar railing to blend with the Gothic architecture.

Our Lady of Life Adoration Chapel
Gothic architecture and stained glass are hallmarks of this adoration chapel on the Cape.(Photo: All photos by parishioner Mark Dennen)


Magnificent stained-glass windows of New Testament scenes — a quartet on both sides of the chapel’s nave plus additional smaller ones elsewhere — fill their tall Gothic-inspired lancet frames. These colorful windows dating to 1880 are the unmistakable work of one of the top studios of master craftsmen in Bavaria that provided so many treasured and holy depictions of biblical scenes and saintly people to churches in America during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The windows include the ever-familiar Nativity, done with slightly different details because the scene includes a kneeling shepherd and a woman with a baby adoring the newborn Christ Child. Overhead in the stable, an angel depiction holds a banner proclaiming, “Gloria in Excelsis Deo.” The expressions of the glass Mary, Joseph and the others capture their rapt attention and awe.

The tranquil majesty in Jesus’ depicted expression in the Ascension window is magnetic, and the Annunciation uses subtle blue shades for its rendering of Mary and also for St. Gabriel the Archangel. Among other scenes: the Presentation, Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Between the windows, wooden angels carved by a Massachusetts artist appear as if they are supporting the timber trusses rising to the wood ceiling.

Father Washburn said that the chapel is also reminiscent of the Portiuncula, while the name Our Lady of Life reflects the parish’s strong pro-life ministry. “If we want to be successful in truly creating that culture of life,” he said, “prayer has got to be as important a piece of that as all of our action as well. This connection between all of the good ministries already happening here in the parish, like the secular Franciscans and this pro-life ministry, and the desire for the Eucharistic chapel just all converged into one.”

 


Exceptional Responses

All indications are that this adoration chapel has enhanced people’s faith. Parishioners John and Trudy McDermott are regulars for many reasons, beginning with adoration. While Jesus is the main reason, the beauty of the chapel helps to enhance adoration time.

“If you go into the chapel, instead of one painting or one statute, it's the totality. You feel like you are in a German chapel, with the wood ceiling and so forth,” John said. “My wife and I have talked about this a lot. It’s extremely tranquil and peaceful. That’s probably the best way that it does enhance our prayer life. Every time we go in there, no matter who is there, whether it’s two people or 10 people, there is a serene quietness about it. It is just so special.”

Because the McDermotts want everyone to feel “that peace and tranquility before they even get inside the chapel,” John said, both he and Trudy work on continuously making the grounds beautiful. They were inspired to enhance the entire landscape with beautiful shrubbery, flowers, and more, and then maintain it for the next 20 to 25 years. At the start, “Trudy and I donated a red maple tree in honor of Trudy’s mother, Eunice Fitzgibbon, whose husband was the first serviceman killed in Vietnam,” John said.

He recalled, “We’ve had so many people who are not parishioners from across the United States, even foreigners, come up there, and when they see us watering the flowers, they talk to us and are just absolutely taken aback by the beauty of the chapel and the grounds.”

Before or after adoration, people can also pray at the outdoor shrines, such as the one dedicated to St. Joseph that presents him in a life-size Carrara marble statue that shows him holding carpenter tools. There are similar statues of Mary Magdalene holding a crucifix, Padre Pio and St. Francis. People also pray before a magnificent life-size bronze crucifix cast in a Boston foundry.

A recent addition is a columbarium wall that slopes up the hill toward the chapel and is close to it. The wall is next to the chapel. “It is very popular, as people do love the notion of being buried on church grounds,” Father Washburn explained, “and we frequently see those visiting the graves of their loved ones also visiting the chapel before and after.”

“It’s a very, very holy place,” McDermott emphasized about the chapel and its serene surrounding grounds.

Naturally, the heart is Eucharistic adoration. While perpetual adoration was curtailed by the pandemic of recent years, 12-hours-daily adoration continues, with hopes to increase that timeframe. Father Washburn noted one recent way adoration continues to grow. “The chapel has continued to be an additional grace to the parish in the midst of the bishops’ National Eucharistic Revival. We’ve utilized the Revival to once again encourage people to spend more time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and they’ve really availed themselves of that.”

In every respect, Our Lady of Life Adoration Chapel is the shining beacon for the Blessed Sacrament at Holy Trinity parish.

VISIT

Our Lady of Life Adoration Chapel is on the grounds of Holy Trinity Church, 246 Main Street (Route 28), West Harwich, Massachusetts, Current adoration hours are daily, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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