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January 24, 2013

Order that stresses simplicity opens an elegant chapel

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — William Kolstad pointed to Latin, gold lettering high on the sanctuary wall of the Carmelite Monastery chapel here. Though nationally renowned for his artistry working with the pricey metal, he said it isn't always easy.

"No wonder I always feel such angst," he joked.

Kolstad is one of several artists and craftspeople who spent nearly a year transforming a simple chapel at the Monastery of the Infant Jesus into one of classic elegance.

The chapel was designed under the direction of Notre Dame Professor Duncan G. Stroik, a leading church architect. It is now appointed with marble and fine woodwork, and soon it will include hand-carved statues of Carmelite saints.

The chapel and monastery are housed in a red brick building at the end of a long driveway. A small group of cloistered nuns spend their days here in prayer, doing chores and baking Communion wafers sold to help finance the monastery, said Mother Mary of Jesus, the monastery's prioress, who wears a traditional habit and veil.

During mass in the chapel, the sisters sit in an enclosed choir area to the left of the altar, separated from the congregation by a metal grille.

The Carmelite Order stresses simplicity, said Sister Mother Mary, so transforming the chapel was a matter of great discussion. In keeping with their philosophy, the nuns chose economical red oak for their side, and mahogany for the public side. They also chose a simple grille design.



"The nuns kept saying, 'plain, plain, plain,'" she said.

One wall of the chapel is still comprised of stained glass. Two cinder block walls reflect the utilitarian look of the original monastery built in 1962, though they will eventually get a re-do as funds permit, Sister Mother Mary said.

She declined to specify the cost of the renovations at the request of donors who "didn't want a big splash."

The public will get its first glimpse of the renovation work on Feb. 2, though not everything will be ready, including the hand-carved statues. The nuns encourage the public to visit that morning for "the rare opportunity to venerate the saints' relics (remains) that will be placed in the altar the following day." A dedication mass will be held that Saturday.

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Anne Stanton writes for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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