Massachusetts General Hospital Chapel Turns 75

By Dan Murphy

Massachusetts General Hospital held a celebration on Wednesday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of its chapel.

“This is MGH’s common room, where all people are equal in sharing a common humanity,” said Rev. John W. Polk, MDiv, BCC, director of the Chaplaincy Department. “To those seeking peace, quite, relief, solace, hope or grace, here we are all one. That is the miracle of this space. Though we may look or speak differently, here we seek the same thing.”

The chapel opened on April 25, 1941, offering a place of healing and reflection for patients, family, staff and the general public. Its inception was due to the hard work of the Right Rev. William Lawrence, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts who sent more than 1,500 hand-written letters to supporters of the hospital asking for support for the chapel in the late 1930s. Today, the chapel is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and in one year alone, 7,548 entries were made in its prayer book.

“In the midst of an extremely busy hospital with high energy and high intensity, it’s a place of real calm and peace for people,” Rev. Polk said. “What a place of respite it is, and it’s a place for all people, regardless of their religion, spirituality, class or sexuality.”

Rev. Polk continued, “On any given day, one might find a surgeon in between cases taking a brief respite, a nurse praying for her patients, an environmental service staff person worried about her family, a food service worker silently praying the rosary, a family member of a patient from half way around the world seeking solace, a patient in a wheelchair with her nurse making her way to the chapel to find strength and hope for her illness, a homeless person needing a moment’s rest.”

The chapel is home to services for Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jews and Roman Catholics, as well as to special services such as Purim, Yom Kippur Kol Nidre Service, Good Friday, Easter, Christmas Eve, Holy Days of Obligation and Buddha’s birthday.

The chapel also provided a place of solace in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Boston Marathon bombings and the Rhode Island nightclub fire, among other tragedies.

One of its most notable features are the stained-glass windows created by Charles Connick.

“If these walls could speak, I imagine they would honor the spirit the Reverend Lawrence, they would recollect all those who seek refuge to mourn,” said the Right Rev. Alan M. Gates, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. “But these walls do speak. They speak of the gift bestowed by the light and color of the windows, their calming cobalt blue of water and air. And they speak of the human conditions of all those who have come here.”

Carmen Vega-Barachowitz, MS, CCC-SLP, director of the Department of Speech, Language and Wallowing Disorders and Reading Disabilities and administrative director of the Departments of Chaplaincy and Medical Interpreters, said, “This chapel is a place for healing and acceptance, a place where one might be alone but never lonely. Meeting the spiritual and religious needs of patients and their families is an important part of caring for the whole person, and it will continue to be a place where anyone is welcome and where one can always find inner peace.”

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