The Mission Continues: An update from the Chapel Board

A six-foot icicle hung from the Chapel’s cornice.

By Tom Jones

We began in February 2020 with the first brainstorming session in the yearly board meeting of the Chapel of St. Philip, Inc. We were all pumped! What was the next step? How could we refine and fund this vision to restore The Chapel to its former glory and place of service to the community? 

We were chomping at the bit. And then…Covid-19. 

For the past year our initial efforts lay fallow in the field while we all rearranged our lives, goals and priorities. Programming in the chapel was essentially out. A few attempts at socially distant choir groups and musical recording/live streaming sessions were attempted. Some of the essentials such as NA meetings and private gallery showings continued despite the rigorous need to “Mask Up” for all occasions. 

We hosted a wedding albeit a 6-person family only affair (celebrating my dear partner Ann and my life commitment). 

I patched the leaks with roofing cement and continued quietly surveying, measuring and drawing the existing conditions for future reference. 

In the summer Bob Eiden and I  hung a “Justice for All” banner in honor of Breonna Taylor from the bell tower. 

And lastly we defied the cold with a couple of outdoor fire pit gatherings in front of the church.

And now there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The snow has melted and the 6-foot-long icicles have fallen from the cornice. Slowly we are getting our vaccines and planning for the post pandemic world. 

We are about to begin a dream-defining and fact-seeking journey to elaborate and prioritize our mission to repair, restore and enhance the old church building and rectory for the generations to come. 

We have connected with neighborhood associations and met with our sixth district councilperson David James to discuss community participation and funding. 

As new members of the Center for Non Profit Excellence we will be learning how to hone our organizational and fundraising skills. 

To inaugurate the new vision, we are beginning an overall planning process for the chapel. 

I climbed the rafters of St. Philip last year and found the signature of Joe the Carpenter on one of the beams. He must have scrawled it there in the late 1890’s as he put the finishing touches on St. Philips. May he continue to guide our work as we care for his. 

Temptation & Redemption

By Karina Barillas 
February 21, 2021

In other parts of the world, today is known as the day of temptations. There are religious and cultural myths and beliefs that warn people about the devil being “loose” and warn you about his power to make us sin or to create catastrophes, either personal or within our families. 

For some people and religious leaders, Lent is a very effective time to build fear, control and uncertainty. I have heard something like “you are a sinner, and you cannot control your temptations”. 

“Look at Jesus, He was tempted as well, but He is God, and He was stronger than the devil. … By the way, you are not stronger than the devil, so repent, and humble yourself, or you will go to hell.” 

Today I come with an invitation, an invitation to another idea of Lent and what temptations mean. Maybe St. Mark is inviting us to look at what is around us and the ways that we get tempted to be indifferent, cruel, judgmental, envious and self-righteous … and yes, to forget, to forget that there is another reality besides our own, for a lot of people not only around the world, but in our country and our city. 

Maybe the readings of today are reminding us to reflect on our relationship with God/the Universe, the people around us, and our environment. And maybe, in that reflection we are able to find the real meaning of redemption. 

Redemption, my siblings, from sin and temptations doesn’t come magically. It is a journey of realizing that we are paying too much attention to concepts used to control us. You see, as I see it in my mind, you get tempted, you sin, then you ask for forgiveness and you are forgiven and then redeemed. 

How about if we look at this chain of controlling our being with a different light — the light of Jesus, the rainbow given by God to Noah and his family, the promise of Resurrection. 

As a very devout Catholic coming to the United States, I was very worried about the temptations of the flesh. The teachings of the Church back home considered eating red meat, deeply wanting to eat that ice cream or that chocolate that I had offered to sacrifice during lent, feeling lazy and not wanting to go to church on Sunday, were at the time, the top 3 in my list. 

A very wise priest once told me that what I believed was temptation or a sin, were ideas instilled in my mind so I would forget what really matters, the real sins, the greatest of temptations. The greatest of temptations is to forget the hundreds of children being in cages and still separated from their parents. The greatest of temptations is to pretend homeless people in the streets of Louisville do not exist. The greatest of temptations is to give a blind eye to the suffering of martyrs like Diana Ortiz and Oscar Romero. 

The greatest of temptations is to care less about the lives of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and other martyrs to the Black Lives Matter Movement. 

The greatest of temptations is to forget that we are in a global pandemic and be indifferent to the risk that immigrant families face to go out to work BECAUSE being at home is not an option IT IS a privilege, because the choice includes to stay home and die and go out to work and die. 

The greatest of temptations is to forget to see the face of Jesus, his sacrifice, and his love in those ones around us, even that family member that we don’t like or the relative who supports hate and discrimination. 

So, I wonder, would we be able to see the rainbow of Noah, and the promise of God, as the dream of a new world? A new world where there is no more hunger, a new world where there is no more racism, a new world where all of us see each other lovingly and compassionately. 

Maybe that’s what Lent is all about — dreaming such a new world. Like Pope Francis has said, “Let us dream together.” May it be so. 

In 35 days we will be celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. I wonder, would we be able to look at each other … and say: 

“We are here Lord, we haven’t forgotten our siblings, we refuse to be tempted by Capitalism and Indifference. We are here Lord, working and dreaming of that new world with You, Pope Francis and all the saints and martyrs in our lifetime.”

May we love the unlovable. May our faith community dream on! For this I pray.

Annunciation art exhibit

For a second year, the Chapel wasn’t able to properly celebrate the feast of the Annunciation, which was March 25. We typically mark the solemnity with a reception.

This mystery of the incarnation of the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is told in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. The angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary in the village of Nazareth and “the power of the Holy Spirit overshadowed her.”

Father Vernon Robertson, our “founding father,” had a special devotion to this mystery. He collected art for years, especially depictions of the Annunciation. These depictions — more than 40 of them, from medieval to modern — are on display at the Chapel every year during March. An example of one of his pieces is pictured above.

As last year, we invite you to drop by during office hours or call to make an appointment to view the exhibit privately. 

Upcoming JustFaith programs address racial and eco justice

Racial Justice Series

The Racial Justice Series from JustFaith Ministries offers a place to start the conversation on faith and racial equity, healing, and justice. The series has three programs designed to guide groups of 8-14 people on an eight-session journey to understand racial injustice, talk about it, and respond to it in a spirit of humility, openness, and hope. 

Learn more about our racial justice series and other programs on topics such as, eco-justice, migration, nonviolence, advocacy, hunger and spirituality and action, by visiting

Imagine! God’s Earth and People Restored

Join JustFaith Ministries for the Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) 2021 virtual conference, “Imagine! God’s Earth and People Restored,” April 18-21. EAD 2021 is an opportunity to advocate for eco-justice and learn about this global movement centered on and led by the people and communities most vulnerable to climate impacts due to historic racial and colonial inequities. 

Together, we will passionately advocate and reimagine a world that lives out the values of justice, equity and the beloved community. JustFaith Ministries’ director of programs, Kristin Dollar, and executive director, Susie Tierney, will be presenting one of the workshop webinars at this year’s conference. 

To learn more about EAD, the 2021 conference and schedule, and to register, visit: JustFaith Ministries is a co-sponsor of EAD.

Stations of the Cross in the neighborhood – a private prayer

As we have since 1997, we hope to honor Holy Week by praying the Stations of the Cross on Tuesday, April 7.

This year, with restrictions against gatherings to stop the spread of the coronavirus, only a handful of us may still take part in this prayer, keeping at a safe distance from one another.

We commemorate the final struggle of Jesus Christ as he carried His cross up Mount Calvary.

We will pause for a brief Scripture passage and a prayer at 14 stations in the streets and alleys near The Chapel.

Our stations are unique, created by various local artists.

In the event of bad weather, we will pray the stations in the Chapel, which can accommodate a few people spaced at a distance in the pews.

We will begin at 5:30 p.m. and finish in less than an hour. Please join us in your own private prayer.

NOTICE: Regular events are suspended until the COVID-19 restrictions against gathering are lifted.

Feast of the Annunciation exhibit can be viewed privately

A depiction of the Annunciation by Louisville artist Patrick Gallagher is one of the many works of art on display at the Chapel.

The mystery of the incarnation of the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is told in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. The angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary in the village of Nazareth and “the power of the Holy Spirit overshadowed her.”

Father Vernon Robertson, our “founding father” had a special devotion to this mystery. He collected art for years, especially depictions of the Annunciation. These depictions — over 40, from medieval to modern — are on display at the Chapel every year during March.

To honor the Annunciation and the art, we always have a special celebration. Since we are restricted from gathering in groups, this year’s celebration will not be communal. Instead, we invite you to drop by during office hours or call to make an appointment to view the exhibit privately.

Envisioning The Chapel’s future

On July 17, 1898, the following article appeared in the Courier-Journal:
This afternoon at 2:30 O’clock the Rt Rev. William George McCloskey, Bishop of the Catholic diocese of Louisville, assisted by a number of his clergy, will lay the corner-stone of the new church of St. Philip Neri at Floyd and Woodbine streets. The church is to be of brick and will be a very pretty one. It will cost about $16,000.”

Q. Why are we looking at changes for the future?
A. $16,000 is merely a drop in the maintenance bucket these days!

By Tom Jones

When I first came to a potluck at the Catholic Worker four years ago, as an architect enamored with a wonderful 120-year-old campus full of possibility, I was immediately accepted by a warm group of friends. Over the next few years, I began to see the need and prospects of a bigger vision for this venerable place.

Of late I have been crawling through the past, sometimes literally, researching the church and rectory in both archdiocese archives as well as shimmying through crawl spaces and attics. At a recent architects’ seminar, I was teased by colleagues about the need to hire an intern for such duties. Little did they know I find communion with master-builders’ spirits’ in such places.

Looking at 20 years of Chapel News issues, I found a rich landscape of spiritual witness, community involvement and rituals that have taken place.  Even now I attend a regular concert series produced by Charlie Walsh, current chapel board president.

However, on the downside, becoming the venue for larger and higher quality events becomes problematic due to deferred maintenance, lack of accessibility or toilet facilities. 

The issue for the future becomes twofold. First, how can I help care for our “Gift of the Land.” Second, how can I help further the mission of the chapel in the spirit of its originating visionary, Father Vernon Robertson.

One of the issues I see in the raising of funding for maintenance, repairs and new initiatives becomes that of the ownership of the property. While all the entities involved have various abilities to fundraise, those donations are usually restricted to operations. Improvements to the property become the responsibility of the Urban Charities Trust Inc., which is land-rich but cash poor.  I also worry there is also the chance that the buildings could be sold off.

What are some possibilities?

With improved accessibility and toilet facilities, I view the chapel as comfortably entertaining larger more formal, regular events. It could become home to regular conference and lecture series on social justice, retreats and spiritual celebrations.

Yesterday I listened to the bountifully resonant tones of a Balkan Folk Choir echoing through the sanctuary.

Removing the pews and leveling the floor could allow for flexible seating arrangements that could accommodate these various activities.

The addition of a commercial-grade kitchen could help serve several possibilities, such as becoming an incubator for street food vendor businesses, assisting La Casita and Casa Latina in their daily serving needs or serving the regular events described above.

The roof area of the church and other campus buildings is massive and open to direct sunlight. Solar panels might supply much of the campus energy needs.

How will these decisions be explored and made?

A man named Joe Cunningham, signed his name and the date to the side of a rafter in the attic of the Chapel on Nov. 26, 1898, approximately 4 months after the cornerstone was laid and he was helping construct the roof.

The Chapel board has reviewed and discussed my initial brainstorming document with enthusiasm. Currently, I am working on measured drawings and doing research for a Master Plan. 

The bottom line remains that the big idea must evolve. I continue to brainstorm and dream, nurture and discuss with all interested parties.

What patterns from the past have born the most fruit? What new ideas might take flight? Invitations have been sent with the hope of a meeting with the Urban Charities Trust Inc. to discuss an instrument or mechanism by which our needs and dreams may be pursued.

Finally, I pray for the intercession of Joe Cunningham.  I never met him, but his name was memorialized on the side of a rafter in the attic of the Chapel on Nov. 26, 1898, approximately 4 months after the cornerstone was laid and he was helping construct the roof. He helped build it one brick, one stick at a time reaching for the sky. Help us, Joe, as we reach for the sky!

Prayer in the time of corona

Tiles spelling ‘St. Philip Neri Pray For Us’ are embedded in the concrete in front the Chapel.

Since its inception in 1997, The Chapel of St. Philip has been about gathering, particularly in prayer or in another spiritual endeavor.

While we are prohibited from gathering, as we help stem the tide of COVID-19, we are still free to join in prayer.

Prayer is about as universal a thing as there is and has been for human history. Even atheists have slogans, verbal commitments, encourage groups to get together and chant.

You bring people together and it’s a form of prayer.

It’s universal.

A lot of the purpose of prayer is to unify, but there is also space for solitude.

At St. Louis Bertrand Church last week, though there were no public Masses, 10-12 people were there at a time — spread widely throughout the cavernous building, avoiding contact. Each was in his or her own private prayer. But there was solace in the sense there was still community, others praying nearby.

We’re all there together and apart. We have our solitude and our community at the same time. It’s like the Trinity. We all want community and we all want simplicity that comes with solitude.

We’re all shut-ins right now to one extent or another.

We’ve had to reconsider our prayer and our spiritual selves and our relationship to one another. We can learn from that now.

For now, we’ll explore this new way of being. And we pray with hope for a time when we can unite again in communal prayer.

Here’s a prayer we can share in our solitude in communion with one another:

Jesus Christ, you traveled through towns and villages “curing every disease and illness.” At your command, the sick were made well.
Come to our aid now, in the midst of the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may experience your healing love.
— Excerpt from ‘A Coronavirus Prayer,’ America Magazine, by Kerry Weber.

Looking back to see the future

By Bill Walsh

The Chapel Council has been giving considerable thought and conversation to the future.

Recently, we’ve begun digging into the history of the original St. Philip Neri Parish, even going so far as to study the blueprints from past decades. We’ve learned that the church building, built in 1898, cost $16,000 to construct.

We need much more than that to preserve The Chapel and other buildings on the campus. “Brainstorming” is currently ongoing.

First, we need to define our “mission” clearly. Sources of major funding will want to understand the need for the funding. We expect to spend most of 2020 developing a plan and getting started.

Meanwhile, we will have the normal expense of utilities, supplies and necessary repairs.

Anyone who would like to help in any way is whole-heartedly welcome.