Quiet space for prayer

ALAMO – Tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood stands a historic church in Alamo where people come to pray before the Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament at the St. Joseph Chapel of Perpetual Adoration.

“I feel strengthened after spending time talking to God, the Father,” said Yolanda G. Sanchez, a parishioner and volunteer at Resurrection Church in Alamo, who has been coming to the chapel each Saturday for the past five years.

“You leave with a new energy,” she said. “I come to talk to God, to pray for family and friends and those who have passed away,” she added.

The Diocese of Brownsville’s St. Joseph Chapel of Perpetual Adoration, located at 725 Bowie Street, opened in December 2005 in the historic St. Joseph Church, built in 1924. It was designated a historical site in 1985.

The chapel is run by the Capuchin Poor Clares, cloistered nuns who live in a monastery behind the chapel. The sisters are devoted to contemplative life, praying for the people in whose midst they are, as well as for the needs of the church and society. They spend hours in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, and strive to be models of a simple and peaceful way of life.

I visited on a midmorning one Tuesday. I have been to the chapel before to attend the blessing when the renovation was completed in 2006 and again for special Masses. This time I wanted to come and experience it from a pilgrimage perspective.

I realized that if I am going to highlight places in and near our diocese that can serve as personal pilgrimages I needed to go as a pilgrim myself and not just a journalist.

Instead of rushing to get a story in on time for deadline, the pilgrim pace gave me time to notice details I may have missed before, like the garden undergoing a transformation and the plants that surround the building.

Texas Sage shrubs with their lavender blossoms line the walkway leading up the stairs to the chapel’s main entrance and the fuchsia bougainvillea on the east side against the tan bricks brim with life in the South Texas heat.

When you step inside the blue foyer, quiet welcomes you as does a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with open arms and another of St. Veronica.

While the cloistered sisters are not in sight, they have velitas (small candles) available for sale for $1 on the honor system and a basket where petitions may be left. When preparing for a pilgrimage, pilgrims often carry prayer requests, their own and others, to leave at a specific shrine or church.

Here, the Capuchin Poor Clare Sisters pray daily for the prayer requests left by visitors.

I purchased some candles to pray for my son and my daughter who are away at college. I wasn’t prepared with cash, but I did write a check and slipped it into the slot. 

Double doors open into the chapel where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in a gold monstrance centered on the white altar trimmed with gold paint. God is present.

“The hidden treasure… is Jesus himself, the Kingdom in person.  In the Sacred Host, he is present, the true treasure, always waiting for us,” said Pope Benedict XVI, in his address to Religious and seminarians, in Altotting, Germany, in 2006.

Year before, Blessed John Paul II wrote in Dominicae Cenae, a letter to priests in 1980, “Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of love. Let us be generous with our time in going to meet Him in adoration and contemplation full of faith.”

How to pray before the Blessed Sacrament? There are special prayers and other suggestions or one can simply sit in silent meditation.

Pope Benedict XVI in Sacamentum Caritatis, a Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, reminds us, “In a world where there is so much noise, so much bewilderment, there is a need for silent adoration of Jesus concealed in the host.”

“It is a source of comfort and light, particularly to those who are suffering,” he said.

After lighting my candles and placing them before the altar, I kneeled and prayed the Rosary. I relished the quiet accompanied by the hum of the air conditioner, much appreciated on an August morning. The blue, yellow, orange and red hues of the stained glass complimented the blue walls and contributed to the peace in the chapel.

I did try to catch a glimpse of the cloistered sisters who pray in shifts behind a walled section to the right of the altar. Meanwhile a few others entered and prayed before the Lord, and as the bells tolled at noon, they signaled my time to return to the office.

I left a petition in the basket before my exit.

While it was short pilgrimage, I did find the quiet time in prayer nourishing. I left refreshed and with plans to return again.

I met Sister Marta A. Garcia, the mother superior, in the parking lot. She said, “It’s important to make time, to make space in our lives for God.”

“People come,” she said, “to be in a quiet space and communicate with God.” “It’s a tranquil space.”

She shared that many people don’t know that the chapel exists.

The chapel is open to the community every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Daily Mass is scheduled at 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday and at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

The sisters lead a daily Rosary as well as the Divine Mercy hour at 3 p.m. and Vespers at 6 p.m. On Thursdays, Bishop Emeritus Raymundo J. Peña, leads a Holy Hour for Vocations following a 6 p.m. Mass.

A small gift shop offers a variety of prayer cards and books, rosaries and statues.

St. Joseph Church, which served as a parish in Alamo until 1990, closed after Resurrection Church was built on 312 N. 9th St.  For a time it was used as a Ministry Resource Center for the diocese until the year 2000 when the center was relocated to San Juan.

Story by Brenda Nettles Riojas, The Valley Catholic


How to get there

Address: 725 Bowie Street, Alamo

Directions: From Expressway 83 take the Alamo Road Exit and head south past Business 83. Turn left on to Bowie Street.

Hours: Every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.