WEST PALM BEACH | The chapel in the Lourdes Noreen McKeen Residence is a spiritual oasis for residents, families and staff for private prayer, daily Mass, Eucharistic adoration and funerals. Thanks to the generosity of one woman and her family, that simple chapel has a whole new look.
“This is a beautiful chapel,” said Sister Peter Lillian DiMaria of the board for the Congregation of the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm. “Our residences all have chapels. The Eucharist is always present. People have a place to go and be with the Lord.”
On June 30, Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito celebrated a Mass and dedication ceremonies for the newly renovated chapel of the Carmelites and the seniors in their care. More than 60 people attended the unveiling and dedication of the newly christened Skaff Family Chapel, named in honor of the late Marie Skaff and her family. Bishop Barbarito acknowledged the Catholic family whose kindness and acts of service made the restoration possible.
“How delighted I am to be here today with all of you to dedicate this beautiful chapel made possible through the generosity of Marie Skaff and her family,” he said. “This Mass will be offered for her and for her family.”
The bishop expressed his delight at being at Lourdes Noreen McKeen and addressed the residents several times. He spoke about Pope Francis, who at age 85 continues to speak about the importance of the older generation. The bishop referred to the seniors as “treasures” with a “special vocation in life.”
Among the faithful attending were religious of the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm dressed in their habits. Several leaders from New York traveled for the blessing, including Sister DiMaria and Sister Jeanne Haley, vicar general.
“The chapel has been dedicated and renamed after the family’s legacy, which was given to us to begin this renovation by the Diocese of Palm Beach,” said Carmelite Sister Jeanette Lindsay, chief executive officer of the McKeen Residence. “We are grateful to be able to meet the wishes of this family legacy and the generosity of our bishop.”
Retired priests at the residence sat in reserved seating along with diocesan priests attending. Carmelites from St. Jude Parish in Boca Raton, including Father Michael Driscoll, diocesan episcopal delegate for religious, and Father Richard Champigny, attended in support of the sisters.
Also filling the chapel were staff, seniors of the community and guests.
“It is a joy to be here with you and with the Carmelite sisters,” Bishop Barbarito said. “The dedication is rich with symbols. It is rich with meaning. It is rich with what the church is all about.”
Father Brian King, episcopal secretary, served as master of ceremonies, and other diocesan officials concelebrating the Mass included Father Charles Notabartolo, vicar general and moderator of the curia, and Father Albert Dello Russo, diocesan chancellor and tribunal judge.
Music was provided by the Lourdes Noreen McKeen music ministry, while Carol Blanton served as cantor. Music ministers from St. Edward Parish in Palm Beach and St. Juliana and St. Francis of Assisi parishes in West Palm Beach also participated.
Bishop Barbarito dedicated the chapel and consecrated the altar with holy water, incense and chrism so that the house of worship and its magnificent marble centerpiece could be used in celebrations of the Eucharist. Father King donated a relic of St. Therese of Lisieux that was deposited inside the stone of the altar. The saint had joined the Carmelites at age 14 and is venerated by the Carmelites.
The relic was just one of many special features added to the chapel linked to the Carmelites. A stained-glass window features the image of the prophet Elijah, known as the father of the Carmelite Order. A painting of the Carmelite sisters’ foundress, Venerable Sister Mary Angeline Teresa, is displayed on a wall, and bits and pieces of green Connemara, an Irish marble, are here and there, reflecting the Carmelites’ work in Ireland.
Brian Baker, president of Baker Liturgical Art, is a part-time Stuart resident and parishioner of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Jensen Beach. He began the restoration work last summer with his team and architect, Wojciech Harabasz. Sister Lindsay helped with the design.
“We are proud of the chapel,” Baker said. “We worked closely with Sister Jeanette. It was a pleasure.”
Baker has headed up numerous projects in Florida dioceses and locally at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola in Palm Beach Gardens, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, St. Jude in Tequesta and St. Juliana and St. Francis of Assisi in West Palm Beach.
The chapel was first opened and dedicated in 1998 when the McKeen Towers was completed. The building replaced the religious sisters’ old Pennsylvania Hotel residence that they operated when they first came to the area more than 60 years ago. They also staffed the Noreen McKeen Residence.
At the center of the chapel is the tabernacle, the Lord’s dwelling place, from Spain. A Last Supper mosaic is at the entrance, and the walls hold mosaics of the Stations of the Cross. A German blown stained-glass window overlooking the altar features the crucified Christ. Large wooden statues of Mary and Joseph from Italy flank the altar.
Special chairs are designed to provide flexible seating to assist those with mobility issues, and space is provided for those using wheelchairs. Along with new lighting, the sound system is modern and designed for the hearing-impaired. Electronics are installed and already streaming shots from the chapel 24/7. Residents joined the morning’s events virtually by television and technology devices.
Marie Skaff, who was a parishioner of Mary Immaculate in West Palm Beach, was a resident of Lourdes Noreen McKeen before her death in 2018 at age 97. She was known as a true treasure by many.
Over the years, she and her family members, who passed before her, shined as a bright light of Christ reaching out to assist projects aimed at helping others. One of her true passions was helping seniors.
The Florida Catholic covered one outreach that took place in 1999. She and her brother, Philip, financially contributed to a building project at Mary Immaculate to provide space for outreach to help seniors of the parish.
In 2004, Bishop Barbarito blessed and dedicated a renovated chapel at Mary Immaculate originally built in 1974. Marie and the Skaff family estate made the restoration possible.
In 2007, Marie Skaff received the inaugural St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award on behalf of the Skaff family given by the diocese’s Office of Catholic Schools for her continued support, dedication and commitment to Catholic education.
“I appreciate the award,” she said during the presentation. “It was the bishop’s choice. We do the best we can. Catholic education is important. We need leadership from the next generation. We need priests.”
Skaff and her family will continue to be remembered as role models of faith, generosity and love. A memorial plaque at the entrance to the new chapel is inscribed with the words, “In loving memory of Charles, Rose, James, Louis, William, Sara, Alfred, Philip and Marie.”
The bishop ended the dedication ceremony by thanking the Carmelite sisters and all in attendance. He concluded by once again thanking the Skaff family and acknowledging Marie at the heart of the new chapel.
“Marie Skaff is looking down from heaven with joy,” he said. “This is a beautiful, beautiful chapel. I know this is something that she wanted.”
The Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm, based in New York, came to West Palm Beach more than 60 years ago to begin their ministry and signature care that focused on the spiritual, physical, social, psychological and emotional needs of older people. They first ministered inside the Lake Court Apartment Hotel, which they purchased. It was later renamed the Lourdes Noreen McKeen Residence. In 1964, the Carmelites purchased the neighboring Pennsylvania Hotel to expand their services. The Pennsylvania aged and was torn down in 1995, making way for the McKeen Towers now climbing 15 stories.
Today, the Carmelites remain steadfast in their mission and provide skilled nursing, short-term rehabilitation, independent-living apartments and assisted-living units in West Palm Beach and in 20 other facilities in the United States and Ireland, following in the footsteps of their foundress, Sister Mary Angeline Teresa, who was named venerable by Pope Benedict XVI 10 years ago.