Divine Mercy in Manhattan
July 31, 2023
“The city that never sleeps needs a chapel that never closes,” said Fr. Boniface Endorf, O.P., pastor of St. Joseph’s parish in New York City, now home to the first perpetual Eucharistic Adoration chapel in Manhattan. Fr. Boniface’s tagline is fitting because it corresponds to this offering of all of time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Someone will always be in prayer before the Eucharistic Lord on this island of 1.6 million inhabitants.
When Fr. Boniface began his assignment as pastor in 2018, the Young Adult Office of the Archdiocese of New York reached out to him and said the Cardinal had been wanting a perpetual adoration chapel in Manhattan because there had never been one. “So that put the idea in my head,” he said, “and I started raising the money to build the space.” Cardinal Dolan blessed the Divine Mercy Adoration Chapel this July, nearly five years after the initial idea was proposed.
In designing the chapel, Fr. Boniface wanted to do it right—he wanted to build a space so that when people walk in, they’re struck by its beauty because “beauty helps them in their own prayer. It helps them think this is a place where you would encounter God.”
Because St. Joseph’s church is Greek Revival architecture, Fr. Boniface and architect Zeke Balan sought classical edging but went toward Romanesque in the design of the chapel. The rood screen, like a lot of classical architecture, has beautiful detail but it also serves a need, he explained. It prevents people from walking up to the altar and taking the monstrance. The rood screen has decorative symbolism and is essentially a catechesis for what you are doing in adoration, and what God is doing in you. “For instance, on the bottom of the screen, it has very earthy images like grapes and vines and the images get more complicated and geometrical at the top to image heaven and the move from earthly to divine realities. The metal work on the doors are in the shape that Dante described as the shape of heaven in Paradiso. On the sides there are seraphim adoring God.”
The centerpiece of the chapel is a mosaic of the Divine Mercy image from which the chapel is named. There is also a 16th century statue of a Dominican saint, Catherine of Siena, gesturing with her right hand toward the Eucharist. “And at the center is the beautiful monstrance and the Eucharist itself. So, all of this beauty of the chapel draws you to Beauty itself.”
The Dominican friars who live at St. Joseph’s pray the Liturgy of the Hours in the chapel—morning and evening prayer—and the hope is to do this every day, Fr. Boniface said. “Traditionally, as Dominicans, praying of the divine office is public, but when we took over this parish in 2004 it was a diocesan parish, so wasn’t set up for that.” Up until now, the friars prayed the office in a chapel in their cloister. But one advantage of this new chapel is that we set this up with choir stalls for the office, so people can come join us for prayer, he said. Fr. Boniface explained that this recovery of praying the hours for the laity was the hope of Vatican II. That’s one of the reasons they shortened it and translated it into the vernacular, so it wouldn’t just be priests and religious praying it, but it is the prayer of the whole church.
The friars at St. Joseph’s parish have headed Catholic campus ministry at NYU for many years (and this year the ministry of the friars will expand to serve students from several more campuses in Manhattan) and the parish attracts many young adults in Manhattan—half the parishioners at St. Joe’s are under the age of 40. According to Fr. Boniface, this adoration chapel couldn’t come at a better time because he sees something in this generation that wasn’t present in previous generations—questions of “Who am I?” “What does it mean to live in the world?” “In America?” “In my family?”
In his ministry to young people, he sees there is great confusion. “There is even anger and resentment especially as more and more families are broken and there’s this sense of being lost, even despair…and in this void grows ideologies and conspiracies.” But in this adoration chapel, before the Eucharistic Lord, “people will find their truest identity as a child of God, loved by God, and called back to God. They’ll know they’re not a cosmic accident and that life isn’t meaningless—but they are loved, and created for a reason, and are called to a great mission and ultimately being led to an eternal life with God. So then everything in their life is not about filling their meaningless void with meaningless desires, but striving to grow in holiness and love and virtue.”
Fr. Boniface and his fellow Dominican friars hope this first ever perpetual adoration chapel in Manhattan will be a source of grace that will transform people’s lives. There’s so much suffering in the world and in New York City, so many people are so unhappy and they don’t know that it doesn’t have to be that way. “They don’t know that there’s a God they can turn to who loves them. And that’s why it’s divine mercy. He’s just waiting for them to pop in, and be healed, and lifted up. We can find happiness in Christ, anytime.”