A chain of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in a Staten Island chapel, which stands unbroken at 10-plus years and counting, currently involves more than 300 people from parishes across the vicariate in a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week ministry.
Back when Barbara Bennett and her prayer partner, Beverly LaMont, first had the idea for a perpetual adoration chapel, there was no working model on Staten Island. The two women soon met Dr. Meli Nepomuceno, who felt called to the same purpose, and together they began to visit parishes to recruit "adorers," the prayer volunteers who pray for a set hour before the Blessed Sacrament.
Finding a suitable site proved another challenge. The women met with Msgr. Joseph C. Ansaldi, then regional vicar of Staten Island, who offered some advice, one piece being to ask God to lead them to the right location. When they approached Brother Augustine Condon, S.S.P., he agreed to speak to Brother Aloysius Millela, S.S.P., who was local superior of the Society of St. Paul, about the use of a building on their grounds in the Westerleigh section.
"God led every step of the way," Mrs. Bennett said.
After renovations, including the purchase of chairs, Our Lady of the Eucharist chapel opened on the feast of Corpus Christi on June 23, 1993, and the prayers have not stopped since.
Deacon Jim Stahlnecker of St. Mary of the Assumption parish is chairman of the chapel's coordinating committee. One of his main responsibilities involves keeping track of the master list of adorers to make sure that each hour is filled by at least one person. The deacon, who has been connected with the chapel from its first year, goes to pray before the Eucharist every day.
"People have told me the effect it has had on their life," Deacon Stahlnecker said. "Families who are troubled through children with problems, sometimes almost miraculously after praying in the chapel the problems resolve themselves or they find new ways to deal with them."
He spoke of a mother who found solace at the chapel after she delivered a stillborn baby. A statue of the Christ Child was dedicated in memory of the baby at the 10th annual ceremony on June 21.
The practice of prayerful adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is a hallmark of the pro-life community, Deacon Stahlnecker said. The adorers who take their place at Our Lady of the Eucharist come from all parts of the island. He noted that several priests in the vicariate, including Fathers Peter Byrne, pastor of Immaculate Conception parish, and Louis Jerome, administrator of Sacred Heart parish, have made a personal commitment to praying there.
The chapel is popular with a growing number of young people, including some who have expressed interest in vocations to the priesthood or religious life, Mrs. Bennett said. "It's beautiful to see young people spend an hour or even two hours," she said.
Most of the adorers spend their hours in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, which is encased in a silver monstrance on a simple altar framed by two angel statues. There are times for spoken prayer such as the daily recitation of the Divine Mercy chaplet at 3 p.m.; Friday evening recitation of the Rosary and other prayers, from 7 to 8 p.m., followed by a half-hour children's prayer period at 8:30, and Respect Life prayers on the first Sunday at 1 p.m.
Our Lady of the Eucharist is no longer the only place for perpetual adoration on Staten Island. At least two parishes, Our Lady Help of Christians and Holy Child, now offer it, with others at set times.
Mrs. Bennett, a parishioner of Holy Child, prays hours at her home parish and at Our Lady of the Eucharist. "Adoration is just part of your life," she said. "You find comfort and solace as you pray for all that goes on in this world."