Seaport chapel reborn as face of South Boston evolves

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BOSTON – Decades ago, the little maritime chapel in South Boston’s Seaport District provided a haven for weary sailors and fishermen docked along the waterfront. But as the economy shifted, so did the demographics of the chapel’s parish, though not its original purpose.

During a dedication ceremony Thursday, the Rev. James Flavin, Episcopal Vicar for the Central Region of Boston’s  Archdiocese, blessed and raised the wooden cross to the top of a new, albeit still modest chapel to replace the 63-year-old shoe-box shaped building at 65 Northern Ave. known to dockworkers and rail bosses as the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Voyage.

For many, the old building was a place of refuge, said the Rev. Stephen Madden, one of the chapel’s priests.

“It was a place for them to come to, of welcome and peace, that they may not necessarily have found somewhere else,” he said. “It can be sad to see it go.”

The Catholic chapel on a triangle of greenery at the foot of Fan Pier was tagged to be demolished after Boston Global Investors acquired the property for its $650 million One Seaport Square project, which includes two high-rise apartment buildings and retail spaces. As part of the deal, the 5,000-square-foot replacement church is being built a few blocks away at Sleeper Street and Seaport Boulevard, near Fort Point Channel.

Although members of the South Boston-Seaport Catholic Collaborative – which oversees the chapel – don’t know when the new building will be ready for use, the current chapel at 65 Northern Ave. won’t close until it is, said Javier Soegaard, pastoral associate and a spokesman for the group.

The old chapel, part of the South Boston St. Vincent de Paul parish, was constructed in 1952 for the supplications of fishermen and their families. With the completion of the Big Dig project opening up the Seaport District for more development, the chapel now serves young professionals and families – many living within walking distance of the chapel – and for many is known is as the “last-chance Mass” spot with one of the latest evening masses on Sundays in the city at 7:30 p.m.

With the changing location, the chapel’s leaders see its purpose slightly shifting also. Now a bit closer to the city’s Financial District as well as nearby office buildings, it’s likely that the chapel will see more visitors throughout the day.

“For a lot of people, it’s the last building standing,” Madden added, referring to the changing landscape of the Seaport area. In fact, for many years it was one of the only buildings in a neighborhood awash in acres of open parking lots, isolated by the sprawling tunnel project that buried the old Central Artery highway through downtown Boston.

Soegaard said the new chapel, which will likely maintain the same Sunday Mass times offered by the old church, will be ideal for the newer residents and workers in the area, especially in the new location.

Still, the hurdles remain unique.

One exciting challenge is to create a unified community within diversity, Deacon Paul Kline said, pointing to the socioeconomic and ethnic diversity in the neighborhood. Four housing developments are close by, along with the newer high-rise apartment buildings. One way that’s expected to attract people from all nearby communities is an initiative called the Good Samaritan ministry, which provides anti-violence counseling.

Despite the transition, the future looks bright for the new chapel, even as plans are laid to take down the old building.

“There’s a lot of memories that are there, people have prayed there, have had baptisms there, weddings there – really many significant parts of everyone’s lives happened in that particular place. So there’s a sadness in moving to the new place, but it’s not just a sadness, it’s a sign of great hope,” said the Rev. Gerald Souza, the chapel’s parochial vicar.

“It’ll be a brand new place, state of the art. It will be beautiful, with stained glass windows and artifacts of other churches that have closed,” Souza said. “It will be a place for there to be new memories.”

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.