Until very recently, the pastor of Our Lady of Fatima in Biloxi was Father Paddy Mockler. He has always been a man of vision, a man who makes things happen, and he has always had a tremendous following. He is a charming gentleman who is well known for his ability to rally support for whatever is most near and dear to his heart. One such desire was to have an adoration chapel built on the grounds of the church, and it would be an extraordinary place of prayer and worship.
Father Paddy called upon parishioner, Sheldon McCloskey, to spear head the project. McCloskey is is a retired engineer who is also a visionary. He designed and built a lovely grotto that stands on the church property in honor of the Blessed Mother. It is a cave like structure for devotional purposes that exemplifies peace and tranquility. Father Paddy was so delighted with the grotto and inspired by it’s beauty that he asked McCloskey to assist him with the design of the adoration chapel. “I wanted to bring old school Catholic into the modern era, and I had many ideas that I was going to implement in order to make the chapel one-of-a-kind,” he said. Father Paddy chose McCloskey to be the project manager and designer, and he eagerly donated all his time to see the project come to fruition. “I was not alone, this is a remarkable story of generosity and love that came from so many people within our parish,” McCloskey said.
Everyone had the opportunity to vote on the decisions that were being made. The ballots were distributed during each mass. They were private but people openly signed up to donate items for the build as well as giving money. “We had a figure in mind as to what was necessary to get the project off the ground, but so many people wanted to help and were so anxious to buy things, give money, or donate their time and talent, that it became a project in itself to organize the volunteers,” McCloskey said. The outpouring of love, generosity and support for the chapel was more than Father Paddy or Sheldon McCloskey ever imagined possible. Fatima parishioners are such a cohesive group of people. They come from all walks of life, those that are quite affluent and those that struggle to make ends meet. Their commitment to their church is what makes such difference in this parish.
It took one year to finalize all the design elements. Members of Our Lady of Fatima parish regularly attended meetings to discuss the project and were very involved in all aspects of the build. McCloskey provided very intricate and detailed drawings and plans and no detail was overlooked. For three months, architects were interviewed in the hopes that they would understand the vision and would carry out the design they wanted but it did not work out. Perhaps it was divine intervention when Chet LaBlanc arrived. In a matter of hours, it was clear that this gentleman understood the vision Father Paddy and Sheldon had for the chapel. He knew exactly how to proceed with the project and assured them that all the elements they wanted would be used. The plans had to be finalized by a licensed engineer on LaBlanc’s staff which is protocol for any construction project. LaBlanc donated his expertise and time free of charge and the only fee incurred was to cover the cost of insurance. Another parishioner who is a general contractor, Kevin Shaughnessy, donated all his services as well.
As time went on, more and more volunteers were eagerly lined up to do their part for the build. Painters, plumbers, carpenters, electricians and many other skilled laborers did whatever they could to help without benefit of pay. Crew bosses sent their employees to the site and work was done at a greatly reduced price. The concrete was supplied by Coast Concrete at a discounted rate. Hood’s Building Supply discounted the flooring and wall materials as well. Help came from the church family as well as from those who had close ties to Fatima and simply wanted to be a part of the project. The excitement generated by everyone involved and the outpouring of generosity was almost overwhelming. “Father Paddy has a very special gift of touching people’s hearts and making them go above and beyond,” McCloskey said.
The completion of the adoration chapel is the result of many miracles. One such moment came from Patrick Pelland, although legally blind, he insisted on building a tile wall that lines the back of the chapel. It took well over a week to complete the task which included cutting the tile and painstakingly placing each one by hand. Imagine the difficulty and the time it took to finish this job…imagine the labor of love. Patrick is one of many who gave so much of themselves for the chapel. It is a very long list comprised of some very special people.
Marilyn Gibson is a very well known and well respected painter on the coast. She and her brother, Bill Joachim, hand painted the ceiling of the chapel. The ceiling is quite extraordinary, and you will see nothing like it anywhere. Every nuance, every detail was lovingly painted by these two talented individuals. Marilyn did the more intricate work while positioned on a lift, high above the chapel floor. Joachim did most of the back ground work, the shading of the sky, the clouds, etc. It is a dome ceiling which makes it even more difficult to paint with such precision. Eventually, Marilyn will also paint four murals on the back wall. The completion date is set for sometime in April. Once again, the very generous parishioners of Fatima have donated the funds to pay for the artwork which is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. Coast businessman, Bob Mandal, donated the front doors for the chapel as well as a very large, marble statue of Mary. The statue will arrive in early summer and be placed at the entrance of the chapel, looking in.
There are twinkling stars on the chapel ceiling. This was a very important element that was decided upon very early on in the planning stages of the build. McCloskey recreated the night sky through the use of fiber optics. The clouds ever so slightly change from white to a darkening hue to illustrate how the day sky turns to night. The magnificent stained glass windows are illuminated 24 hours a day regardless of the lighting outdoors. Stained glass tends to darken and get “muddy” if the lighting changes as it does when the sun goes down or during bad weather. McCloskey wanted to insure that the windows would be clear and bright and always well lit, whatever time of the day, whatever the weather conditions. As an engineer at Xerox for 34 years, he learned quite a bit about design, optics and electrical. He had special LED lighting components constructed with diffusers strategically placed around the chapel windows and the results are simply remarkable. “Figuring out my plans for the windows took about two months time. I am incredibly proud of how it all turned out because the affects are so amazing and no one can tell how it’s done, nothing is visible. I wanted people to gasp when they saw the beauty of the lighting and that is happening time and time again,” he said. McCloskey plans to share his engineering marvel, the “Sheldon Window” with the public in the near future on the internet. Specially designed lighting was also used in other areas of the chapel to illuminate the cove, the crucifixes, and specific artwork.
The stunning stained glass windows were made at the turn of the century by Franz Zettler. “The Mysteries of the Rosary” grace the adoration chapel. The same windows were lovingly displayed in a church in Maine for approximately 100 years but the church was eventually purchased for a construction project and it was to be demolished. The windows were removed to save them from destruction and they were bought by representatives for Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church. The windows were then taken to Atlanta, Georgia, where they were cleaned, repaired and prepped for transport to Mississippi. Members of the Fatima congregation then in turn purchased the windows for the chapel. “The windows are priceless,” McCloskey said.
The pews were handcrafted by artisans in Rainesville, Alabama at the Rainesville Pew Company. The city is well known for excellence in custom woodwork. The craftsmen also built a small library cabinet to match the pews which is a beautiful addition to the back of the chapel. There are 11 pews, very generously fashioned for comfortable seating and space for bibles and or handbags. The library is spacious enough to accommodate two or three wheelchairs in front and the main isle that goes to the tabernacle is equally open for easy access.
In order to visit the Fatima Adoration Chapel, you must contact the parish office @228-388-3887 and request admission. Parishioners have access via a coded key pad. All guests must sign in before each visit as well.
The ceiling of the Fatima Adoration Chapel is dedicated to the memory of six teenagers, three boys and three girls, who lost their lives in a horrific car accident in January 2006. Their names are beautifully inscribed among the clouds at the top of the chapel.