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Let the light shine in


With its Mexican Baroque façade swirling with ornate scrollwork, cherubs and floral medallions, the former St. John Bosco Chapel rises like a building out of time along busy Barataria Boulevard in Marrero. But inside the more than 70-year-old stucco chapel, visitors will discover a completely renovated, 21st-century space now serving an important second life as the new Hope Haven Adult Day Health Care Center.

“It’s thrilling to see the completion of everybody’s efforts,” said Laura Jacobs, program manager, ushering visitors through the retrofitted chapel, which opened Aug. 18 following a $1.6 million renovation.
 

Operated by PACE Senior Services, an agency of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, the Hope Haven center provides safe, supportive and supervised care to as many as 96 adults from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. each weekday. Its services include a nutritious daily breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack, health screenings, continuous wellness monitoring, exercise classes, field trips, music, art and intergenerational projects.
 

The staff, which includes a licensed practical nurse, certified nursing assistants and a social worker, also will attend to the needs of participants’ families through counseling and support groups.
 

“We had some birds and wildlife coming in and it was very dark – you could tell that it was well loved but was just kind of sitting there for awhile, unused and in disrepair,” said Jacobs, recalling the state of the 6,250-square-foot chapel before its six-month overhaul, designed by Blitch Knevel Architects of New Orleans.



Sensitive renovation

“Any architectural detail of the original chapel that we could keep, we tried to incorporate into the design,” said Stephanie Smith, executive director of PACE Greater New Orleans, pointing out features such as the chapel’s hand-stenciled, coffered ceiling, oak flooring, marble baseboards and terra cotta roof tiles.

 

The chapel’s nave, which constitutes the center’s main activity space, now holds more than a dozen small tables for dining and fellowship. The grand space, which rises to a height of two stories, is lit by original stained glass windows that celebrate six secular and ecclesiastical roles of Hope Haven’s Salesian-priest founders: artisan, writer, educator, preacher, confessor and missionary. Parading below them are the chapel’s original stations of the cross, hand-carved out of wood.


“You come in here and you just get this warm, wonderful feeling,” Jacobs said. “It’s peaceful; it’s inviting; it’s comforting. Everybody who’s come in to tour has just been overwhelmed by what we’ve done to the interior, by just how beautiful it is!”
 

Jacobs said visitors also appreciate how the peaceful and expansive grounds of the Hope Haven campus are on full view from the interior, thanks to the glassing in of the chapel’s side aisles into serene solarium spaces flanking the nave. The covered, porch-like areas, outfitted with comfortable seating and ceiling fans, offer light-filled spaces for reading, board games and time away from the fray of the main activity room.


Imaginative adaptive reuses

Another clever feature is how architects marked the separation between the nave and the sanctuary – to transform the latter into a quieter activity room for the center’s lower-functioning participants. Rather than simply throwing up a stark dividing wall, the doors to the chapel’s original confessional boxes, carved in the early 1940s by Hope Haven students in their woodworking classes, were incorporated into the wall as decorative motifs. Two salvaged door frames also punctuate the dividing wall – and their perimeters treated with magnetic paint – to create unique galleries for the hanging of participants’ artwork.

 

The activity room behind the wall, accessed by a ramp railed in the chapel’s original ironwork, retains the sanctuary’s oak wainscoting and a hand-painted quote from St. Luke’s gospel: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for such is the kingdom of God.” 

Other innovations include closing off the vestibule at the chapel’s original entrance to create separate areas for offices, sitting, storage and a bathroom.
 

“There are now a total of nine bathrooms in a building that originally had none,” Smith noted.

Because architects were not able to incorporate an elevator into the renovation, the choir loft is intact but not in use. The organ was sold to raise money for the project, and all but a few of the chapel’s pews were painted and sold in a fund-raiser called “Pew to Do,” and their wooden kneelers re-purposed into crosses, shelving and frames. Sacred vessels and other items used in the Mass were given to the archdiocesan Office of Archives and Records for refurbishment and future donation to parishes in need, Jacobs added.


Sacred spaces
 
The transformation of the St. John Bosco Chapel into Hope Haven Adult Day Health Care Center was modeled after the 2007 overhaul, also by Blitch Knevel Architects, of the former St. Cecilia Church in Bywater into the Shirley Landry Benson PACE Center.

Kitchen & Associates of New Jersey designed Hope Haven’s soothing color palette and furnishings, the latter including custom-built tables that can be raised and lowered to accommodate wheelchairs, and chairs covered in water-resistant upholstery. The firm also created the center’s lighting, installing magnificent reproductions of the chapel’s original ceiling lanterns and energy-saving lights in all rooms that turn on and off with the opening and closing of doors.

 

While the bells in the chapel’s belfry were found to be frozen and beyond repair, John Hummel, former board chairman of PACE Greater New Orleans, and a Colorado-based clock firm, installed an audio system that sounds a chime at every quarter hour and an hourly strike using an actual recording of the world’s most famous bell: London’s Big Ben.


Prime location

“This entire campus is just an iconic landmark here on the West Bank. You talk to people, and they all know where it is and they all have some sort of personal connection with it,” Jacobs said. “You can tell that they’re passionate about preserving it.”

In addition to being a preservation success story, the center, located at 1131 Barataria, will provide healthy and life-affirming weekday options for its primarily senior-age participants in an area that needs them desperately, said Jacobs, noting Hope Haven’s proximity to


West Jefferson Hospital and Wynhoven Apartments and Health Care Center.

Payment options for the center’s services are private pay, or through participants’ Veterans Administration or Medicaid benefits. Participants can be dropped off or arrange home pick-up in a 12-passenger, wheelchair-lift bus, Jacobs said.
 

“There are so many people out there that need to continue working, but need to have a safe place to drop off their loved ones,” she said. “(Hope Haven) is a place where they can feel like their loved ones are being well cared for.”


Tours are available each weekday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information, call 267-9690. To enroll, call 835-0006. The center will hold an open house on Sept. 18 and will be formally dedicated by Archbishop Gregory Aymond on Oct. 21. 

Beth Donze can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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