Because of the Carmelite Chapel at the Northshore Mall, and Ruthie, Of Course

I never met my mother-in-law, Ruthie McNiff, but I feel a new kinship with her now that I have become a more frequent visitor to the first Catholic chapel ever established in an American shopping mall. Katie says her mother, who died before we were married, was a big fan of the St. Thérèse Carmelite Chapel-in-the-Mall, tucked behind the Carmelite Gift Shop in the basement of the Northshore Mall in Peabody, Massachusetts, right under Joe’s American Bar & Grill. I was there again last night and felt her presence.

I attended a new men’s group in the reception area behind the chapel vestry and sat directly opposite the portrait of St. Thérèse that adorns the top of this post. No, that’s not Ruthie, but I’m pretty sure she was there too. Katie’s father died when Katie was seven—and Ruthie’s seven children ranged in age from one to ten—leaving the unemployed, newly single mother alone to fend for herself. Which she did, in a Cape Cod–style house the size of a jumbo postage stamp, notably with God’s help. Ruthie was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1983, before Katie and I began dating in earnest, so we never met face to face, not yet anyway.

But last night, there was St. Thérèse and there was I and there was Ruthie too, observing as a group of nine guys passed a rosary around and talked about their experiences as Catholic men, with a focus on action, piety, and study. The words exchanged were very private, except for the presence of a cloud of witnesses, so I won’t get into details. But I’ll be back next week and the week after that. This whole phenomenon of Catholic men’s group meetings—for God, not for beer—is starting to grow on me.

As is the chapel itself. I may return more often, especially on Thursday mornings, our one off-day for daily Mass at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea in Beverly.

The chapel, shown here, also features a large book and gift shop next door. It was founded in 1960, when the Northshore Mall was an exposed strip-type mall like the one Allison Salerno described in her guest post today. And boy, hasn’t Allison stepped into the breach since my writing yesterday that I may slow my own posting for a few days? Her piece yesterday for Candlemas was right on the money, too.

Allison writes of another mall-based Catholic chapel-cum-bookstore in New Jersey near her home, a chapel that regrettably has closed. God be praised, the Peabody Carmelite chapel is being renovated this month, for its 50th anniversary, thanks to the genial leadership of Carmelite Fathers Mario López, Felix Prior, and (director) Herbert Jones. Please keep them in your prayers, along with my mother-in-law, Ruthie McNiff.

"Vaya con Dios, Leonard; Rest in Peace."

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  • Anonymous

    Hi Webster, this is so funny-I also go to a Carmelite Chapel dedicated to St. Therese in a mall. I happened upon it 5 or 6 years ago and it has changed my life. First, I have never seen a more eclectic group of people in one space before. Second, I have such reverence for Carmelite Spirituality. The priests there are old school and so solid and well-formed in their faith. Third, I have come to know the great Carmelite saints such as Big Terry and Little Terry as they are sometimes called at the chapel and St. John of the Cross-What wisdom they have! This Chapel is in Paramus NJ, the mall capital of the world. Thanks for this post! Regina

  • Allison Salerno

    @Webster: Cliched as it sounds, thank you for sharing. You really evoked the spirit of the place and your evening. And I loved hearing about your late grandmother-in-law.

  • EPG

    One might not think it at first, but there is something special about such a ministry, and its invitation to step for a time outside of the world of commerce.I recently had the privilege of attending a weekday Mass at the Chapel of St. Francis, at the Prudential Center in Boston, which (as Webster probably knows) includes a smallish upscale mall at the foot of the office tower. That's run by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, an order of whom I had not heard before. The Chapel has been at the Pru for a long time — it in fact was there when I lived in Boston 25 years ago (not that I was terribly interested back then . . . )Well worth stopping in, Webster, if you happen to get into Boston from the North Shore.

  • James

    I can second EPG's note on the Pru chapel. It's an oasis of peace in the midst of the mid city bustle. The Arch Street Chapel in the shopping district is another amazing gift in the heart of Boston. The Franciscans there are wonderful and it's quite busy.