ANTIGO — When the wrecking ball tore through the walls of Langlade Memorial Hospital chapel in 2012, the furnishings and religious relics seemed bound for a future far from adoration.
The facility was operated by the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph for eight decades, but when the new hospital was constructed the chapel was downsized and the furnishings replaced. The old statues, chairs and altar were placed in storage.
But now, the dust and cobwebs have been removed, and the altar burnished as the items begin a long journey that will place them at two churches in Kenya, Africa.
“These are items these churches would never, ever, ever get,” said Tom Roovers of the Wausau-based Helping Hands organization, the recipient of the donation. “We are giving them a gift they could never otherwise receive, and it is because they are so faith-filled.”
According to Sr. Dolores Demulling of the Religious Hospitallers, the items were no longer needed when the original Langlade Memorial Hospital, opened by the sisters in 1933, was demolished in September 2012.
“A few people looked at the pieces,” she said. “But it was never the right fit.”
Roovers discovered the furnishings and statuary were available “through the friend of a friend of a friend,” he said. He and his wife, Mary, decided to take a look.
“They were delighted with what we had,” Sr. Dolores said.
Not wanting the items to fall into the wrong hands, the sisters studied the organization, learning that it was an ecumenical group of volunteers who share their time, talent and treasure with the people of Jamaica and Kenya. To date, Helping Hands has made over a dozen humanitarian trips to Kenya, with volunteers donating thousands of hours in humanitarian work to the needy in seven villages in the area of St. Gabriel Church and the Gaichanjiru Hospital. Volunteers have also made 61 trips to Jamaica, constructing schools, churches, clinics and homes.
The donation includes an altar, presider’s chair, two smaller chairs, tabernacle, two podiums, prayer kneeler and Paschal candle holder. There are also three life-sized statues — the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Our Lady of Fatima and a guardian angel — which Roovers said will be especially appreciated.
“Statuary in the United States isn’t too meaningful anymore, but in Kenya, it is very special,” Roovers said. “These items are going to such a good place because they will be honored.”
The items were transported to Wausau, where Roovers said they will be sealed in cylinders and sent to Kenya within weeks.
The larger of the two churches, St. Gabriel’s, has 2,000 parishioners and was constructed by Helping Hands over the past several years. The smaller church, St. Githunguir, is a work in progress and regularly serves about 500 people. Both parishes are located about an hour northwest of Nairobi.
“Worshippers walk for at least five miles because there is no public transportation,” Roovers said. “These are faith-filled people because they have nothing else. They really need to rely on the Lord to survive every day.”
Sr. Dolores reflected on the donation and mission of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph, who came to Montreal from France nearly four centuries ago. Now, another overseas pilgrimage is beginning.
“We are delighted that we can help people on the other side of the ocean,” she said. “It reminds me of our early beginnings. God’s providence and loving care is always present.”
Roovers said the chapel furnishings, which provided comfort and solace to hospital patients and families for decades, will once again be part of worship.