White Sands Missile Range’s Sierra Chapel has been closed for the past two years due to renovations but will soon reopen to the community again June 5.
The newly-renovated chapel was supposed to reopen to the public in August of 2015 but an asbestos finding set the renovation efforts back a year.
The Catholic community will be able to enjoy refrigerated air, new flooring, newly-painted pews, new ceiling tiles and new cabinets in the kitchen and upstairs storage area. The chapel will also be receiving a new sound system in time for the grand re-opening.
“I think it’ll give the Catholic community a sense of renewal,” said WSMR Chaplain Lt. Col. Donald Carrothers. “It’s a nice facility, an old Army chapel. I’m hoping this will give the Catholic community a sense of connection to WSMR and hopefully provide spiritual resiliency in days to come.”
The chapel is over 60 years old. Carrothers said in a time where old buildings are continuously being demolished throughout the Army, WSMR decided to keep the chapel and renovate the building.
“It is important to the WSMR community,” Carrothers said.
When the chapel closed for renovations in April of 2015, the Catholic community was concerned the light fixtures that were original to the building would be removed for updated light fixtures.
Carrothers said he wasn’t around for the start of the renovation but the light fixtures remained and are still prominently featured inside the chapel.
The first mass, June 5, in the newly-renovated chapel will also be the last mass for Reverend Gan Nguyen. He arrived at WSMR in 2011, where he served the WSMR and surrounding community. He said his superior had asked if anyone would be interested in working with the military since they were in desperate need of civilian contract priests at the time. Nguyen volunteered willingly and it was the best thing he could have done. He said he appreciates working as a priest on post because the chapel is military funded. Instead of worrying about funding, he can focus on ministry and building relationships.
Earlier in 2015, Nguyen had a heart procedure where he was left on bed rest for a couple of months. The local Las Cruces Catholic Parish stepped in to hold daily and Sunday mass for the WSMR community. Nguyen said the doctor was amazed that Nguyen was able to walk the same day, after his procedure he attributes his speedy recovery to the amount of people who were praying for him and wishing him well.
“The good thing about a small community is that everybody knows everybody and they all chipped in and prayed,” Nguyen said.
A farewell party will be hosted at Building 120, the building where mass was held during the renovation and will now be the Parish Hall.
“This has been quite an experience for me,” Nguyen said. “It’s a little bit different from your standard parish community.”
Chaplain (Ret.) Lt. Col. Pat Mantlock will be coming in from Elephant Butte, New Mexico, every Sunday to conduct mass until a new contract can be implemented in the September time-frame. Weekday masses will be canceled until a permanent priest arrives.
Carrothers said the chapel usually sees about 50 people on Sunday mass and about 15 during the week.