From The New York Times:
Past the Nike Factory Store and the Banana Republic, J. Crew and Gap outlets, and then up the elevator to a desolate hallway above a Marshalls department store, Susan Munroe found one of the places where she feels closest to God: a chapel.
It is known officially as St. Therese’s Chapel, but the black letters on the glass door on the second level of the Outlets at Bergen Town Center label it, simply, Chapel on the Mall. For years, it has been a humble home of Roman Catholic worship inside this sprawling temple of consumerism, in a New Jersey community known as a capital of shopping.
“There’s no doubt of God’s presence here,” Ms. Munroe said from her perch at the desk in the gift shop, a wall of crucifixes and a plate bearing the likeness of Pope John Paul II hanging behind her. Ms. Munroe dedicates most of her waking hours to volunteering in the chapel, her duties as varied as bookkeeping and helping the priest administer communion.
“It’s an oasis,” she said. “It’s a place to come and charge up your batteries in the middle of the day.”
But after nearly half a century, surviving renovations and changes in mall ownership, the chapel is offering its final prayers. Ten years ago, the mall’s management shifted the chapel from a cramped basement to a more spacious spot upstairs, but it came with a catch: The lease would be month to month. Earlier this year, the chapel was told it would have to leave, as the management has other plans for the space. The final Mass is this week, on Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent. Where it might next hang a crucifix is unclear.
The chapel, run by the Carmelite religious order, has at least three Masses a day, six days a week. (Bergen County’s blue laws, in a twist of irony, keep the chapel closed on Sundays.) It is in a space tucked away from other stores, with little foot traffic. But the chapel is listed in the mall directory, and worshipers occasionally stumble in or hear about it through word of mouth. The chapel draws almost 1,000 people to Mass each week.
Photo: Bryan Anselm for The New York Times