Boston’s shiny new Seaport district draws thousands of visitors each day. As they cross Fort Point Channel with their sights set on shopping, dining, and socializing, most people don’t notice the modest brick building at the base of the bridge. But the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Voyage was a neighborhood fixture long before the glittering waterfront towers appeared.
The church has a special place in the area’s history. The original building sat on Northern Avenue – about at the spot where La Colombe and Flight Club are now. It opened in 1949 to serve the large community of fishermen and dock workers. A partner church is in Gloucester, the fishing community on the North Shore.
The chapel on Seaport Boulevard was dedicated in April 2017 and is the first new Catholic church to be built in Boston in over 60 years. “It’s exciting,” says Fr. Peter DeFazio, the church rector. “There’s great energy here.”
Maintaining Maritime Connections
In addition to serving residents of the fast-growing community, the church maintains its links to the maritime community.
“We participate in an annual interfaith blessing of the fishing fleet at Fish Pier,” DeFazio explains. “When naval ships are here, we hold a special mass for crew members. It’s important that these traditions continue.”
With a briny ocean scent in the air, the seashore vibe continues inside the church in touches great and small. The stained glass windows at the entry include a criss-cross fishing net motif. Model ships, including the USS Constitution and Boston Light, adorn the chapel walls. The soaring wooden ceiling suggests the inner bow of a ship. Even the church bell has a high-pitched “clang” that sounds like buoys on the water.
Blending Old and New
The shrine also is an example of sustainability – both in terms of materials and spirit. Many elements have been repurposed from now-closed churches across the city. For example, the stained glass triptych above the main altar is from St. Catherine of Siena in Charlestown. The windows along the side aisles, dating to the late 1800s, are from Our Lady of the Assumption in Chelsea and Holy Trinity Church in the South End. A portion of the rose window over the front entrance came from St. Augustine in South Boston.
Those structures may have closed their doors, but the spirit of these churches remains – housed and honored in a modern building that is somehow both grand and intimate.
In a short hall adjacent to the altar are two stained glass windows from the original Northern Avenue chapel. They have a more bold, mid-century design with large glass pieces and thick leading. One window shows the famous fisherman statue that overlooks Gloucester Harbor. The statue’s stone pedestal is inscribed with the dedication to “those that go down to the sea in ships.” DeFazio explains that this is the opening line to Psalm 106, which is stenciled around the perimeter of the shrine’s ceiling.
A Quiet Port for Personal Journeys
Traditionally, the message and protection of the Our Lady of Good Voyage devotion originated in Portugal and Spain and focused on seafarers. DeFazio expands that view. “We’re all on a voyage,” he explains. “And the seas are rocky right now. That’s where a place like this comes in, just a quiet shrine. People need this.”
Indeed, moments after entering the sanctuary, the noise of a bustling city seems to disappear. The world and the mind feel calm. So if you need a breather from a hectic day – or respite from heavier challenges – drop in to Our Lady of Good Voyage. “It really is an oasis of peace,” says DeFazio.
In addition to offering daily mass, tours provide further insights into the church’s history and artifacts. For more information, visit the shrine’s website.