MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - -- The historic St. Francis Xavier Catholic Chapel aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune has stood through more than 60 years of conflicts, wars, storms, hurricanes and blizzards. Throughout the last few years the church has undergone renovations to fix decades of wear and tear, and soon the construction efforts will be complete.
Hundreds of church-goers were able to able to celebrate their first Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, in the facility since major construction began.
The parishioners have spent months worshipping in a trailer, which now augments the church as it continues it renovations, and, briefly, in the protestant chapel.
The renovations primarily addressed the building’s affected structure which included wood deterioration and decay to the framing of its stained-glass windows. Standard windows that had been in place since the buildings inception, along with the facility’s doors were replaced with modern counterparts.
Concerns about the stained-glass windows began when leaks developed on the windows’ borders.
“We’re in the hurricane belt, so if a good one came through the glass was going to go,” said Leonard Quemuel, a parishioner who has volunteered at the church for 13 years. “During a bad storm you could see water seep from the windows and onto the floors.”
The chapel’s stunning stained-glass windows depict warriors from scripture and history such as the archangel St. Michael, and St. Joan of Arc who fought for France during the Hundred Years War. The windows were paid for with contributions of Marines world-wide and were given to the church in 1948. They are dedicated to Marines and sailors who served in various units throughout World War II.
“It’s a historic church,” said Father John Lyle, a commander in the Navy who serves as the Catholic chaplain for Marine Corps Installations East – Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. “My hope is that the renovations keep the building structurally sound so we can continue to worship here for another 70 years."
Throughout the last decade floors have been replaced with tile and carpet. A sound system was added as well as arches over the platform in the front of the facility representing the Holy Trinity. The pews, which had damaged kneelers which sometimes squeaked or were unable to be opened were also repaired, and repairmen will follow up on the aged pews as problems arise.
Changes are still due in the future. There are plans to improve the lighting in the building and add new handicap accessible ramps to the facility.
While Lyle was not stationed aboard the base when plans began to fix the facility he is happy to see the joy the renovations have brought his parish.
“I think the people are very happy to be back in their own chapel especially some of the retirees who have been here for a while,” said Cdr. “We have a vibrant community here.”
The church has religious education classes for children, religious introduction classes for adults, an adult catholic bible study, and a Knights of Columbus chapter along with its regular daily services. They are held at 11:45 a.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at a trailer in the parking lot of the church and its weekend services held Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 8 a.m. and 12 p.m.
“Prior to the renovations the parishioners had their gripes, water in the aisles, noisy pews, problems with the sound,” said Quemuel. “There was a host of reasons to look for improvements. Now there are almost zero complaints. I would say the congregation’s very happy.”