Catholic log chapel is Grand Teton wonder that 'evangelizes,' says deacon

IMAGE: Nancy Wiechec

By Nancy Wiechec

TETON NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. (CNS) — Mary Morris was lured to the Chapel of the
Sacred Heart inside of the national park by a small wooden road sign.

didn’t know the chapel was here,” the Hampshire, Illinois, resident told
Catholic News Service in August during a visit to Wyoming’s popular national
park. “I just happened to see the sign and stopped in.”

had been camping in Yellowstone when she made the drive south to Grand Teton
National Park.

walked through the chapel door, made the sign of the cross, signed a guestbook
and ducked into a pew to pray.

Afterward, she said the beauty of chapel in the Tetons made her feel grateful.

just came in here to say a little prayer of thanksgiving for everything.”

chapel’s all-log construction is in character with the mountain environment.

shadows of swaying pine branches flitter behind the saturated hues of a single
stained-glass window. The space is warm and quiet.

a beautiful church, beautiful inside and outside,” Morris said. “I really like
it because of the setting. … This is such a gorgeous place and it keeps you
very grounded.”

Doug Vlchek has heard similar impressions expressed by other Sacred Heart
visitors many times over.

Catholic deacon lives in Grand Teton National Park and has had a connection
with the chapel for much of his adult life. It’s the place he says that makes
him feels closest to God.

chapel does something for everybody that walks into it and certainly for
everybody who worships here,” he said. “This building evangelizes people.”

chapel was constructed in 1937 before the expansion of Grand Teton National
Park. It now sits within the park’s boundaries and is a summer mission of Our
Lady of the Mountains Church, where Deacon Vlchek is based in nearby Jackson.

any given day we probably have 100 to 200 people come and visit this chapel,
sit and pray for a little while, have a beautiful respite and some time to
spend with God,” he said.

the church and chapel were founded in the late 1930s, the population of Teton
County was 2,500 and was considered mission territory by the church. Today, the
county has more than 22,000 residents and annual visitors numbering around 4

chapel has been restored twice, in the late 1960s and again in 2002. The latest
renovation included new log beams, a new sanctuary and the addition of the
Sacred Heart stained-glass window. The total cost — $450,000 — was funded by
a single New York and Wyoming family in memory of the victims of the 9/11
terrorist attacks.

Heart is open 24 hours a day June through September. During those months, Mass
is celebrated Sunday evenings. It’s closed in the winter.

a log chapel inside a national park might seem uncommon, there are actually two
within Grand Teton.

of the Sacred Heart is located near the shore of Jackson Lake across from
Signal Mountain. Further south, near the park’s Moose entrance, is the
Episcopal Chapel of the Transfiguration, constructed in 1925 to serve ranchers
and tourists. Both worship spaces welcome all visitors.

the National Park Service’s centennial this year, visitors to many of the U.S.
parks have told CNS the peace and beauty offered by these preserved outdoor
spaces help them connect spiritually and the worship spaces inside the park perimeters
add to that experience.

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Wiechec on Twitter: @nancywiechec.

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