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Message of renewal

St. Patrick’s Mortuary Chapel
in Madison restored, rededicated

Restored chapel preserves memory of historic priest

By Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

(December 2007) – It was the largest funeral that Madison, Ind., had ever seen. In 1874 when the first carriage in the procession for Father Hyppolytus Dupontavice reached St. Patrick’s Cemetery, the funeral train stretched almost three miles back to the final carriage still waiting at St. Michael’s Church.

St. Patrick's Mortuary Chapel

Photo provided by Michael Moore

St. Patrick’s Mortuary Chapel
was in obvious need of repair.

When Josie Fox of San Jose, Calif., came to Madison to research the history of her family and St. Michael’s Church, she saw that time had not been kind to the mortuary chapel serving as the resting place of the the beloved French priest. The tornado that swept through the area in 1974 damaged the beautiful slate roof and internal plaster walls.
Since then, two refurbishments had taken place, but by 1991, it was obvious that additional work needed to be done. Drainage issues, vandals and time itself had all taken a toll on the structure. Water had begun leaking into the foundation, and plaster had torn away, exposing the brick below. Fox, who has close to 100 relatives buried in the grounds surrounding the chapel, approached church officials about the possibility of repairing the structure. Fox’s donations to the project made it possible to restore the chapel back to its original beauty.
Michael Moore, a member of the St. Patrick’s Cemetery Committee who worked with Fox on researching church history, said, “People are proud of their churches and should be proud of their cemeteries.”

Josie Fox

Josie Fox

A rededication of the St. Patrick Cemetery Chapel took place on Nov. 2. Members of the Cemetery Committee and others active in the restoration project observed Mass and a blessing of the chapel. This service marked the cumulation of the past year’s work on the restoration of the mortuary chapel.
Fox, her husband, Geoff, and the St. Patrick’s Cemetery Committee joined with the cultural resources management firm The Westerly Group on the restoration. Fox and The Westerly Group selected artisans and companies with proven experience in bringing the beauty of older structures back to life.
Helming Brothers Inc., a Jasper, Ind., company that focuses on restoration work, acted as the contractor in charge of the project. President Joseph Helming said he appreciates “being able to work on a building of a historic nature” and “buildings off the beaten path.”
Terry Wullenweber of Milan, Ind., a third generation plasterer with 35 years of experience, is using the same type of materials and techniques used in the original construction to refinish the interior walls. The plaster will be allowed to cure completely over the winter with final painting taking place next spring.

Inside the St. Patrick's Chapel

Photo provided by
Michael Moore

Helming Brothers
Inc. of Jasper, Ind.,
conducted the
restoration of
the chapel.

The restoration of the chapel’s German crafted crucifix took place under the care of preservationists at the Cleveland Art Institute. The life-sized crucifix will be re-installed in time for the All Soul’s Day rededication of the chapel. Pleased with the work done, Moore said he has enjoyed “watching a thing of beauty grow before my very eyes.”
The chapel serves as the burial site for two French priests. Father Dupontavice and Father Joseph Petit each served St. Michael’s Church and lie buried in the floor of the chapel. Father Dupontavice worked to improve life for those in the Madison area during the mid-1800s.
Camille Fife, president of The Westerly Group, speaks of Father Dupontavice as “known for being sort of an informal doctor to people” and “certainly a builder priest.” Dupontavice studied medicine before joining the priesthood and used this knowledge to advise and aid the sick in his community.
Church histories show that his building projects included the 1853 construction of Old St. Patrick’s Church, a school, a home for nuns, as well as the mortuary chapel in St. Patrick’s Cemetery. Moore said he hopes that the restoration of the chapel will spark interest in this historic priest and that people will see the chapel as “a positive reinforcement of faith in the community.” More than 130 years after his death, Father Dupontavice’s work is still felt and admired.
In recording one of her visits to Madison, Fox writes, “A well-preserved Cemetery Chapel offers a message of hope.” The love and skill put into this most recent restoration assures Madison that the chapel will continue to provide years of inspiration and comfort to cemetery visitors.

• For more information about the chapel restoration or rededication ceremony, call Michael Moore at (812) 273-4156.

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