Tucson Oddity: Little, custom-made chapel a welcoming spiritual haven

2011-06-13T00:00:00Z 2011-06-13T16:54:02Z Tucson Oddity: Little, custom-made chapel a welcoming spiritual havenBy Carmen Duarte Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
June 13, 2011 12:00 am  • 

The Divine Mercy Chapel attracts the faithful and curious to a rural northwest-side neighborhood tucked away in an area where water flows in irrigation ditches and people on horseback travel dirt paths.

People of all faiths make their way to the tiny chapel that sits near Alicia and Reuben Islas Jr.'s home at 7831-B N. St. Patrick Road. Their neighborhood is east of Interstate 10 between West Cortaro Farms and West Ina roads.

The chapel, which has a steel frame, was built by the late Charles "Gringo" Miller, a welder, sculptor and artist. He began his creation in 2000, and the chapel's doors opened on Ash Wednesday 2002. It was his dream for people to come to the chapel and contemplate their spiritual journey.

Miller met Alicia in 2003 when she stopped at his welding shop near North Flowing Wells and West Wetmore roads in search of a wood-burning stove, but instead visited the chapel next door.

She became a regular visitor - growing more in her faith - and discovering artistic details within the chapel that showed Miller's devotion to God. "It is evident in his sculpted wall hangings that hold religious images," said Alicia, 55, of the more than a dozen works, including the Stations of the Cross.

Alicia, a staff worker in the pediatric clinic at University Medical Center, was just one of many who went to the chapel to pray. A prayer group met there daily, as did visitors devoted to the Divine Mercy, a devotion to Jesus based on the writings of St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who recorded revelations about God's mercy before her death in 1938.

In time, Alicia took Reuben to the chapel. He is co-owner of American Meat Co. and also a welder who found much in common with Miller, and they became friends. Then Alicia took her relatives, several of whom had heart conditions, to find comfort there. In August 2006, Miller died at the age of 65 after a long illness. He left the chapel to Alicia and Reuben. "Gringo was like an angel sent from God. He was my spiritual friend," Alicia said with tears in her eyes.

The chapel was relocated to the Islases' property on Dec. 12, 2007. Masses have been celebrated there, and dozens of people have come to pray. A wedding took place there this past St. Patrick's Day, and more are welcome, Alicia said. The chapel can sit 16 comfortably.

People can visit the chapel or call Alicia at 250-7648 before making the trip. On Saturdays, the chapel usually is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at 573-4104 or cduarte@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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