Diocesan News

Fundraiser Helps Airport Chapel Be a Home Away from Home

At this year’s fundraiser for Our Lady of the Skies Chapel at John F. Kennedy Airport, Ana Lemos was named Woman of the Year, and James Groark was named Man of the Year. (Photo: Matthew O’Connor)

Our Lady of the Skies Chapel at John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens has been welcoming people since 1955.

Opened by WWII veteran, Bob O’Brien, who prayed to the Virgin Mary to return home safely, the chapel originally was one of three freestanding buildings that was demolished in 1966 due to airport construction.

Now located in Terminal Four, the chapel welcomes the 70 million passengers passing through the airport each year and the 40,000 people who work there.

Its annual fundraiser was held at the Cradle of Aviation Museum, Garden City, L.I. Honorees included Man of the Year, James Groark, airline manager at Cathay Pacific Airways; Woman of the Year Ana Lemos, station manager at Brussels Airlines; and Clergyman of the Year, Deacon Greg Kandra of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs parish, Forest Hills.

Bishop DiMarzio blessed the museum and thanked the honorees for their contributions to the life of the chapel.

“It is important to be available to passengers and all the staff that work there,” said Bishop DiMarzio.

“These people may not always have the opportunity to stop and pray and even attend Mass so the chapel is able to be there for all these people both in times of peace but also during times of chaos and disasters. People take time to stop and pray for many different reasons and having the chapel is able to provide for all those reasons.”

Father Chris Piasta, chaplain of Our Lady of Skies, said, “We bond with many people that come through the chapel and even if we have only one conversation, we try to reach them and we become family. We may never see them again but that bond carries on.”

He explained that the funds raised at the luncheon are used for many different purposes.

“It’s used to help so many people,” said Father Piasta. “We help stranded people to try and get them tickets, hotel rooms, or even phones. During times of need, people scramble and need the chapel. There is often death at the airport and we have to be there. Recently, there was a plane leaving for Puerto Rico of people going to help and they were looking for someone to pray with them. We were able to be there for them.”

“It is a source of faith for all the passengers that are traveling but also for so many people that work there,” said honoree Groark. “It is a way to bring people together and yes, it is there for crisis management for when accidents happen and helps grieving passengers. But more importantly, it is a shining light on the community. I go there for prayer and Mass and it shows that good can overcome tragedy.”

Honoree Lemos added, “Many people are afraid of flying and I urge them to go to the chapel and pray and relax before flying. I myself go there and pray and I come out with some new ideas and my faith. Some people might only be there for a second and just say a quick prayer but that can make the difference during difficult times or even just for safe travel.

“It’s all about the faith, and you see how strong it is through the many people that use the chapel.”