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Chapel honors St. Sophia ... a reminder to walk in faith


“I want everyone to feel like they are wrapped in prayer when they walk into the chapel,” said Shannon Kosub, in the doorway of the St. Sophia Chapel in the St. Ann Catholic Cemetery on the outskirts of La Vernia. “This is going to be a chapel where people are going to find their miracle, feel the Holy Spirit, pray, find answers to prayer and be embraced by prayers.”

She had greeted me at the doorway, and showed me a heart imprinted in the concrete in the entryway that contains the footprints of little Sophie Sparks. I cried. She welcomed me inside, where numerous letters to God, St. Sophia, and little Sophie have been placed in the walls of the chapel. Some letters are from as far away as New York; none has been opened. They were prayed over and blessed by the Rev. Stanislaw “Father Stan” Fiuk, pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church in La Vernia, then Shannon stapled them to the inside of the walls of the chapel. They will remain there under the insulation and drywall, as kind of a time capsule.

Responding to questions in the community, Shannon Sophie’s godmother ...explained.

“This chapel is not to glorify Sophie,” she said. “It pays homage to St. Sophia.”

Sophie was diagnosed at age 4 with a Wilms tumor, a type of cancer. She passed away when she was only 5 years old, after a valiant battle. Countless people in the community and across the globe were inspired to pray for her and her family, and many were touched by her simple and unwavering faith in God.

Because of her illness, Sophie could not run and play with other children on community playgrounds. She could not go to daycare. Her playground was St. Ann Catholic Church. That’s where she developed such a love for the Lord and for Father Stan, and that’s where she discovered the comfort of the rosary. She loved wrapping those beads around the crucifix. She told Shannon that it made her feel better.

“Sophie was so faithful. I can’t even describe how faithful and wise she was,” Shannon continued. “If you put Sophie in a room full of nonbelievers and gave her 30 minutes, I’ll bet she’d convert more than half of them.”

Shannon said Sophie’s dad, Steve, told her that he had a dream that Sophie was going to live and survive to have three daughters named Faith, Hope, and Love. It transpires that St. Sophia, for whom the chapel is named, had three daughters named Faith, Hope, and Love!

The St. Sophia Chapel is the brainchild of Father Stan. Two days before Sophie Sparks passed away, her parents had to select a cemetery plot, choosing the Concrete Cemetery on F.M. 775 near La Vernia. When Father Stan heard this, he invited them to use the St. Ann’s cemetery instead, since the Catholic parish had embraced Sophie and held her in prayer as she battled cancer; she should be in the St. Ann’s cemetery, he said.

Shannon was upset, though, because the St. Ann’s cemetery is very bare, with no beautiful flora; Sophie deserved to rest in a place that was beautiful, she felt.

“The Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me to build this chapel in the name of St. Sophia,” Father Stan explained. “My vision was that if Sophie died then we would build a chapel to St. Sophia, which means wisdom. I believe that Sophie’s mission was to teach us wisdom.”

Father Stan intends for olive trees to be planted around the chapel and the cemetery “because olive means life,” he said. A sprinkler system also is planned “to make it green é give it life.”

He has also approved the relocation of the church bell that once rang at the original parish church on River Street in La Vernia to the cemetery. The bell has been in front of the parish’s Goertz Hall for many years. It has not been rung since 1965, but will now ring in St. Sophia’s Chapel. An empty cross that now stands in the cemetery will be replaced with a crucifix, which is on its way to La Vernia.

I noticed the chapel had no pews, and asked if there were plans to add them. Shannon shared a beautiful story about how, during a family trip to Rockport, they planned to attend one church, but the service was already in progress. Then they tried another Catholic church, where the service also was half over. They waited to attend the next Mass there, during which the priest announced it would be the last Mass in that church, and that all the pews and furnishings were for sale.

When the Mass ended, Shannon told the priest about the St. Sophia’s Chapel and about Sophie. Oddly, he already knew Sophie’s story and had heard about the chapel through forwarded emails. A bargain was struck. St. Sophia’s Chapel would have pews. Talk about the Lord working in mysterious ways!

“It’s a God thing,” Shannon said.

St. Sophia’s Chapel has been built with proceeds from fund-raisers hosted by Team Sophie. Events have included an annual 5K fun run and walk.

“Life is hard,” Shannon said. “But it’s a journey. It can be a beautiful one, if you embrace it in the way God is leading you. Sophie’s journey wasn’t for nothing. It mattered. She mattered. She taught our community a lot. We have a lot of angels in our community.”

Sophie’s birthday is Sept. 29, and the plan is for the St. Sophia Chapel to be open that day. A dedication will take place in May on the feast of St. Sophia.

Events in memory of Sophie Sparks
build place of peace, wisdom

Fun run

Join the Sophie’s Faithful 5K family fun run and chapel opening Saturday, Sept. 28, at St. Ann Catholic Church on U.S. 87 W. in La Vernia.

Entry is $20; this does not include a T-shirt. Sign up starts at 7:30 a.m.

Proceeds will benefit the St. Sophia Chapel in the St. Ann Catholic Cemetery.

For more information or registration forms, call St. Ann’s at 830-779-3131.

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