InTransit: O'Hare's interfaith chapel a place of solace for anyone

  • The Rev. Michael Zaniolo walks through Terminal 2 at O'Hare International Airport, greeting passengers as part of his work as the interfaith chapel chaplain.

      The Rev. Michael Zaniolo walks through Terminal 2 at O'Hare International Airport, greeting passengers as part of his work as the interfaith chapel chaplain. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • The Rev. Michael Zaniolo says Mass at O'Hare's Interfaith Airport Chapel, where two pilots are among the worshippers.

      The Rev. Michael Zaniolo says Mass at O'Hare's Interfaith Airport Chapel, where two pilots are among the worshippers. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • The chaplain of O'Hare International Airport's Interfaith Chapel, the Rev. Michael Zaniolo, presides over Mass.

      The chaplain of O'Hare International Airport's Interfaith Chapel, the Rev. Michael Zaniolo, presides over Mass. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • The Rev. Michael Zaniolo celebrates Mass at O'Hare International Airport's Interfaith Chapel with pilot John Racanelli of Columbus, Indiana, who flies for Spirit Airlines.

      The Rev. Michael Zaniolo celebrates Mass at O'Hare International Airport's Interfaith Chapel with pilot John Racanelli of Columbus, Indiana, who flies for Spirit Airlines. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 12/23/2018 10:37 PM

A stone's throw from O'Hare's Interfaith Airport Chapel, workers lug bags off a jet. Nearby, a man waves orange batons guiding another plane to a gate.

Inside, pilot John Racanelli exhales before getting into the cockpit of his Spirit Airlines plane.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The glass side walls of the chapel reveal the airfield of the second-busiest U.S. airport to the right and the bustle of Terminal 2 to the left.

But the focus in the airy room, open 24 hours a day, is an altar with a crucifix.

Before becoming chaplain at the O'Hare and Midway Interfaith Airport Chapels, the Rev. Michael Zaniolo visited the meditative space, located on the mezzanine level of Terminal 2.

He came incognito, without his clerical collar. "There were one or two workers praying. I was amazed to see all this activity out on the airfield ... yet in here it's incredibly peaceful."

Zaniolo, a Catholic priest, celebrates Mass at the chapel regularly and takes confessions.

Islamic prayer services are held on Fridays and Protestant services are offered on occasion. Midway's chapel also offers frequent Catholic as well as Protestant services.

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But the spaces are open to anyone seeking tranquillity.

"If you had a difficult day, if you just need a place to go and collect your thoughts -- come to the chapel," Zaniolo said.

Pilot Racanelli comes to Mass at O'Hare at least once a month. "It's the spiritual nourishment I need," he said. "It's good preparation for my trip."

The chapel was built in 1966 with the aim of serving the small army of workers at O'Hare.

When he's not ministering or administering chapel affairs, Zaniolo, of Des Plaines, roams the airport complex. He's welcome at the airport police station or fire stations, although that sometimes brings him into temptation.

With three shifts, four fire stations and "competitive chefs," that's a potential 24 daily lunches and dinners Zaniolo is invited to and must decline for his own well-being.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"These shirts can only expand so far," he explained.

Zaniolo counsels family members traveling to funerals, business travelers lonely for their families and the occasional lost Japanese nun.

The nun in question got disoriented connecting from her Rome flight to a Japan-bound aircraft. Observing his name tag, she asked, "'Do you speak Italian?' And launched into beautiful Italian," Zaniolo recalled.

It turned out the nun worked for Vatican Radio as a translator. Zaniolo provided directions, and "she called me 'angelo cestode' ... guardian angel," he said.

"It's indicative of the things that happen here. This place is so big, it's like a city. I'm able to see the hand of God working in people's lives. Things seem to be coincidence; I see them more as Providence."

Finding the chapels

In addition to services, the chapels have been used for everything from weddings to aiding hurricane evacuees, Chicago Department of Aviation officials said.

The O'Hare chapel is in a public area before security check-in reachable by elevators near the Delta counters on the Terminal 2 departures level. The Midway chapel is on the mezzanine level in Concourse C past security. Mass at O'Hare is 11:30 a.m. weekdays. For more information, go to airportchapels.org.

A plug for transit

Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker didn't forget the suburbs in his Restoring Illinois' Infrastructure Committee. Among the members who will advise the incoming governor are RTA Chairman Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale.

Dillard, who uses Metra regularly, hopes to convey that "mass transit is one of the largest and most critical infrastructure pieces in Illinois, and it has been neglected for many, many years."

Another name that jumped out is former Illinois tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur. Lafleur was appointed to the tollway by former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and works in the private sector now.

"I look forward to working with the committee to develop a long-term, sustainable plan for infrastructure," Lafleur said.

Got an opinion on transportation issues? Drop an email to mpyke@dailyherald.com, and happy holidays.

Merry Metra

Check for adjusted Metra schedules on most train lines Monday, Friday and Dec. 31 to handle early departures from the Loop. Some regular rush-hour trains might be canceled. You can also get a bargain with $10 unlimited-ride passes for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

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