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Blessing the waters of the Atlantic Ocean: Bishop makes annual pilgrimage

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For The Dialog

OCEAN CITY, Md. – When Bishop Malooly was a child, his family would travel from Baltimore to this Atlantic Ocean resort town every summer.

Since becoming bishop of Wilmington in 2008, Bishop Malooly has continued that summer tradition, which has become an annual pilgrimage on Aug. 15, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He celebrates Mass at Holy Savior Church; processes two blocks to the Ocean City beach where he blesses the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and then dines at the parish hall with students who come from around the globe to work the summer beach season.

Bishop Malooly blesses the crowd with holy water at the annual Blessing of the Ocean on the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Aug. 15, in Ocean City, Md. The ceremony started with a procession from Holy Savior Church. (The Dialog/Gary Morton)
Bishop Malooly blesses the crowd with holy water at the annual Blessing of the Ocean on the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Aug. 15, in Ocean City, Md. The ceremony started with a procession from Holy Savior Church. (The Dialog/Gary Morton)

This year’s pilgrimage brought something extra. After Mass, Bishop Malooly unveiled an oil painting depicting St. Mary Star of the Sea by parishioner Chery Stivers.

The large painting shows Mary on the beach holding St. Mary Star of the Sea Church. Behind her stormy-looking skies hang over the Atlantic Ocean and the Ocean City waterfront.

“A storm is brewing but she (Mary) makes it all calm for us,” Father Stanislao Esposito, pastor, told the congregation after Mass on Monday, when Bishop Malooly unveiled and blessed it.

Holy Savior is part of St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish. St. Mary’s, only a few blocks from Holy Savior, is still used for the early Sunday Mass but is too small to host most parish functions.

“It’s my first oil painting,” Stivers said. “I’m very pleased with the results. I prayed a lot along the way.”

Between 250 and 300 people attended the feast of the Assumption Mass, and at least half of them processed to the beach for the blessing of the waters.

DSCN2625Bishop Malooly and Father Esposito were joined in the beach service by Rev. Matthew D’Amario, the new rector of St. Paul’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. The blessing included prayers for the lifeguards, police and firefighters, emergency medical services, and Coast Guard personnel who work to keep visitors safe.

Rev. D’Amario said he appreciated the prayers for first responders, and noted that a lifeguard was on duty in a stand nearby as the service was conducted.

Father Paul Jennings, pastor of St. Luke’s in the northern portion of Ocean City, participated from the boardwalk and later attended the dinner with foreign students.

St. Mary Star of the Sea-Holy Savior has hosted dinners throughout the summer for foreign workers since 2004, when it learned of their needs. Eight Polish youth, whose promised jobs had already been filled when they arrived, approached former pastor Father John Klevence, now pastor of St. Ann in Bethany Beach, and Annmarie Conestabile at Holy Savior for assistance. The two helped the foreign students find jobs and fill other needs that summer, thus learning about the requirements of the foreign students at the beach town.

The next year they had developed a ministry to the young foreign workers. A number of non-Catholic churches in the area joined in the effort, as did various Ocean City groups, and the ministry has developed into a citywide effort. It has grown up the Atlantic Coast to Bethany Beach and Rehoboth Beach, both in Delaware.

At the height of the beach season Holy Savior holds an annual Christmas in July, which this year drew about 1,200 foreign students, Conestabile said.

Bishop Malooly enjoys the yearly outing to Ocean City for the feast of the Assumption, blessing of the waters, and visit with foreign students. “It’s a nice tradition,” he said.

The blessing of the waters has become a tradition for Mike Donovan Sr. and Mike Jr. of New York City. The elder Donovan said they have been coming to Ocean City for 20 years, and try to always attend the blessing of the waters.

“I used to do this with my mother and father,” he said, recalling similar blessings while a child. “Now I’m doing it with my son.”

Family traditions also might have crossed Bishop Malooly’s mind. Though he had not become acquainted with the blessing of the waters until he became bishop of Wilmington, he had come to Ocean City with his extended family as a child.

Now, as an older member of his extended family, he again was with his family in Ocean City. About 20 people, including Malooly siblings, in-laws, nieces, nephews and their spouses and children, participated in the Mass and blessing at the beach, later gathering for a group photo.