For The Dialog
OCEAN CITY, Md. – The congregation was mostly the same but the setting was different for the 7 a.m. Mass at St. Mary Star of the Sea-Holy Savior Parish here Nov. 1.
For the first time anyone could remember, a Sunday Mass was not celebrated at St. Mary’s. Instead, the early Mass was at Holy Savior, 20 blocks away.
When St. Mary’s parish rectory next to the church was torn down last month in preparation for renovations to St. Mary’s, the church was left with no restroom facilities.
Parishioners were polled as to whether to continue the 7 a.m. Mass at St. Mary’s without a restroom available or to move temporarily to Holy Savior, according to Father Stanislao Esposito, pastor. Almost all decided it was best to move Mass.
“Holy Savior Church is not that distant, so we will all adjust quickly,” he said.
Restroom facilities, along with restoration of the stained glass windows, leveling the floor, steeple repairs and other improvements, should be ready in time for Mass to return to St. Mary’s by Easter, on March 27. Weather and repairs depending, Father Esposito said Christmas Midnight Mass may be celebrated at St. Mary’s, with portable toilets available.
The work is being financed mostly with more than $135,000 raised for St. Mary’s through the Sustaining Hope for the Future capital campaign in 2014.
Under the Sustaining Hope campaign, 40 percent of the money diocesan parishioners contributed to reaching a parish goal is being returned to the parish. Sixty percent of the money raised went to the Diocese of Wilmington, designated for a trust for the welfare of retired diocesan priests, the lay employee pension fund and diocesan ministries.
Parishioners who usually attend St. Mary’s will have an adjustment period. On Nov.1, for example, instead of gathering in the intimate St. Mary’s, about 80 people attended Mass in the more spacious Holy Savior, St. Mary’s mission.
Father Esposito admitted it was strange as he prepared for Mass.
“This morning I had to force myself to go the other way,” he said at the start of his homily. But he ticked off advantages of temporarily holding the 7 a.m. Sunday Mass at Holy Savior. “It’s more spacious, and there is more parking.”
Parishioners took the change in stride. “We’re one church,” longtime parishioner Cathy Deimler said of St. Mary Star of the Sea and Holy Savior.
Jean and Warren Gadomski said they like the history and grace of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church. One reason they went to St. Mary’s was its early Sunday Mass.
“We like going to the 7 o’clock Mass,” Warren Gadomski said.
Parishioners knew St. Mary’s needed renovations. The quaint Gothic Revival frame structure is only a few blocks off the Atlantic Ocean. The original structure was built by 1880. The bell tower and other additions were made 30 years later, around 1910.
The humid salt air and time have taken a toll on the church. Rusted frames and latches surround the stained glass windows, some of which have cracked panes. The ceiling has weather damage and the pews are sagging. The steeple also needs repair.
The rectory was in worse condition. When Father Esposito became pastor in 2010, mold had made it uninhabitable. It had one small bathroom.
“It was totally in need of repair and, honestly, it was inadequate for us,” the pastor said.
The parish bought another house for his use. “The cost was only a bit more than what it would have cost to fix the old rectory,” he said.
So it came as little surprise that repairs to St. Mary Star of the Sea would be the parish focus for Sustaining Hope for the Future. When Father Esposito announced during a Mass at St. Mary’s that all money raised through the parish portion would go toward its renovation, the congregation stood and clapped.
“People really love that little church,” he said.
Parishioner Cindy Harris may have summed up their feelings when she said:
“This is our home away from home.”