For The Dialog
SEAFORD – Bob Gay’s father was a Baltimore architect who helped design hospitals in Baltimore and Salisbury, Md. His grandfather, a German immigrant, was a cabinetmaker.
So after a career in sales, it came as no surprise that Gay combined his lifelong interest in woodworking with his father’s eye for design and detail.
With no training in carpentry or design, Gay began building things — a desk for a granddaughter; toys for underprivileged children; cradles and beds for dolls. And, for Our Lady of Lourdes Church, he’s built an altar, credence table, tabernacle, a giving tree; and stadium-style seating in the choir loft.
Gay received the diocese’s Medal of Merit in October on the recommendation of Father George Blasick, the Redemptorist priest who is pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Since Gay and his wife, Louise, joined the parish after moving to Bridgeville in 2006, Father Blasick said, “they have generously shared their gifts and talents with their new parish community.”
That attitude seems instilled in Gay, who was manager of national sales and exports for Goetze Candy Co. in Baltimore. He and his wife were active members of St. Jude’s Shrine, a national center for St. Jude devotions, before moving to Delaware. Gay is president of the National Coordinating Council for the Pallottine priests who operate St. Jude; his wife has been secretary and continues to serve on the council.
When Father Blasick learned about Gay’s woodworking avocation, the pastor sought help for parish projects. A cabinet for storage and a giving tree for a fund-raising drive to renovate the interior of the church were among the first projects Gay accomplished. He also designed and built the deck for stadium seating in the choir loft, where pews are arranged on each level.
“Each piece of wood was cut, stained and installed so that every person in the choir loft has a perfect view of the priest on the altar,” Father Blasick said.
“Sadly, we don’t use it a lot,” Gay said of the overflow seating.
Sometimes, he said, thoughts of another carpenter, St. Joseph, “sort of pop into my mind” as he does projects for Our Lady of Lourdes.
Gay often prays to the Holy Spirit before starting each project: “I ask the Holy Spirit to guide my hands.”
In 2013, Father Blasick made an unusual request to Gay: Could he make an altar for the rectory chapel?
“I was a little bit afraid,” Gay said. “I had never made an altar before. But I said, ‘yes.’”
Father Blasick saw the chapel project as a “confluence of events.” The chapel needed a good altar. St. Michael’s Church in the Fells Point section of Baltimore, was being stripped and materials from it were available at low or no cost.
But more importantly, the pastor thought Gay needed a job to occupy his mind at the time.
On Dec. 14, 2012, Gay’s 7-year-old granddaughter, Josephine Grace Gay, called Joey, was among the 20 students and six teachers and staff slain by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Gay took the task to heart. Unsure how to design an altar, he turned to the Internet, found one he liked, and used its proportions for the altar he would build.
He traveled to St. Michael’s to acquire wood and pews. A fellow member of the Knights of Columbus acquired a slab of marble from his mother for the top of the altar. It was cut, shaped and polished, with a cross embossed on the top, at a local marble company.
“It was really a work of love,” Father Blasick said. The altar is dedicated to the Gay’s granddaughter Joey and the others who died at Sandy Hook.
“We no sooner got that built than Father said, ‘That’s great, but could you make me a tabernacle now?’” Gay recalled.
Asked why he does so much for his parish, Gay thought for a moment.
“God gave me a talent, and for me to give back to this congregation, our parish community, is the reason I do it. I never really thought about it but, yeah, God gave me this talent and this is giving it back — paying it forward.”