Special to The Dialog
Ocean City, Elkton and North East churches to benefit from campaign donations
St. Mary Star of the Sea Church has stood as a bastion of the Catholic faith in Ocean City, Md., for more than 125 years.
But time and the humid salt air blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean, only a few blocks from the quaint Gothic revival frame structure, have taken a toll on St. Mary’s.
Its stained-glass windows, one of the most beautiful features of the church at Baltimore and Talbot streets, have cracked panes and rusted frames and latches. The steeple needs repair, the ceiling has weather damage, and the pews are sagging.
Applause in church
Now parishioners have a chance to provide hope for a bright future for St. Mary Star of the Sea. Parish leaders hope to raise $142,400 through the Sustaining Hope for the Future campaign to make needed repairs to the church they have called home since the late 1870s.
When Father Stanislao Esposito, pastor, kicked off the drive at a 7 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Mary’s, those attending “stood up and clapped” at the thought that all the money the parish receives will help the church.
“People really love that little church,” he said. “They have an emotional attachment to it.”
Sustaining Hope for the Future aims to raise $28 million campaign to help the diocese get back onto its feet following the 2011 bankruptcy settlement that settled suits filed by victims of clergy sexual abuse, as well as to fund projects at the parish level. The campaign seeks $3 million for the Trust for the Welfare and Retirement of Priests; $10 million for the Lay Employee Pension Fund; $2 million for diocesan ministries, and $11.2 million for individual parish projects.
St. Mary’s and 32 other parishes are in Wave II of the campaign, which officially started last month. Twenty-one other parishes pledged almost $7.25 million, or just under 80 percent of their combined targets in Wave I. Three more parishes conducting their own campaigns raised $5.3 million, which included almost $1.5 million earmarked for Sustaining Hope for the Future.
A total of more than $16 million has been pledged thus far, including more than $3 million raised by Bishop Malooly and nearly $500,000 contributed by priests of the diocese.
In Elkton & North East
Like St. Mary Star of the Sea, parishioners at Immaculate Conception in Elkton, Md., and its sister church, St. Jude in North East, Md., will use money raised from the campaign to address long-standing maintenance issues. Immaculate Conception-St. Jude has a total goal of $673,400, with $269,400 earmarked for the parish. The parish allocation will be divided among each church and Immaculate Conception School.
At Immaculate Conception Church, plans are to refurbish the church exterior, repair the chapel doors and the sidewalks in front of the church, and ensure that the trees in front of the bell tower do not threaten the foundation.
The school needs improved waterproofing, exterior stairwells need refurbishing, and water damage to a modular unit needs to be repaired.
St. Jude’s projects include a permanent replacement of a leaking oil tank and improvements to the lighting, windows and parking lot.
Oblate Father James Yeakel, pastor, said the campaign will allow parishioners to help fulfill the needs of the diocese while also taking care of their own parish. The repairs and renovations to the three buildings, all of which are 50 or more years old, will allow the parish to use its operating budget to focus on its programs and ministries to parishioners and the Elkton community.
Regardless of how good a budget is, unexpected things occur that can delay some maintenance projects, Father Yeakel said. “You can only do that for so long.”
Immaculate Conception’s campus encountered one of those unexpected events several weeks ago when a windstorm damaged the school auditorium’s roof, bent the flagpole, and uprooted several trees near the parish offices. While insurance is expected to cover most of the damages, the parish still had to use some money for immediate needs.
Mike Holland, a parish council member who chairs Immaculate Conception-St. Jude’s campaign, said economic conditions in recent years also delayed some projects; others have been handled on an emergency basis. For example, “we’ve identified funds for a short-term fix [to St. Jude’s leaking oil tank] but that’s not the desired long-term fix.”
“This Sustaining Hope for the Future campaign gives us the chance to address these issues.”
Holland believes parishioners will embrace the drive. “They know these were lingering things that need to be addressed,” he said. When completed, “it will set up us very well for the future.”
Father Esposito looks toward the future as well. The renovations will help future residents and visitors to the Atlantic resort community to worship in one of Ocean City’s oldest structures.
The pointed arch stained-glass windows “are old style,” he said, with the names of donors in the window. “They’re incredibly beautiful.”
Gary James, who is a chair of the parish campaign and also serves on the Bishop’s Lay Executive Committee for Sustaining Hope for the Future, called the stained-glass windows “priceless” and “part of the special feeling you experience when you are in this church.” He worries that if the windows are not repaired soon, “they will come apart and fall to the ground.”
The church connects him with his Catholic predecessors in Ocean City. “When I sit in the pews, I always think about how many times wives of seamen have sat in these same pews and prayed for the safe return of their husbands,” he said.
As president of T&G Builders in Ocean City, he is aware of the issues of building near the ocean. “A wind from the ocean, which is almost always constant, always has salt in it. Salt is a strong corrosive and the constant barrage of salt from the ocean causes metal and wood to weaken much faster. In addition, the humidity of the air is very high and that level of constant moisture helps speed up the damage.”
With the original structure built by 1880, and additions including the bell tower added about 30 years later, St. Mary’s has been constantly besieged by the salt and humidity.
At St. Mary’s sister church, Holy Savior, the stained-glass windows currently are being renovated, and additional maintenance projects in recent years have it in “pretty good shape,” James said.
He views both the diocesan and parish needs as vital. He recognizes the need to “fund and protect” the pension plans for both priests and lay employees firsthand, since he has a daughter who teaches at Most Blessed Sacrament School in Berlin.
“I know how worried she is about whether or not she will have a retirement plan,” James said. “I have told her try and not worry. I feel confident that my parish, and all the other parishes will rise to the need.”
The need is just as vital for St. Mary Star of the Sea, he said.
“This cannot wait. The repairs needed cannot be postponed. This beautiful and historic church must be taken care of.”