OCEAN CITY, Md. — Six long years after it began, the renovation to Saint Mary Star of the Sea is complete.
On Wednesday, June 30, the doors swung open and parishioners returned to the oldest church in Ocean City, Md. The historic church sits on Baltimore Avenue at the southern, oldest end of town not far from the Ocean City Inlet.
Wednesday’s prayer service was attended by a large crowd on a wickedly hot summer day when the temperature neared triple digits. They returned to a new roof, renovated steeple and church bell, an addition with a bride’s room, larger sacristy, a new floor, a sprinkler system and HVAC system. The brass was polished to within an inch of its life and new paint covered everything.
“Some of the best things in life do not happen overnight,” said Father John Solomon, parish pastor.
The wooden church was built in 1877 when Ocean City did not even have any year-round residents after three building lots had been purchased for $100 each. The restoration took special pains to maintain the historic nature of the building.
While the labor has been painstaking, Father Solomon noted in the prayer service that the church building is no mere museum or table where people gather for a special meal. Instead, he said it is a place for sinners and saints to “honor, consecrate and commune.”
“This is the place where we fall more and more in love with Christ,” he said.
Still, the building is but wood and paint and those are just material things. The success of the renovation and expansion will not be measured by whether the roof leaks, but by whether “we continue to grow as a people of God,” he said.
The total cost was about $935,000, but an anonymous donation provided $300,000. Other money came from memorial donations and the church was named in the estates of others. All together, donations, contributions and a lot of labor from parishioners means the project is debt free.
“God is good,” Father Solomon said.
That news was warmly received by the audience. One member of the audience drew chuckles when he said “a Catholic church that’s debt free?”
There were, of course, problems and unexpected costs. The church floor was replaced, but moisture under the floor meant it was not level. So, the area under the floor had to be shored up so the new floor would actually be flat.
Parishioners painted and repaired statues and the Stations of the Cross. They also polished all the brass with the help of a former drill sargeant volunteer who showed them that ketchup could remove the worst of the tarnish on the brass.
“It was a job and a half,” joked Father Solomon.
The prayer service program included a definition of a church as “the place where the Christian community is gathered to hear the word of God, to offer intercession and praise to Him and above all to celebrate the holy mysteries and it is the place where the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist is kept. Thus, it stands as a special kind of image of the church itself; which is God’s temple built from living stones … ” The definition is from the office of the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship.
Masses have been held at the other parish church, nearby Holy Savior located on 1705 Philadelphia Avenue. Mass will now be available at both churches with Mass at Saint Mary held on Sunday at 7 a.m. and Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.
One of the biggest sources of attention during tours on Wednesday is the new bride’s room, meant to offer brides a place to dress, reflect and prepare. It’s a comfortable place highlighted by a very large rendition of Raphael’s “Wedding of the Virgin” in an ornate carved wooden frame.
The artwork stopped people short and prompted one parishioner to say “Father, it almost makes me want to get married again.”
The program noted a number of people and groups who deserve special thanks: Father Stanislao Esposito, Bishop Malooly, the Diocese of Wilmington, staff members, the building committee, the parish family, donors, T & G Builders, MAD Design Group and those who kept the project in their prayers.