When parishioners at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Pylesville arrive for the 11:30 a.m. service today, they'll have a special guest to celebrate with: Bishop William C. Newman, eastern vicar.
Bishop Newman will be joining the parishioners in the celebration of St.
Mary's 100th anniversary and the rededication of the church building, located on St. Mary's Church Road, during the Mass.
"This is a big year for us," said the Rev. Robert L. Hartnett, the pastor of St. Mary's Church for the past two years.
"The rededication ceremony is more than just a rededication of the church," said Hartnett. "I see it as a rededication of the whole mission of the parish."
The priest and some long-time parishioners say the centennial celebrations and the planning of the rededication of the 100-year-old church structure have sparked a sense of renewed commitment among parishioners.
"I'm seeing many more people willing to make a commitment in time and energy to the education programs and the social outreach projects," said Hartnett.
Those outreach projects include assisting the working poor and what Hartnett calls the "working disadvantaged" in the area.
"Most of the people who come to us for help have jobs, but they just aren't making enough money to make ends meet," he said. "The parish is here to help these people."
Hartnett says he sees the mission of the church this way: "Our first mission is to worship together in the recognition that the people worshiping here have many different needs. Another mission is to extend our compassion beyond the parish to the community; to relieve human suffering and enrich family life. We have a stewardship of the community and God's creation."
To meet the church objectives of extending compassion, relieving suffering, and enriching family life, the hospitality committee was formed recently.
The main purpose of the committee is to greet members attending services, and to spot new members and make them feel welcome, said Hartnett.
Simon Driesen chairs the hospitality committee which is still planning programs. One way the committee hopes to enrich people's lives is to hold a social hour after morning services to give members an opportunity to get to know each other over coffee and doughnuts.
A health care ministry committee, headed by Betty Simpson, was also recently established to keep those who are too ill to attend services up to date on church activities. The group assists the pastor by visiting people in their homes and in the hospital and offering them Holy Communion.
"The group helps keep the lines of communication open between the church and parishioners," said Hartnett.
Along with the renewed commitment to church work, the centennial plans included raising money for major renovations of the structure and some interior refurbishment.
A fund-raising campaign was organized in October, 1989.
"When Father Hartnett recognized the need to stabilize the structure and restore the church's interior, the 100th anniversary gave us both a purpose and a deadline," said Tom Burke, a member of the church since 1954 and chairman of the capital campaign committee.
The capital campaign has raised close to $145,000 toward the $250,000 goal, said Hartnett, who characterized the campaign as ambitious and the results from the parish generous.
Gibbons, a Baltimore company specializing in church interiors, worked on the renovations.
"The most challenging part of the job was making sure the people were going to appreciate our efforts without feeling like we destroyed their church," said Frances Gibbons, owner of the company.
From the blue-and-amber stained glass window above the entryway, to the original altar downsized to accommodate a new position in the sanctuary, to hand-carved decorations on many of the wood surfaces, every attempt was made to incorporate architectural details into the renovations, said Gibbons.
The history of St. Mary's goes back to the mid-1800s when the original church, a small, brick edifice still standing in view of the current church, was built as a mission church.
As the parish outgrew the brick church, a new stone church was erected in August, 1890.
Local history credits the Henry Macatee family for the establishment of the church. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Catholics residing near the present site of St. Mary's were increasingly dissatisfied that they had no church in their vicinity. They had to depend on visits, often infrequent ones, from the pastor at St. Ignatius in Hickory -- a 20-mile trek on horseback.
The Macatees bequeathed an acre of land to build a church on when the archbishop of Baltimore determined it was time.
St. Mary's Catholic Church -- not to be confused with St. Mary's Episcopal Church on Route 924 and St. Mary's Church Road in Bel Air -- draws parishioners from Darlington in the east to the Baltimore County line in the west, and from Airville, Pa. in the north to Jarrettsville in the south, said Hartnett.
As the church community grows, Hartnett says lay ministers will be needed to help keep the parish a close-knit family.
For weekend services he now gets help from two associate pastors, Rev. Ken Farabaugh, a teacher at John Carroll School in Bel Air and Rev. Lloyd George, SJ, a teacher at Loyola High School in Towson.