Jessup Church Is Rechristened

September 22, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

The pews are narrow and uncushioned, remnants of a hardier time. Thestatues, painted in pastels, exude a sweet simplicity. The very planks in the floor seem aged.

St. Lawrence Catholic Church has earnedits air of having weathered the decades. The small red-brick church celebrates 125 years today, more than a century on the same plot of land near Jessup.

Today's plans include a re-enactment of the procession and dedication of the church in 1866, just after the close of the Civil War.

Church members in the top hats and calico dresses of the period willwalk from the Jessup train station to the parish. A 3 p.m. Mass celebrated by Bishop William Newman will be followed by a buffet dinner at Blob's Park.

The original event was full of pomp and formality, described in the Catholic Mirror of 1866 as "imposing" and "impressive." The ceremony silenced a group of Protestants who happened by, thepaper reported.

But the parish's current priest, the Rev. WilliamMoorman, is taking a friendlier approach to this week's anniversary.He hopes today's events will help create a sense of community in a disparate congregation.

"I grew up in a small town outside Cincinnati, where there was a sense of community that doesn't exist here," hesaid.

St. Lawrence attracts several distinct groups, including military people, young suburbanites, longtime Jessup residents and visitors from Columbia, the priest says.

"It's very transient, and I thought maybe we could create a sense of community in the people with common themes, like the anniversary."

Jane Schmidt, who helped coordinate the day's events, says the plan is working.

"People are really energized and enthusiastic," she said. "The whole parish is kindof excited."

Many of the 350 church members joined in planning the event, finding a horse and buggy for the clergy, obtaining parade permits and making costumes.

Two parishioners agreed to sew more than 70 Civil War-era costumes for parishioners who couldn't make theirown, Schmidt says.

"One weekend this summer, we set up a sweatshop. We had eight or 10 seamstresses from the church come up with sewing machines and ironing boards. People who couldn't sew cut out patterns. It was crazy!" he said.

Schmidt's brother, a Civil War buff, suggested a source for period patterns for men's vests and women's calico and satin dresses. Church members pitched in to buy top hats and ribbon ties for men and shawls for women.

Along with about 100 church members, the priest will don period dress for this afternoon's procession: a long black cassock with 30 buttons down the front and a pillbox-shaped hat with a long tassel.

His costume will be in keeping with the reverent nature of the proceedings. Reported the 1866 newspaper: "The Most Rev. Priests commended his discourse by stating that the ceremony of dedicating a church is one full of instruction and significance.

"It is a venerable ceremony; there is no record of its beginning; it goes back to the first ages; it is as old as the Church itself."

This congregation is as old as the German immigrants who started the mission church in this rural community. Land for the church was donated by Susanne Merritt, who is buried in the cemetery behind the church.

The cemetery also is home to a number of unmarked slave graves, says the priest. "The old gravedigger used to say hecouldn't stick a shovel in the ground under the trees without hitting bones."

Moorman got the idea for the procession after watching aCivil War program on television last year.

Although he's been pastor of the church for just a year, the priest says his feeling for its history is genuine. He looks around the small sanctuary, which hardly looks big enough to hold the parishioners.

"It's like preachingin your living room," Moorman said. "It's fun."

Not so pleasant are the pews, hard wood benches that the priest says will be the church's next project.

"They're rotten to sit on," he acknowledges. "Absolutely horrible. I don't know how the women of the day managed withtheir big hoops. I guess we'll find out today."

ST. LAWRENCE CATHOLIC CHURCH

125 years and counting

When: Today

Where: Route 175, Jessup

What: Re-enactment of the church's 1866 dedication at 2 p.m.; Mass at 3 p.m., followed by buffet dinner at Blob's Park

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