It's not unusual for loyal parishioners to contribute generous sums of money to church building funds. But a gift of a dozen animals is, well, a horse of a different color.
Make that horses -- not just any horses, mind you, but a dozen Arabian horses worth $30,000.
Peter and Irka Burian, who own an 80-acre farm on Old Joppa Road, donated the horses to their parish, St. Mary's Assumption Eastern Rite Catholic Church in Joppa.
The church's pastor, the Rev. Ivan Dornic, recalls parishioners donating lumber and even a $10,000 organ, but no one had ever offered a live gift.
"This is a first for me," he says.
Father Dornic says the church hopes to sell the horses for at least the $30,000 the Burians paid for them and include the proceeds in its projected $150,000 building fund for a monastery-like building on the grounds near the church.
"I'm doing it because I like the guy," Mr. Burian, a Forest Hill businessman, says of his decision to help finance Father Dornic's venture. "He's touched me, and I try to help him as much as possible financially."
Mr. Burian says that among other efforts, he's been impressed by Father Dornic's work with the homeless, including the three shelters the church operates in Baltimore, and his dedication to preserving religious history and architecture. St. Mary's also operates a chapel, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, and St. John's Nursing Home in East Baltimore.
Construction of the new building at St. Mary's is expected to begin this fall, and it will be designed according to historic Slavic tradition: a simple one-story structure surrounded by a wooden wall.
"We already have the craftsmen from Europe lined up to build it," says Father Dornic, a native of Czechoslovakia who sees the building as a kind of architectural museum as well as a potential home for ecumenical clergy with a strong tradition for the monastic life.
The building will become part of an expansion of the "Historic Village" on Mountain Road in Joppa, where St. Mary's itself serves as the cornerstone.
The church also has dismantled an old house in Bel Air and plans to rebuild it at the village to serve as the rectory. The current rectory is in the Mount Washington area of Baltimore.
The 105-year-old church, originally known as St. Mark's of Fallston, was dismantled in 1986 to make way for a new St. Mark's and reconstructed, board by board, five miles away as St. Mary's Assumption. It opened on the Joppa site in 1991 and is now a 250-member parish.
Father Dornic says the church will probably advertise for the sale of all 12 Arabian horses, though he admits he toyed with the idea of keeping one or two to use in horse-and-buggy rides around the village during historic weddings.
Mr. Burian, a native of Boston, said he was attracted to St. Mary's when he moved to Harford County about five years ago because of its Orthodox leanings.
"I'm Ukrainian Catholic, and this church was the closest thing to that," he says of the Eastern Rite parish, which at the time was temporarily celebrating Mass in a Methodist church in Emmorton.
The Burians bought their first Arabian horses, known for their refinement and endurance, about four years ago as an investment.
The horses participated in several local horse shows, where they made respectable showings. But the Burians in time lost interest in the venture, says Mr. Burian, who owns the manufacturing firm Modular Components. He says the most expensive horse cost about $8,000.