Gift shop-chapel provides consolation at midday

August 29, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Tucked behind tall trees on a quiet winding road on Rogers Avenue in Ellicott City is a spiritual epicenter for local Roman Catholics and other Christians.

In this blue, isolated house known as Our Lady's Center, Catholics gather for midday Mass, seminary students purchase religious books, and worshipers come to pray and light candles.

"We're the only traditional Catholic gift shop and chapel in the area," said Veronica L. Henson, the center's manager. "A lot of people come down on their lunch hour. We have people from all over -- Irvington, Catonsville. Some come down from Clarksville. . . . We're the only noon Mass around in the area."

Part chapel and part gift shop, the 21-year-old Ellicott City center is a magnet for local Catholics seeking traditional Catholic articles and services.

The gift shop stocks dozens of figurines, crucifixes and rosaries. Fifty-cent inspirational cards and more than 1,000 books fill the shop-library, which attracts up to 20 customers a day. Rosary repair is also available.

A small chapel is decorated with pictures of Jesus Christ and Pope John Paul II, lighted candles and a shrine to Our Lady of Fatima -- the apparition of the Virgin Mary to children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917. A confessional is in the corner of the room.

On the rear wall hangs a framed black-and-white photograph of Frank R. Lancelotta, the center's founder, and his parents.

Mr. Lancelotta traveled to Italy in 1949 and found an abandoned Chapel of Annunciation in Fornelli, which he and his family restored and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Ellicott City center evolved from that Italian chapel.

"The founder had a great devotion to the Mother of God and dedicated the center to her," said Mrs. Henson, who began as a volunteer at the center in the 1970s and is now the center's only salaried worker.

In 1976, a replica of the traveling "International Pilgrim Virgin Statue" of Our Lady of Fatima was enshrined at Our Lady's Center.

Originally, Our Lady's Center was near the Roy Rogers restaurant on Route 40, said Mrs. Henson. At that time, members made rosaries on the site. The center was moved to its current site in 1985, and when members became too busy, they made the rosaries at home.

On weekdays and the first Saturday of the month, between 10 and 20 worshipers attend Mass celebrated by either of two priests -- one retired, the other a Spaniard living in Pasadena.

Attendance swells during holy days and on holidays. There are no Sunday Masses.

Open between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily, the center requires $800 a month in operating expenses, said Mrs. Henson.

"We're really not a business. We're a nonprofit, tax-deductible organization. The bookstore supplements the donations, and the donations supplement the bookstore," she said.

"We really don't advertise because we're so small. It's a place of prayer and consolation."

Sadly, across the parking lot a memorial has been built for Mrs. Henson's 4-year-old grandson who died when an earlier 155-pound statue of the Virgin Mary fell on his head last year as he tried to crown the statue.

Cooper Dean Gregory Williams lost his footing and fell down an embankment into the stream, where he loved to play. Cheery pictures of the boy hang in the center.

"People have to know he was a blessing and not a tragedy," Mrs. Henson said.

He died on the day of the Feast of St. Gregory and was born on the day the Little Boy of Fatima died, which gives inspiration to Mrs. Henson.

"It's like God said, 'It's time for him now,' " she said. "Only God can plan these things out."

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