Woman wills $1 million to her Waverly church

September 19, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

The friends of Doris Moran Miles recall her as a beautifully dressed, poised and self-contained woman who did painting and needlepoint.

It came as a surprise to most when after her death at 81 this past March she had willed $1 million for the preservation of her Waverly parish church, St. John's Huntingdon.

"She lived modestly. She was terribly sweet, gracious and unassuming. She was a great lady, with a capital G and a capital L," said the Rev. Jesse L.A. Parker, rector of the Episcopal church, which is to receive the legacy as an endowment "for renovations and improvements" to its historic property.

The church group, a gracious and little changed oasis in old Waverly, consists of a picturesque 1858 Gothic Revival church with a high steeple, an 1868 rectory and 1864 parish hall. There are also a well weathered cemetery and gardens. It is situated in the 3000 block of Greenmount Ave. at Old York Road. The name Huntingdon is an old usage for what is now Waverly.

There are eleven bronze bells in the steeple that has long remained a familiar sight to spectators at Memorial Stadium. That tower is broadly outlined at sunset and can be viewed from the ramps along the arena's 33rd Street side.

Poet Lizette Woodworth Reese, who is buried in the church's adjoining cemetery, wove much of the church into her writing.

But like other aging churches in city neighborhoods, St. John's has faced tremendous upkeep bills. The bell tower ate up six figures worth of repair 11 years ago. All the massive trussed wood beams supporting the slate roof were found to be cracked and dangerous. This problem was caused when electricians drilled through wood joints to hang lights above the church nave in 1951. There went another $67,000.

"Against her lawyer's counsel she telephoned me to let me know she had made this provision in her will. She was so excited -- she was never involved in her own finances. She didn't know what she had. And she was thrilled to find out what she did have. She was like a child at Christmas," Father Parker said.

Mrs. Miles, whose father, Clarence H. Moran, was a real estate agent for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, began her religious affiliation as a Christian Scientist. She later converted to the Episcopal faith and joined St. John's in Waverly in 1976.

A 1931 graduate of Friends School, she grew up in Charles Street's old Cambridge Arms Apartments and spent her last days at Roland Park Place, the retirement community on 40th Street. A. Carlisle Miles, her husband, died in 1984. She had no children.

"She loved this church and she had seen the neighborhood decline and the congregation dwindle. She loved this building because it spoke of holiness. She had a great interest in church music and classical music in general," Father Parker said of his benefactor.

According to her wishes, the million-dollar bequest (her total estate was listed in court papers at $3,098,481) is to be invested and the income used for major capital improvements, not day-to-day maintenance. During her life she made substantial donations that helped save the steeple and its soaring stone walls.

It doesn't take long for visitors to the church and its grounds to remark about the physical beauty of the spot. The hillside setting overlooks downtown Baltimore. The gravestones list many of Waverly's earliest settlers. The church is filled with an impressive collection of English stained-glass windows. Ancient trees spread their limbs across gardens and walks.

"They are well prayed-in buildings. They are also well envisioned buildings. They speak spiritually," Father Parker said.

He said he wishes that other people had as much faith in the city and its older neighborhoods as did Doris Miles. She lived most of her life within the sound of the steeple's bells.

"I worry about Waverly. I look up Greenmount Avenue and see Second Story Books closed. Some of the Oriental restaurants have gone too. There is a general decline and lack of care for people's surroundings. There is a real absence of community self-esteem these days," Father Parker said.

He stands outside the church and gestures south to St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church at 22nd Street and Greenmount Avenue, one of the parishes the Baltimore archdiocese has listed for possible closing.

"The exterior fabric of St. Ann's is in dreadful shape. People such as Doris have determined we shall not go that route. In our own small way we are trying to help. On Michaelmas Day, Sept. 29, we will be making a contribution toward its preservation," he said.

Father Parker said his church tries to be a good neighbor. It provides parking for the People's Community Health Center across Greenmount Avenue. It financially assists the Waverly Family Center; a homeless shelter at St. Michael and All Angels Church; a food program at the Franciscan Center on Maryland Avenue; and an Anglican mission, the Sisters of St. Margaret, in Haiti.

The rector remains optimistic and steadfast about the fate of his parish, which is now celebrating its 150th year.

And he quotes the theme of the film "Field of Dreams." "If you build it [or improve it], they will come."

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