40 years of flowers: Woman's goal is making church 'look good'

September 27, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Every weekend for nearly 40 years, Marguerite A. Clas has decorated the altars of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Sykesville with flowers from her farm.

"It's simple thing that I can do," she said. "My biggest motivation is that I like to see the Lord's house look good."

At age 81, she said, she has "had a thing for flowers" all her life.

"Marguerite is French for daisy," said Mrs. Clas. "Ever since I was little, I liked flowers. I always used to take them to my teachers."

She is still giving away flowers. The mother of seven, who is awaiting the birth of her 14th great-grandchild, said she can grow anything.

"The trick to raising them is to love them," she said. "They are like children. You learn all their quirks after a while."

Zinnias and marigolds cover the ground around a fish pond at the farm, dug by her grandchildren. The flowers multiplied from one of each plant -- two small Mother's Day presents.

"I just plopped them down and up they came," she said.

As soon as the flowers come up, she pictures how they will fit into altar arrangements.

Her weekly tradition started shortly after Mrs. Clas and her husband, Allen, moved from Howard County to a dairy farm on White Rock Road in Carroll.

"The first Sunday, I looked at the altar flowers and thought I could do better," she said. "I have been doing it ever since. At first, I would just put them in vases. Now, I grow them, shape them into arrangements and add greens."

From Easter until the last blooms in late autumn, her flowers decorate the church. On her occasional trips away from the farm, she makes sure her flowers get to the altar. Few make it into her home.

"I go without and save them for the church," she said.

In earlier years, that meant 10 arrangements for the two buildings the St. Joseph Community uses. Now, she limits herself to five for the older church on Mellor Avenue.

"Most people don't even know how the flowers get there," she said. "They would miss them if they weren't there."

The Rev. Theodore K. Cassidy, her pastor, calls Mrs. Clas "irreplaceable and the salt of the earth."

Listening to Mrs. Clas describe how she cares for her animals and flowers "explains what a shepherd is to a people," he said.

Mrs. Clas prefers riotous growth to prim rows and perfectly trimmed beds. Her flowers flourish randomly on the 160-acre spread. Admire a particular bloom and she'll snap it off for you.

"I don't have any formal garden," she said. "I just stick them in any corner of ground I can find."

The combination of love and benign neglect works. Patches of colorful buds are everywhere.

They crop up between hedges along the long driveway to the farmhouse, cling to pasture fences and surround the fish pond. It may seem haphazard, but Mrs. Clas knows exactly where to put her hands on the flowers she wants.

"I have zinnias and coxcombs over there and marigolds there," Mrs. Clas said. "I put in a bushel and a half of glads last spring. They multiply the best."

She plans to dig up the gladiolus bulbs soon and replant them next spring -- with help from some of the 17 grandchildren.

"People don't know there is a year's work in growing flowers," she said.

Every Friday, she fills buckets with bunches of varied hue and type. Saturday morning, a grandson helps her carry the flowers to the old church.

About 90 minutes later -- long before parishioners arrive for evening Mass -- fresh, bright bouquets fill the altars.

"Whatever I have on hand goes into the arrangements," she said. "Sometimes I have oodles of flowers; sometimes I am hard put. I just take what I have and hope I have enough stuff to do them right."

She has no formal training in floral design.

"I have an idea and work my flowers into it. . . . I never had a lesson in my life, but I would have to say I have really improved over the years," she said.

The flowers will continue to bloom around the farm, she said, but the tradition at the church is about to end.

Arthritis is limiting Mrs. Clas' ability to plant and pick. She walks with a cane, and bending is difficult.

She has promised the pastor that she will still help with the decorating if someone else takes on the major responsibility.

"The Lord should have given this arthritis to someone else, because I like to work," she said.

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