Anchor at St. Ann's Church recalls a peril on the sea

August 07, 2004|By JACQUES KELLY

AS A CHILD, I delighted when the old No. 8 streetcar paused for passenger intake at Greenmount Avenue and 22nd Street. There, while a few people alighted and departed, I got to consider the great iron anchor tilted outside the front door at St. Ann's Church. It's still there, 130 years after the church was consecrated, and remains a remarkable landmark to faith and the spirit of this city.

On Wednesday, however, the old anchor took second billing to the new rose window arriving above the front door of this classic Victorian Gothic Revival edifice.

A crew from the Worcester Eisenbrandt construction shop in Southwest Baltimore, the people who made the new cornice for the Hippodrome, eased a magnificent piece of the woodworker's art into place. The stained-glass inset panels, being restored by a different set of artisans, will arrive shortly.

Made of cypress and heavy plywood, the new window frame duplicates what architects E. Francis Baldwin and Bruce Price devised for the church, whose cornerstone was laid April 15, 1873, and was finished the following January.

As a homeowner who is dealing with rotting window frames on my third floor, I can sympathize with what it takes to maintain aging windows in a rainy, humid city, where wood rot is a widespread municipal disease.

It's ironic that water damage led to this current chapter in this Roman Catholic parish's history. A marvelous maritime story is behind St. Ann's creation.

In 1833, Captain William Kennedy's merchant cargo ship was being tossed in the waves of a squall in the Gulf of Mexico. He prayed to St. Ann, mother of the Virgin Mary, that his ship and crew be saved. The winds and waves subsided and he made good - very good I might add - on his pledge.

He died in 1873 before the church was completed and is buried under the marble floors along with his wife, Mary Ann Jenkins; a pastor, Father William E. Bartlett, and relatives William Marshall Boone and Sarah Primer Kennedy, all of whom once lived in this neighborhood and lent their names to nearby city streets.

I would have liked to have been around that January night in 1902 when the sports wedding of the year took place at St. Ann's marble altar. Old Oriole Park, home grounds of the celebrated 1890s teams, sat just up the hill at 25th and Guilford. St. Ann's was the local church.

So when Hall of Famer John McGraw, who went on to manage the New York Giants, walked the aisle to marry Blanche Sindall, all his legendary teammates - Wee Willie Keeler, Joe Kelley, Steve Brodie, Wilbert Robinson - packed the St. Ann's pews.

Today St. Ann's is in the midst of a courageous restoration. As one of its restoration campaign brochures says, the old church is "an anchor of hope in an inner city neighborhood caught in a violent storm of poverty, drugs, homelessness and crime." Amen.

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