A new name and new calling

Sanctuary: The Franciscan Friars of the formerly private Shrine of St. Anthony in Ellicott City have opened their doors to change - and to the public.


August 20, 2004|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The changes keep coming for the Franciscan Friars on Folly Quarter Road.

First, they received permission last month to change the name of their property in Ellicott City from the Sanctuary of St. Anthony to the Shrine of St. Anthony.

Then the friars took the final step by officially turning the long-private religious sanctuary into a public building available on a regular basis seven days a week.

Cardinal William H. Keeler - archbishop of Baltimore - officially designated it as an archdiocesan shrine and set up the name change. That occurred July 1, and the friars opened the doors.

The friars have been aggressively getting ready for the public - although the number of visitors to the chapel has been gradually increasing in recent years. To make the building more accessible to the public, construction is taking place on several parts of the property.

Howard County gave the friars permission to add about 60 parking spaces at the site. They have also installed bathrooms and handicapped lifts and are working on entrances for the disabled, among other improvements.

"We're very excited and eager to share the beauty of this building and [its] grounds with the general public," said the Rev. James McCurry, guardian of the religious community of Conventual Franciscan Friars who staff the shrine. "It's been a private religious house that is now becoming a public religious shrine."

The friars have made many changes to the breathtaking chapel, the shrine's centerpiece.

The chapel contains Renaissance choir stalls facing each other on both sides of room, where the friars would recite the Daily Office back and forth to each other. But now they've added pews on the floor level so the chapel can hold about 150 people. All of this sits quietly over a dark flagstone floor.

A gold bust of St. Anthony sits near the corner at the back of the chapel, where he is holding the Book of the Gospels from which the flame of love emerges. This reliquary, containing a relic of St. Anthony, was given to the St. Anthony of Padua Province of the Friars in 1998.

Housed in the chapel, it has become a pilgrimage destination. The saint is known for helping to find lost things.

The shrine will be open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. McCurry said the hours are going to be expanded when construction is completed. However, while the first floor is open to the public, the second floor will remain cloistered.

"What this does is, it opens up the possibility of having public Masses and public days of retreat and public days of study for the various groups or individuals from inside and outside the diocese," McCurry said.

The site had been a private area since the friars bought the grounds from then-Sun publisher Van-Lear Black in 1928. Shortly thereafter, they began building the 20,194-square-foot structure that has a large courtyard framed by Renaissance arches and a towering seal of the Franciscan order.

The project was completed in 1930, and the Sanctuary of St. Anthony was used as a student residence, a house of philosophy and as a novitiate, a yearlong program of spiritual formation and theological education for Franciscan seminarians. In the mid-1990s, the friars moved the novitiate to a different location and started planning to turn the building into a spiritual life center.

In 1998, the Franciscan Friars of Padua, Italy, donated the relic of St. Anthony and asked that the spiritual life center become a Shrine of St. Anthony.

"Hopefully, those who come here will be spiritually enriched by the quietness of the surroundings," said Brother Gerry Seipp.

Said the Rev. Jude Winkler: "I think it will offer to people in need a place to seek consolation."

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