Friars extend Christmas spirit

Religious order in Ellicott City observing season in church time

January 05, 2007|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

The Companions of St. Anthony in Ellicott City hope that four decorated trees, three Nativity scenes, a warm fire and a chance to relax will help kindle the Christmas spirit a little longer.

The group of Franciscan friars will offer all of those things at an open house at the Shrine of St. Anthony on Folly Quarter Road from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, which will be followed by a prayer for world peace. Another open house specifically for senior citizens is planned for noon to 2 p.m. Wednesday.

"Often the spirit of the season gets packed away" after Dec. 25, said the Rev. Noel Danielewicz, director of the shrine. "This extends the season that really, in church time, is still on."

The friars celebrate the Christmas season through the time of Jesus' baptism, which occurs several weeks after Christmas, he said.

Over the three years that the shrine has been open to the public, the friars have been expanding their Christmas offerings.

This year, they're adding to a tradition of decorating trees to reflect historical and spiritual information about key figures - including St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare of Assisi - with a new tree for St. Anthony.

The new tree is decorated with the rope belt of the friars, baskets of bread representing St. Anthony's outreach to the poor, and fish to recall a story of his preaching to the creatures of the sea.

The shrine has added a new Nativity scene made of clay from South America and moved its large-scale scene to the back of its chapel, where it is more visible.

During the open house, the friars will also display their newly decorated dining room, which includes portraits of the Franciscans who became popes.

Last month marked the first time the shrine had a Christmas Eve Mass.

It drew several hundred participants.

Larger plan

The Christmas-season efforts are part of a larger plan to attract more visitors of all faiths to the 310-acre property in a rural area of western Howard County.

For 70 years, the Italian Renaissance-style building was used as a residence for students and a novitiate, where new Franciscan friars used the secluded setting to prepare for their roles in the church.

After a reorganization within the church, the Ellicott City site was named a shrine in 2004 and opened to anyone who wished to pray, reflect or just enjoy the scenery.

The site has housed a relic of St. Anthony of Padua - a piece of his skin - since 2000, and many people go there to pray to the saint known for teaching, healing and helping supplicants find lost articles.

The friars also started adding events to entice more people to the shrine.

In the fall, the friars added evening prayers at 5 o'clock, and they are planning numerous events for the season of Lent in the spring.

`New growth'

A new partnership in conjunction with a local travel agency aims to bring groups of people to the shrine for the day, including those who might be visiting other religious sites in Baltimore.

"We're hoping to see new growth," Danielewicz said. "As the availability of the shrine gets to be known in the community, people will not just ride on by, they'll turn off and come in."

He said local churches are also taking advantage of the location for meetings, retreats and other activities.

"We're starting to see that we're making inroads among other Christian churches, not just Catholic ones," he said. "Word is getting out there, and we're really pleased about that."

The Shrine of St. Anthony is at 12290 Folly Quarter Road. Information: www.companions ofstanthony.org or 410-531-2800.

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

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