Shrine of St. Anthony has majestic history

Howard County monastery is a lunch stop on tour May 19

May 11, 2012|Jacques Kelly

This coming week offers a chance to visit two worthy Maryland landmarks. The normally off-limits Gibson Island Club will be open, and you can enjoy a lunch overlooking the Magothy. And I paid an advance visit to the Shrine of St. Anthony at Folly Quarter, a remarkable Roman Catholic monastery complex in western Howard County.

Being a fan of pre-World War II buildings and architecture, I opted for a preview of the 1931 monastery, which is open daily for Masses, confessions and other functions. A mile away, as I traveled along Homewood Road off Clarksville Pike, I spotted its distinctive Tuscan-style terra cotta roof atop the Folly Quarter hill. What I thought were bell towers were, on closer inspection, handsome, finely designed chimneys.

Food and history seem to go hand in hand. What piqued my interest when I read that the shrine was to be open May 19 as part of the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage was the $8 lunch to be served in the room known as the Papal Refectory.

I thought to myself: How grandly named is this place? Friars take vows of poverty. Their dining room, or refectory, can't be the kind of place where the pope has dinner.

I was greeted by Franciscan Brother Gerald Seipp, who grew up on Llewellyn Street in East Baltimore. I soon learned that some of the treasures I was seeing once rested in seminaries and monasteries his order had in other states. As these institutions closed, their artwork and stained glass came to this Howard County hilltop retreat.

Indeed, oil paintings of robed popes Julius II, Sixtus V and Clement XIV, all Franciscans, line the refectory's walls. I learned there is a spot left should another Franciscan be elected pope. All the main rooms have enormous hearths lined with herringbone-pattern bricks.

The friars who live here eat at a single table, far different from the 1950s when the room was filled to capacity. The friars also farmed the rolling Howard County land. Today, they keep a kitchen garden full of lettuce and strawberries.

How appropriate is it for a monastery under the patronage of St. Francis of Assisi, who loved his animals, that a colorful rooster and hens have the run of the place, perhaps protected by the resident happy and sleepy dog?

I was also unprepared for the library that houses a collection of printed works related to the Franciscans. The rare books are kept on a finely designed balcony. The room also has a baronial fireplace.

Franciscan Friar Steven Frenier gave me a history of the shrine. I learned that the grounds here were once owned by Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll of Carrollton and his granddaughter, Emily Caton MacTavish, who lived in its substantial stone manor house, Folly Quarter. Van Lear Black, a major owner of The Baltimore Sun, bought and restored Folly Quarter in 1910. He threw some large parties here, described on a Franciscan website as being on a Jay Gatsby scale. His guest list at these affairs numbered 700; President Warren G. Harding was one of them.

Another owner was Morris Schapiro, whose son, racing figure John, established the Washington, D.C., International Stakes thoroughbred race.

The Franciscans paid Morris Schapiro $68,000 in 1928 for the Folly Quarter manor house and its 236 acres. They then commissioned Baltimore architects Edward Palmer and William Lamdin to design a seminary.

In today's money, they spent nearly $7 million on what is now called the Shrine of St. Anthony. A 1952 history of the place says the friars burned the mortgage in the big library fireplace only seven years after it opened.

Architects Palmer and Lamdin had an enviable record. They designed much of old Dundalk and what seems like every other house in Baltimore's Guilford and Homeland neighborhoods. They also turned out many Gibson Island residences.

The designers worked closely with the friars to produce an elegant monastery constructed of attractive Cockeysville-quarried stone. The building recalls the deep Old World origins of the Franciscans while paying reverence to the rolling Maryland countryside.

It is obvious the friars were building with a sense of conviction. Their public chapel, with its long rows of choir stalls, attracts visitors from the Washington suburbs and Howard County. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Some visitors just drop in for prayer and reflection, and maybe light a candle.

"We go through 30 cases of candles a month," Seipp told me as he spotted an arriving van loaded with a considerable amount of paraffin.

The Shrine of St. Anthony, at 12290 Folly Quarter Road, is open May 19 along with other Ellicott City area sites. Gibson Island and other Anne Arundel sites are open May 20, but admission to lunch at Gibson Island Club must be reserved in advance. For both events, consult the Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage website at mhgp.org.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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