Essex parish celebrates renovated worship space

March 28, 2016

By Paul McMullen

Twitter: @ReviewMcMullen

ESSEX – The ingredients included limestone from Jerusalem, a crucifix from Italy, a $50,000 grant from a local foundation and the support of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The renovated worship space at St. Clare Parish in Essex would not have come to fruition, however, without the many and varied offerings of its people – women such as Pat Bricker and men such as Carlos Lugo, who represent a traditionally blue-collar community that is embracing its Hispanic newcomers.

Archbishop William E. Lori will formally rededicate the church May 22, but it has already been the scene of some emotional celebrations.

The newly renovated sanctuary at St. Clare Church in Essex features a near life size crucifix and a Jerusalem stone altar. The parish is celebrating its 60th anniversary. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

Three days before Father Jesse L. Bolger celebrated the first Mass in the new worship space March 19, Bricker wiped dust from pews and scrubbed them, as other volunteers helped workmen unload and put in place all new liturgical appointments, including an altar, ambo and that crucifix.

Bricker and her husband, Rob, sent their three children through the former St. Clare parish school, where she began helping in the cafeteria in the late 1980s. Now she gives 35-40 hours a week to the parish, and is described by Father Bolger as “a full-time volunteer.”

“This is the kind of congregation we are,” Bricker said. “All you have to do is ask.”

She sat and talked in a space that was never intended for worship.

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of its 1956 founding, St. Clare worships under a 12-foot ceiling, in what was designed as a school hall. The school closed in 2010, which is where Lugo comes in.

“The boys’ bathroom was directly above the sanctuary,” Father Bolger said. “We needed to prevent a potential catastrophe. Carlos (Lugo) capped everything in that bathroom, donated all of the plumbing.”

Lugo, 39, was born in Mexico City, immigrated to the United States in 2001, and has resided in Essex for four years.

“God gave me this skill, and I am happy to do something for him,” Lugo said. “Father Jesse has become a good friend.”

While his father passed down his trade, Lugo’s boyhood was un-churched. At the Easter Vigil March 26, he was among 808 new Catholics in the archdiocese welcomed into the church, as he was baptized, received first Communion and was confirmed.

Welcomed into the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil, Carlos Lugo donated his plumbing services during renovations of St. Clare Parish in Essex. A family affair, Carlos and daughters Stephanie, Emily, and Saori received sacraments including baptism, confirmation, and first communion. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

It was a family affair, as his three daughters also participated in the bilingual Easter Vigil at St. Clare. Saori, 8, received first Communion; Emily, 13, and Stephanie, 16, were confirmed.

Of St. Clare’s 900 families, 300 are Spanish speaking. The first Communion class of 48 it is preparing includes 28 Spanish-speaking children.

Father Bolger, meanwhile, did more than just supervise volunteers on the project.

Bare poles were wrapped in dry wall and painted. Crown molding was added as an adornment, and the crew that did the staining included the pastor and his father, Brian.

“It’s a blessing when you can contribute something of significance in retirement,” said Brian Bolger, who traveled from his Frederick County home to help his son’s parish. “The guys here are all craftsmen, and all good guys.”

Their skilled labor helped defray costs on a $300,000 project.

The Marion I. and Henry J. Knott Foundation awarded the parish a $50,000 grant. The parish used $75,000 in savings, and applied a $50,000 rebate from the archdiocese’s “Embracing Our Mission – Shaping Our Future” capital campaign. The other $125,000 was raised through a parish capital campaign.

The project was done by Skorpa Design Studio Architects, the same Bel Air firm that did similar work on the other side of Baltimore County at St. Agnes Parish, St. Mark Parish and the All Saints Sisters of the Poor chapel.

Joe Huesman and his colleagues with Hayes Construction measure the spot where an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe will be displayed at St. Clare in Essex. The parish has a growing Spanish-speaking population. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

“In a long, linear space, we wanted to take our attention to where it should be,” said Brian C. Olsen, the Skorpa architect-president who is a parishioner of St. Margaret in Bel Air. “We wanted to better define the nave and the narthex, in order to make it feel like a more intimate space.”

A “Laudato Si” element – wood screens that had been in the church repurposed as wall slats in a conference room – speaks to the resourcefulness evident in the St. Clare project.

“The parish never got a stand-alone church, and has had some bumps along the way,” Father Bolger said. “There is, however, a resilience here, fed by the Holy Spirit.”

He was not surprised by the response to the project and its needs.

“There is a spirit of great generosity here,” he said. “It is not a self-serving parish.”
For a video report on the renovation, click here. To view more photos or order prints, visit our Smugmug gallery here.

Also see:

Road to health leads to Easter Vigil rite for Frederick County family

Leap of faith: St. Clare dance camp nurtures body and soul

St. Clare Parish works to break down barriers