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‘An enduring symbol of God’ returns to the Baltimore skyline

Father Joshua Laws, pastor of St. Mary, Star of the Sea in South Baltimore, blesses the parish’s steeple cross before its reinstallation Oct. 20. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

After months of repairs and thousands of dollars in donations from parishioners, Baltimore’s St. Mary, Star of the Sea will shine again.

As dozens gathered Oct. 20 on the street below, workers with Lewis Contractors rode a crane some 130 feet into the air to delicately reattach the illuminated cross atop the historic South Baltimore church’s steeple.

A severe storm toppled the cross on Easter Monday, April 13, bringing an outpouring of support from not just the church’s parishioners but also the neighborhood at large.

“It’s a landmark here in South Baltimore and more than that, I would say to it’s a sign of hope and kind of an enduring symbol of God being present here with the people and joining them in the journeys of their lives,” said Father Joshua Laws, pastor of St. Mary’s, Star of the Sea and other two other churches that make up the Catholic Community of South Baltimore.

Surveying the damage, workers found a time capsule inside the base of the steeple from 1965 – the last time strong winds had toppled the cross. Inside the capsule were scores of offertory envelopes bearing the names of families who donated to repair the cross more than a half-century ago.

Members of the Catholic Community of South Baltimore gather outside St. Mary, Star of the Sea Church Oct. 20 for the reinstallation of the parish’s steeple cross that had been damaged by storms last spring. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

This week Father Laws plans to post a list of the names from the 1965 envelopes on the parish’s website so parishioners can see whether their relatives took part.

“Hopefully it’ll be a good chance for families to see some of their own history,” he said.

Father Laws said the parish also plans to add a new time capsule to the steeple with photos and videos of the latest generation to care for the cross.

The new capsule will be a wooden box made from the beams of the steeple that gave out during the 2020 storm, Father Laws said.

Although the church’s insurance policy covered the lion’s share of the repairs to the steeple and cross, the Catholic Community of South Baltimore also made other improvements during the process. The parish raised more than $30,000 from parishioners and community members for those additional improvements, Father Laws said.

Workers repainted the wood that frames the steeple and its windows. They refurbished the church’s limestone accents and made other structural improvements.

The illuminated blue star housed inside the cross also got an upgrade before returning to its perch high above Baltimore Inner Harbor. The blue star will now be lit by an energy-efficient LED bulb – a far cry from the original gaslight that was used in the late 19th Century.

For decades, local sailors dubbed St. Mary, Star of the Sea  the unofficial lighthouse of Federal Hill because the cross’ bright blue star can be seen as boats enter the Inner Harbor.

Dorothy Wright, a parishioner of the Catholic Community of South Baltimore, was among the dozens of people who lined Riverside Avenue to watch the workers gingerly reattach the cross.

Joe Ribero, general superintendent with Lewis Contractors in Owings Mills, and Father Joshua Laws, pastor of St. Mary, Star of the Sea in South Baltimore, watch crews install the parish’s restored steeple cross Oct. 20. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

Wright, who lives with her husband at the nearby Harborview Condominiums, filmed the April 13 storm with her iPad. That video stored on a data stick will be among the items included in the time capsule.

“That storm was really fierce. And now the video will go in the capsule so the people of it in the future will be able to see it,” she said.

Several of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia who live in the convent next to the church also joined the parishioners on the street. Some of them briefly touched the cross before it was hoisted into the air.

“It’s really a great feeling to see this historic cross and star that has been a beacon to so many people for so long back where it belongs,” Sister Jeanne Barnard said. “It’s very thrilling.”

Email Tim Swift at tswift@CatholicReview.org

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