Bel Air's St. Margaret renovating church, opens 1905 'original' church for Mass

The chapel of the "original church" of Bel Air's St. Margaret Parish, which dates to 1905, has been used for multiple functions over the years, but it will become a holy place again this summer as the current 45-year-old church facility undergoes a $1.4 million renovation.

The original church, which serves as the parish's Adult Education Center and is home to the Archbishop William D. Borders Library, will be open for morning Mass Monday through Saturday and daily for private prayers while the current church building is being renovated.

The current church building, which was built in 1969, closed Monday and will remain closed through mid-September, according to the parish bulletin.

Kathy Reilly, public relations associate for the parish, noted the metal tabernacle that contains Communion wafers, also known as the host or the Eucharist, has been moved from the current sanctuary to the original sanctuary.

A lit candle must also be next to the tabernacle at all times – a red battery-operated candle sat next to the tabernacle Wednesday.

"It makes the space a church," Reilly said of the host. "It makes it a place where the Lord is dwelling, and people can come and worship and pray during the day. Once you remove that, this room can be used for anything."

Construction of the original church along North Hickory Avenue began in the spring of 1905 on three acres the parish's first pastor, Father J. Alphonse Frederick, purchased with money inherited from his parents and donated to the parish, according to a history of the parish.

The congregation started with about 200 people and it has grown to about 13,000. It is one of the five largest parishes in the Baltimore archdiocese, Mary Ellen Bates, the parish's business manager, said Wednesday.

"Two hundred people and one pastor, and now we're 13,000," she said. "Just to think about that is just very spiritually satisfying."

The renovations to the modern church, which is along Lee Way, include a new roof, replacement of the heating and cooling systems, upgrades to the electrical and lighting system, replacement of the glass doors and doorways, painting, installation of a crucifix and moving the Risen Christ figure, which is at the front of the sanctuary, to the rear near the church organ, according to a list of improvements provided by Bates.

Funding for the $1.4 million project is covered by $420,000 from the parish's capital reserve fund, which is supported by offerings from congregants, another $430,000 in capital funds from the archdiocese and $550,000 of a "bank line of credit," according to a copy of the parish bulletin provided by Bates.

"That's just people giving, Sunday after Sunday, over the years," Bates said of the $420,000 in capital reserve money. "Generosity started with these people 110 years ago, and it just continues today."

The original church will be open for 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. Mass Monday through Friday, and it will be open for 8:30 a.m. Mass Saturday.

People can also pray there privately each day from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to the bulletin.

The 4 and 5:30 p.m. Saturday Masses, along with the 7:30, 9, 10:30 a.m. and noon Sunday Masses, will be held in the St. Margaret Parish Hall.

Reconciliation services scheduled for Saturdays at 3 p.m. and after the 5:30 p.m. Mass will also take place in the parish hall.

The 9:30 and 11 a.m. Sunday Mass will be held in the St. Mary Magdalen Mission, all according to the bulletin.

Jean Tulley, of Bel Air, who has been a parishioner since 1975, walked through the campus with her granddaughter Wednesday. She said she had been in the original church for occasions such as exercise classes and her granddaughter's pre-K graduation, but she has never been in it for a service.

She recalled her daughter posed for wedding pictures in front of the structure.

"I just think there's a lot of history to it," Tulley said. "It's beautiful inside."

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