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The Passionists of the Archdiocese of Baltimore donated a statue of St. Paul of the Cross to the new prayer garden named for him at St. Joseph’s Monastery in Irvington Sunday. Longtime church parishioners bought bricks in a memorial path to commemorate their family members. (Colin Campbell/The Baltimore Sun)

As the Rev. Mike Murphy prepared his homily for Sunday's Mass, he had a song stuck in his head: "Seasons of Love," the earworm of an anthem from the musical "Rent."

The pastor told a packed St. Joseph's Monastery that the song, which asks how to measure a year in a person's life — "525,600 minutes?" — struck him as fitting for the dedication Sunday afternoon of a memorial garden to the longtime Passionist priests, brothers and parishioners who spent their lives building up the Catholic parish in Irvington.

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"How many of them took care of us in funerals and baptisms?" Murphy asked. "They taught us to measure life by loving."

The St. Paul of the Cross Prayer Garden on the east side of the church consists of a path with more than 300 engraved bricks and a statue of St. Paul and a crucifix. After the 11 a.m. Mass, the congregation processed out into the long garden to marvel at the new addition to the monastery grounds.

The Rev. Robert Joerger, the Passionist provincial superior for the Eastern United States, Canada and parts of the Caribbean, said a blessing prayer over the garden.

"Those present here today represent generations of faithful parishioners who honor us with their presence," Joerger said. "We know that, in spirit, those who now share the fullness of your kingdom are surrounding us with joy and love."

The Passionist priests and brothers operated the monastery at 3801 Old Frederick Road until giving the building to the Archdiocese of Baltimore in the 1980s amid dwindling finances and numbers.

Upon hearing that the garden would be dedicated to the Passionists, the religious order donated the statue of its 18th century founder, St. Paul of the Cross. It is a replica of the enormous marble one at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Parishioners and visitors lined the sides of the path during the dedication, and the choir sang the hymn "For the Beauty of the Earth," accompanied by a violinist and a trumpeter.

Attendees crouched down with phones and cameras to take pictures of bricks bearing the names of their relatives, pastors and friends.

Joan Hargadon, 66, of Catonsville Manor, peered down fondly at the name of her husband's late grandmother, Mary Tarunt, a 35-year St. Joseph's parishioner whom she called "Granny" and considered to be her spiritual mother in the church.

"They're kind of like the people we stand on," she said. "I stand on the shoulders of Mary Tarunt. ... The church is living. It's the people we worship with."

William Johnson, a 1973 graduate of Mount St. Joseph High School, said the garden rekindled memories of living a few blocks away as a kid.

"I know a lot of people in these bricks," he said.

Johnson, 60, now lives in Catonsville. But he returns to St. Joseph's for Mass about once a month.

Donna Walter-Beitler, 57, of Canton, grew up about a mile away, attended St. Joseph's with her family and received the sacraments at the monastery.

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Walter-Beitler's family bought a brick to commemorate her parents, longtime parishioners Joan and Martin Walter.

"It's a nice way to remember people," she said. "They would've loved it."

Sisters Mary Cook and Eileen Walsh said their family dedicated several bricks to their parents and family members. William and Rita Walsh's brick is surrounded by bricks for their seven children and 13 grandchildren. William Walsh died in 1958; Rita Walsh died in 1974.

"It's very special," Cook said. "It is a legacy."

Mary Cook and Eileen Walsh have since moved away from Irvington — Cook to Towson and Walsh to Parkville. But they come back for special services, such as Christmas Mass.

"You look around — this is where your childhood memories are from," Walsh said.

Murphy said St. Joseph's Monastery has become a "commuter church." But he said the garden provided an opportunity for "subtle evangelism."

During the service, on National Back to Church Sunday, he urged those who visited from farther away for the ceremony to consider rejoining the church for Mass on Sundays.

Murphy said some have cited crime in Irvington as their reason for discontinuing their parish membership.

The Passionists preach the ideal of finding redemption in suffering, and seeing the face of Christ in those who suffer. They emphasize missionary work with an emphasis on helping those in need.

"If we are truly Passionists," Murphy said, "this is where we belong."

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