Hundreds of people can fit inside St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church in Carroll County, but the church's newest addition aims to appeal to an even wider audience.
At a dedication Sunday of the Manchester church's new outdoor grotto, Pastor the Rev. Michael Roach noted that thousands of cars pass the church along Route 30 every day, giving the structure, placed on a hill facing the highway, an opportunity for "low-key … evangelism."
That same highway brought Baltimore Archbishop William Lori to Carroll County for Sunday's dedication of the grotto, a small shrine consisting of an arch with statues depicting the crucifixion of Christ. He called it a place for "prayer, devotion … peace and rest."
"Outdoor shrines have always had a place in our devotional lives," said Lori. "We all need places of devotion."
Church officials said the Calvary Grotto at St. Bartholomew was more than a dozen years in the making, shepherded by the parish's Knights of Columbus Council and fueled by numerous parish fundraisers toward a $25,000 goal.
Gerard Zeller, an architect who serves as manager of grounds and landscaping at Morgan State University, designed the project in collaboration the Knights and others in the parish.
In addition to the arch and statues, the grotto includes a courtyard with stone benches for prayer and meditation, intended to be an inviting place for parishioners and the general public.
Zeller, a parishioner and resident of the nearby community of Greenmount, said work on the project took years. He said he initially expected the grotto to be built in a less conspicuous place on the church grounds, but Roach threw a curve when he told the committee where he wanted it to go — in front of the church along its main driveway.
"The twist of this is that we really didn't know where it was going to go — and then Father Roach allowed us to be out front," he said.
It turned out to be a happy pairing, Zeller said. The archway design essentially matches an entrance to the church, allowing it to be "an extension" of the building and a focal point for the grounds.
Roach, pastor of the church for 22 years, said in his remarks at the grotto dedication that St. Bartholomew's parish dates back to the 1800s. In 2006 the congregation dedicated its current church along Route 30, but still maintains the original 1860s church nearby.
He said in its earliest days, the congregation was sustained by missionaries from Baltimore who ventured "into the wilderness" to conduct services, traveling up the highway that starts in the city, comes through Baltimore County as Reisterstown Road and into Carroll as Hanover Pike before entering Pennsylvania.
Now, "thousands of cars come up and down the pike every day," said Roach. He said with the new grotto in place, he hopes "people may look up here and see … a symbol of salvation."