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St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Laurel bids farewell to the Rev. Mel Ayala

Father Mel Ayala reads an acrylic plaque designed in his honor on his last day of service at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Laurel on June 20 before reassignment.
Father Mel Ayala reads an acrylic plaque designed in his honor on his last day of service at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Laurel on June 20 before reassignment. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

It was a bittersweet moment for many at St. Nicholas Catholic Church on Saturday.

While parishioners were excited to celebrate Mass together for the first time since March, the event also marked a goodbye. After three years of leading the congregation, the Rev. Mel Ayala was reassigned by the Archbishop Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington to St. Andrew Apostle Parish in Silver Spring beginning July 8.

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“It was a complete surprise to me,” Ayala said. “I am grateful for their confidence in me to take on ... a larger parish.”

Under normal circumstances, a good-bye party would have been held in the church’s new social hall, which was blessed at the beginning of the year. With large gatherings prohibited during the coronavirus pandemic, the church committee had to get creative.

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“There were a lot of zoom meetings and emails,” said Sue LaCourse, who, along with several others, set up a table and chairs under a canopy along the church’s driveway so that a drive-by farewell could be held Saturday.

“It is bittersweet to be able to welcome people back but at the same time saying goodbye,” Ayala said. “It will be good to see people.”

It wasn’t long after Mass ended that cars started to arrive. While many were decorated with balloons, garland and signs, all were filled with parishioners offering good wishes.

“We are going to miss him so much,” said Martha Edmonds, who hopped in her car after attending Mass to get in the procession. “He is a wonderful priest. He plays the piano and sings.”

During his three years at St. Nicholas, Ayala has celebrated many milestones, including the church’s 50th anniversary and the opening of the new social hall this past winter.

While intended as a good-bye, the drive-by farewell was also a celebration, as June 19 marked Ayala’s 10th anniversary as a priest and Monday marked the first anniversary for the church’s deacon, Eric Simontis.

“Big anniversaries for the two of us,” Ayala said.

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