Jerry Hicks, 64, lives in Glen Burnie, but he prays several times a week at Our Lady's Center, off Rogers Avenue in Ellicott City. "I'm a roaming Catholic," he jokes, noting that he also attends churches in Washington and on the Eastern Shore.
For almost six years, roaming to Ellicott City meant that Hicks had to pray in a double-wide rented trailer, because the original building had been destroyed by fire Dec. 22, 2001.
After years of effort, mostly by retired engineer Philip Adinolfi, 84, the structure has been rebuilt and is roughly double its original size. On Sunday, Bishop W. Francis Malooly will bless the building during 11 a.m. Mass, and a catered reception will follow.
Hicks, sitting in a pew that was donated by the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore after that historic building was renovated, said he discovered Our Lady's Center about 15 years ago and has been attending regularly.
"I really love it," he said.
The center, down a long, leafy driveway and invisible from Rogers Avenue, is what is known as an apostolate of the laity, meaning it is part of the archdiocese but does not have a congregation of its own. It is also known as a private oratory, said Jack Kissane, a board member.
"It's a wonderful place for people to learn and live out their faith," he said.
The center has a chapel for prayer, weekday Masses and other services, and it has a well-stocked book and gift store. But services such as weddings and funerals are not performed there, and most visitors belong to another parish, as well.
Such chapels are fairly common in Europe but unusual in the United States, said Carolyn Niebauer, a member of the center's board who is in charge of the chapel dedication. "They come here off the street and go upstairs and pray," she said.
The center dates to 1976, when it opened on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City. The founders were Frank and Josephine Lancelotta, who discovered a similar chapel during a trip to Italy. The Italian chapel had been built by Lancelotta ancestors about 1550, and the modern Lancelottas were so enchanted with it that they decided to replicate the idea in Maryland.
In 1985, the center was moved to a former county water-pumping station off Rogers Avenue. All was well until December 2001, when a fire destroyed the building. According to Niebauer, the cause of the fire was never determined, but it was believed to be electrical.
The center's board members rented a double-wide trailer and moved the chapel and bookstore into it. And Frank Lancelotta tapped the skills of Adinolfi, who had retired from his engineering job at Westinghouse in 1988. Adinolfi, a licensed engineer who holds two robotics-related patents, became the chief designer and construction manager of the new structure.
"That's what he's been doing for the past five years," Niebauer said of Adinolfi.
"Six," Adinolfi said.
The work was challenging because the structure had to be built to modern codes, Adinolfi said. And since the original footprint of about 42 feet by 54 feet could not be expanded, Adinolfi opted to add a second floor that doubled the structure's space, to about 4,400 square feet.
The construction cost about $500,000, Adinolfi said. Some of the money came from a building fund of about $160,000, said Niebauer. The rest was raised by donations and fundraising events, such as a showing of the Mel Gibson-directed movie, The Passion of the Christ, which raised about $11,000, she said.
The bookstore, run for more than 20 years by Veronica Henson, moved to the new building in August 2006, said Neibauer. The chapel, which seats about 130, opened in February of this year. The pews in the chapel -- donated, along with the altar and other materials, from the Basilica -- were cut by hand because they were too large for the space, she said.
The bookstore, which stocks books, statues, paintings and other items, is one of the center's main attractions. According to Henson, it started out as a little room with a couple of shelves when the center was on U.S. 40, and has grown over time.
During a recent visit, the flow of customers was steady. Suzie Grace, 48, who lives in Catonsville, said she stops by regularly, and will probably come even more often now that the construction is finished.
"Whenever I think that I need something religious, I think of here first," she said.
Our Lady's Center is at 3301 Rogers Ave. in Ellicott City. Information: 410-461-5066.