Retro HoCo: Looking back at the Shrine of St. Anthony

In 1979 photos, Dave Norton checks his mail. Marty Staniewicz makes a peanut butter sandwich. Were it not for the telltale friar’s robe, they could be anyone.

“These are very, very real, normal people,” the Rev. Martin Kobos told The Baltimore Sun at the time. “It’s not a monk lifestyle here, locked away. These guys have television and newspapers; they are part of the real world.”

Part of it, yet away from it.

The rolling hillside estate in Ellicott City, now known as the Shrine of St. Anthony, was once owned by the family of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. On the land still stands a splendid granite mansion, built in 1832 for Charles Carroll’s granddaughter.

The Franciscans moved there in 1928, housing novices who would spend a year deciding whether to join for life. They soon constructed a new building, modeled after the place in Italy where St. Francis of Assisi is buried. The open marble piazza holds a fountain, providing ample space for prayer and meditation.

Life there combined the sacred and the mundane: In a 1979 Sun article, they woke at 7 a.m. to a hand-rung bell, ate spaghetti cooked by nuns, performed chores and prayed, walking the quiet grounds.

In the 1990s, the Shrine of St. Anthony began opening up to the public for the first time, with dinners that offer child care and spaghetti. They’re up to 50,000 visitors each year, says the shrine’s director, Michael Heine, who arrived there as a novice in the early 1980s.

“It used to be that the focus was internal,” he says. “Now we reach out to the whole community.”

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