OCEAN CITY — An historic downtown landmark, the oldest Catholic church in Ocean City, is getting a major facelift, including the restoration of its steeple, which was removed this week.
St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church, which dates back to 1877 and nearly the beginning of the resort itself, is undergoing a major restoration and renovation. On Monday, the ancient steeple and bell tower at the historic church on the corner of Baltimore Avenue and Talbot Street was removed and is now undergoing a major restoration in a lot adjacent to the church.
The lot used to house the church rectory, but it was demolished last year as part of the larger renovation plan. St. Mary’s Star of the Sea-Holy Savior Parish Facilities Manager Tony Dicken said this week the removal of the steeple on Monday created a few anxious moments as a large crane carefully lowered the structure into the church yard below.
“As the crane was getting ready, it was completely calm,” he said. “The moment the crane started lifting off the steeple, the winds picked up and it was a little dicey for a few minutes. Once the steeple was lowered into the adjacent lot, the winds died back down and it was completely calm again.”
Removing and renovating the steeple is just part of the larger major renovation for the historic church in Ocean City. The larger project includes repairs to the roof and the structure itself, along with the restoration of its many stained glass windows. The old rectory was torn down, creating a vacant lot which will be repurposed by the parish.
“We’re going to create a garden of sorts with that lot,” said Dicken. “The old bell that was in the steeple for decades will be displayed in the yard and won’t go back in the steeple when it is renovated. Instead, we’re going to create a courtyard or garden with the historic bell on display and some nice landscaping.”
The parish also plans on creating a couple of parking spots on the now vacant lot to accommodate weddings and funerals, for example. Currently, wedding and funeral vehicles have to stop on Baltimore Avenue or along Talbot Street, often creating traffic issues. The parish also plans on expanding the existing church with an addition on the vacant lot.
“The plan is to attach a building to the existing sacristy,” said Dicken. “It’s just a modest little addition with bathrooms and a staging area for weddings and other special events.”
The St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church on Talbot Street dates back nearly as long as Ocean City itself, which was founded in 1874. In 1877, visiting clergy recognized the need for a Catholic ministry in the fledgling seaside town and a small cottage on Wicomico Street and the present day Boardwalk, now the site of Dolle’s Candy and the Cork Bar, was used as a ministry for visiting Catholics. In 1878, the Bishop of Wilmington arranged to purchase three lots for $100 each at Baltimore Ave. and Talbot Street and work on the new church began later that year.
In 1907, the church was expanded again with the steeple erected and the bell installed. St. Mary’s Star of the Sea became a mission church for the new St. Francis de Sales Parish in Salisbury. In 1927, the parish sold one of the original lots on Dorchester Street to the Ocean City Fire Company for just $10 and a new fire station was built on the site and remains in use today.
As the resort grew, so did the need for more and more space for the visiting Catholic population. In 1939, St. Mary’s Star of the Sea expanded again, doubling its capacity. In 1949, the diocese purchased the property at 17th and 18th streets, which would become home to the Holy Savior Parish. A centennial celebration for St. Mary’s Star of the Sea was held in 1977, marking the founding of the first Catholic church in Ocean City.
Nearly 140 years later, the historic church in the heart of the downtown area, which had fallen into disrepair somewhat over the years, is now undergoing another major renovation.
“This little church isn’t going anywhere,” said Dicken this week. “It means too much to, too many people.”