Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick & Carroll County Md./Southern Adams County Pa.


St. Anthony Shrine, Our Lady of Mount Carmel meet the challenges of being one community

Christopher Gaul
Catholic Review

Only a few miles apart, two of the older and more picturesque parishes in the archdiocese are facing up well to the challenge of acting as a single faith community while maintaining their own special identity, history and uniqueness.

It’s been 15 years since St. Anthony Shrine in Emmitsburg and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in neighboring Thurmont were joined out of convenience and necessity in the face of the clergy shortage, but after some rough spots in the beginning their relationship could well serve as a model for other parishes likely to find themselves in a similar situation.

Much of the success had to do with finding the right, delicate balance, said Father James Hannon, pastor of both parishes. Financially, the two parishes are separate with two sets of books, but they share a pastoral council with leadership representation from both while key parish ministries like religious education and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) are shared.

"The challenge was the parishes needed to be distinct and unique but ‘let’s work together,’" said Father Hannon. And so the parishes have for the past 15 years shared one staff, one priest, one religious education director and one youth ministry. The latter effort also embraces another neighbor parish, St. Joseph in Emmitsburg, which has long been run by the Vincentians religious order.

When the two parishes had to face up to the reality of fewer priests and the necessity of getting together, it became "a matter of needing to ask people to participate in a bigger vision than just my little parish, and they have done very well with that," Father Hannon said.

What the two parishes have shared is a long and fascinating history in the Catholic citadel of the greater Emmitsburg area.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the smaller yet older of the two, dedicated in 1859 when Thurmont was known as "Mechanics’ Town." It was built at the urging of Father William McClosky, the director of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary who would later become the first rector of the North American College in Rome.

St. Anthony Shrine was built nearly 40 years later, in 1897, but traces the roots of its congregation all the way back to the time between 1728 and 1740 and the arrival in the area of several Catholic families, the Elders, Livers and the Owings, who formed the foundation for active lay Catholic involvement in the area before the development of the seminary in 1808.

Both parishes are relatively small, with about 375 to 390 families in each, but the demographics of their memberships have changed over recent years. When Diane Decker was hired as secretary for both parishes in 1987, the average age of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parishioners was somewhere between 40 and 50 while at St. Anthony’s it was 10 years older, she said.

Today both parishes have gotten younger and, Ms. Decker said, the average age is closer to 35.

Neither parish is in any immediate danger of fading away. Thurmont is a thriving town with more development on the horizon and while the area around St. Anthony Shrine has seen some shrinkage in population, people who move into Thurmont tend to register at both parishes, Ms. Decker said, especially since St. Anthony is larger and both are close, anyway.

For Sister Carol Czyzewski, F.S.S.J., pastoral associate since 1993, the collaborative way in which the two parishes and St. Joseph minister "is almost like a step into the future compared to what some other parishes, toward the east anyway, have done."

Sister Carol is joined by Sister Valenta Rusin, F.S.S.J., who directs religious education and pastoral care for both parishes, adding another religious presence to a priest sparse community. But then, as Father Hannon pointed out, priests from the seminary help celebrate Masses, which allows him to divide his time effectively between St. Anthony and Mount Carmel.

Mount Carmel is smaller, seating only 120 people, but that makes it ideal for daily Mass for parishioners from both churches as well as the Monday afternoon times for eucharistic adoration. Each church has two Sunday Masses, while the well attended 4 p.m. Saturday Mass is celebrated at St. Anthony.

While the two historic parishes have successfully met the challenge of forming a partnership and liking it, they are, like other western Maryland parishes, also thinking regionally. What parishes like Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Anthony Shrine may lose in a certain provincial individualism, they are gaining in the development of a much larger community of faith whose people are focusing more on what they share in common than what may separate them.