Couple commits to chapel leadership

October 11, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN - When Willard and Mary Graves got involved in the Perpetual Adoration Chapel at St. Maria Goretti four years ago, they may not have been expecting miracles, but they think they got one nonetheless.

"A lady who was writing poetry to Jesus during her visit to the chapel took a picture of the (vessel) that holds the Eucharist and when her film was developed, there were rays of light emanating from it," Willard Graves said.

Countless flash pictures have been taken before and after the "miraculous" 2003 photo and nothing even close ever has shown up, he said. That picture now graces a postcard gift for all who visit the chapel, which is well into its sixth year of nonstop prayer.


Both natives of Clarksburg, W.Va., the Graveses moved to the Halfway area and have been members of St. Joseph's Catholic Church since 1963.

Willard Graves, 68, said he taught school, retiring from the art department at Smithsburg High in 1989 after 31 years.

Mary Graves, 63, worked at the former Two Guys department store for 15 years - from the time the store opened until it closed its doors. After that, she inventoried other stores in the area before she retired.

Looking for outlets for their time, energies and talents, the Graveses learned of the perpetual prayer chapel in 2000, when the ambitious project was in its first year.

"We needed something in our lives that would allow us to relax and spend an hour in prayer," Willard Graves said. "You can do it at home, but here, you feel like you are praying right to God."

After the first informational meeting, Mary Graves signed up right away. Her husband was a little hesitant about making the commitment, but after a few times with his wife, he was on board.

"The word 'perpetual' worried me a bit," Willard Graves said. But after awhile, he soon found the grass could go another day before it needed to be cut.

"We really look forward to it now, our hour of prayer together from 5 to 6 p.m. each Wednesday," Mary Graves said.

Since June 26, 1999, there has been continuous prayer in the chapel on the campus of St. Maria Goretti High School. More than 200 people visit the chapel each day, some using key cards to access the former convent building during non-office hours.

Scheduled and nonscheduled visitors sign in as they mark their time in the chapel, which has four pews with seating for about 30 people. Willard Graves said he likes the lack of interruptions.

In addition to their designated hour, the Graveses are divisional leaders who are responsible for making sure there are people praying each hour from noon to 6 p.m., seven days a week. There are four such divisional leaders, each responsible for six hours of each day.

Normally, the Graves' prayers are general, but occasionally they pray for something specific in their lives.

"A nephew of mine came to Washington County for a job, but it didn't work out at first," Willard Graves said. "We prayed for him to get a second chance for a good job in the Washington County schools and now he's back. We think our prayers played a part."

While the chapel was started by members of St. Ann's, St. Mary's, St. Joseph's and St. Augustine's Catholic churches, many other denominations are involved and are welcomed.

Many of the volunteers are like the Graveses, retirees who want to contribute to their community and congregations now that they have more time to give.

But there are all kinds of people who are faithful to the perpetual prayer, as Willard Graves explained.

"We began to notice the name of a man who came in about the same time every weekday, so we contacted him to see if he would want to sign up for an hour," he said. When the person was contacted, he turned out to be a 14-year-old student at Goretti who came over to pray each day on his lunch hour.

"It really means a lot to us," Willard Graves said, agreeing with his wife that he feels something is missing if they miss their hour of prayer.

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