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Church marks 150 years

August 16, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A small, brick Catholic church sits snugly between buildings along Williamsport's main thoroughfare. Its history is older than the Civil War.

The stained-glass windows bear the names of people no longer known, and the age of the structure sometimes means expensive maintenance bills.

But the quaint and well-kept St. Augustine's Catholic Church is showing no signs of slowing down.

The parish, in its 150th year, will celebrate a commemorative Mass on Sunday, Aug. 28, at 8:30 a.m., the Feast of Saint Augustine. Bishop W. Francis Malooly, western vicar of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, will celebrate the Mass.

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The Rev. Alfred E. Smith, pastor emeritus, and the Rev. John T. Carter, pastor, also will participate in the Mass.

Ray Bielicki, of the parish's pastoral council, said the age of St. Augustine's sends a message about the strength of churches. While it's not uncommon for schools and other institutions to close, Bielicki said, "a church just seems to go on and on."

St. Augustine's dates to 1851, when the Rev. Henry Myers from St. Mary's Catholic Church in Hagerstown purchased a former Methodist church.

Consecrated and dedicated that same year, the church began offering Catholic services.

The church was formally established in 1854. In 1863, the church was damaged by shelling from across the Potomac River during the Civil War, according to church officials. It was rebuilt in 1876 for $2,000, under the direction of the Rev. John Jones of St. Mary's. The church was consecrated as St. Augustine's on April 30, 1877.

The church was a mission parish of St. Mary's from 1876 to 1953, when it received its first resident pastor, the Rev. Linus Robinson. The parish has had four pastors since Robinson, including Carter.

While the church can seat a maximum of about 150 people, the parish has 290 registered families. Several new members join each month, reflective of a growing county, Carter said.

The church's weekend Masses - one Saturday night and one Sunday morning - are filled to capacity, especially on Sundays, Carter said.

It's not unusual for parishioners to stand in the back of the church when the pews fill.

The parish installed a camera so people who can't find a place in the church on Sunday mornings can sit in an adjoining room and watch Carter celebrate Mass on a television screen.

"Once school starts, and with Sunday school, this place will be packed" on Sundays, Carter said.

Carter and Bielicki said they don't know how the parish will accommodate a continually increasing membership as Washington County continues to grow.

The church is landlocked on its sides and the front of the church faces U.S. 11. Carter said the church cannot expand to the rear of the property because it's the site of an old, small cemetery.

"We're not sure how we're going to handle the explosion in Washington County," Bielicki said.

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