(May 3, 2019) The latest chapter in the storied history of Ocean City’s oldest church, St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church on South Baltimore Avenue, unfolded Monday during a groundbreaking ceremony for a more than half-million-dollar expansion.
Father Stanislao Esposito welcomed parishioners, church dignitaries, politicians and area business leaders for the launch of a major restoration project, “Expanding Our Home,” which includes plans to construct a new building on the site of the former rectory at the house of worship built in 1877.
“We want to make it beautiful for Ocean City [because] it’s our community,” he said.
In 2015, St. Mary Star of the Sea at 208 S. Baltimore Avenue launched a multi-year restoration project, which began with razing the old rectory and performing repairs to the bell tower.
Anticipated to cost about $600,000, “Expanding Our Home,” is the highest dollar undertaking at the site and includes a 900-squre-foot addition and 200-square-foot accessory shed on the structures south side.
“We are extending our home so that the celebrations that we have will be more comfortable for everybody and we’ll have, hopefully, more celebrations down here,” he said.
In addition to expanded capacity for weddings or baptisms and improved handicap access to the facility, the upgrades will include a reflection garden, Esposito said.
“There will a nice garden right in the front that will be visible from the street,” he said. “Hopefully it will provide an opportunity for people to enjoy themselves [and] to be more peaceful.”
Just before she plunged a ceremonial shovel into the ground, Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) spoke of her deep roots with the church.
“Our family has ben a member of St. Mary Star of the Sea parish since I was in fifth grade, so we’re not going to go into how many years that might be,” she said.
Carozza said the landmark church, which was originally built to provide worship services for guests at the old Atlantic Hotel, has often been credited with providing safe harbor from Mother Nature’s wrath.
“Many of us truly believe that it is our St. Mary Star of the Sea that’s protected Ocean City from hurricanes and storms over the years,” she said.
Noting the substantial investment involved, Carozza said the project exemplifies the unity between parishioners and the larger community.
“It’s been such an anchor to downtown Ocean City and now, as we move forward, we know that this will continue in the future,” she said.
Mayor Rick Meehan noted the long-standing and the continuing importance of St. Mary Star of the Sea to the resort.
“I can’t wait for the doors to open,” he said.
Lending guidance to develop the site plans was Ocean City Development Corporation Executive Director Glenn Irwin, who worked with Harry How III, MAD Design Group president, to create an architectural rendering that reflected historic structural features.
Targeted for completion by late July, fundraising efforts for the project, albeit already off to a healthy start, are being launched this week.
Esposito said an anonymous donor has pledged an initial $300,000 to match money raised from individual donors.
“It’s amazing, but that reflects the fact that people are really devoted to this building,” he said. “I felt humbled by the dedication and love that a lot of people have for this project.”
When the “Expanding Our Home,” project is concluded, Esposito said residents and visitors will be assured of retaining the aesthetics of the 140-plus year-old building that is imbued with resort history.
“That’s the point of the whole building,” he said. “We are part of Ocean City and Ocean City is part of us.”