By Maria Wiering
In the past year, Ellicott City’s historic downtown has suffered an earthquake and severe flooding, and then tragically, a double-murder of a nearby church’s pastor and volunteer, and a train derailment that killed two young women.
Seated on a hill overlooking the oldest part of the city is St. Paul, a Catholic church that has, for many, been a refuge through the proverbial storms.
The church was a hub for emergency responders, news reporters and clean-up crews in the week following a CSX freight train’s Aug. 21 derailment, which killed Elizabeth Nass and Rose Mayr, two 19-year-old college students who graduated in 2010 from an Ellicott City high school. Their bodies were found buried in coal on the Main Street bridge, according to reports.
Nearly every news photo or broadcast of the derailment was taken from St. Paul’s property, said its pastor Father Matthew T. Buening.
St. Paul became a “haven” in the aftermath, he said.
“The first day, everyone was just in shock, and the sheer power of the images of seeing these trains and coal and knowing that two girls had lost their lives in the midst of this accident – it was surreal. It was like a movie scene out here,” he said.
At St. Paul, “there was also some healing going on, good conversations and some prayers, which was nice,” he said.
Because of the women’s deaths, Father Buening was disappointed in the “gawkers” who came to watch the mechanics of the clean-up efforts, he said.
“I kept trying to remind people that this is a gravesite – this is a place where two people lost their lives, so it’s not exactly a tourist attraction,” he said.
Although downtown businesses closed, St. Paul continued to offer daily Mass throughout the clean-up. Parishioners prayed daily for the victims and the workers, he said.
Meanwhile, Father Buening called attention to two other lives tragically lost in Ellicott City this year – Brenda Brewington and Mary-Marguerite Kohn, who were shot May 3 at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, down the street from St. Paul. Kohn was the church’s co-rector, and Brewington was the church’s administrator.
“They were killed ministering to the homeless,” he said.
He compared the lives of service Kohn and Brewington led to the lives Nass and Mayr were planning for themselves. One was hoping to become a nurse, the other a teacher, he said.
“Their lives of service were cut short before they began,” he said.
A funeral Mass for Nass was offered Aug. 24 at Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City.
In addition to those mourning, Father Buening is also concerned about the small, family-owned businesses that rely on visitors to the quaint city center. He’s heard parishioners pledge to support the stores that closed temporarily after the train derailment.
“It has been one thing after another,” Father Buening said. “It’s in danger of almost sucking our morale away.”
St. Paul parishioners also feared structural damage to the parish’s hillside campus last September after Hurricane Irene-related flooding caused a large granite retaining wall to collapse along the campus’ border, threatening the stability of Dohony Hall. The wall has been stabilized and Howard County plans to fix it, Father Buening said.
Copyright (c) Aug. 31, 2012 CatholicReview.org