When St. Bernardine, Baltimore, parishioners were asked to vote for their favorite usher, the overwhelming victory of Edmondson Village resident Joe Oden Sr. didn’t surprise any of his colleagues.
“Knowing Joe for as long as I have, he probably campaigned for it,” longtime fellow usher Eddie Edwards said with a hint of laughter. “In all seriousness, Joe is a good guy and he earns a lot of respect from the people at the church.”
The 72-year-old retired parishioner was presented with St. Bernardine’s first Usher of the Year award June 2 at the parish’s Black & White Affair, a fundraising event for those who sported formal black and/or white garb.
An usher at the parish since the 1960s, Mr. Oden primarily serves during the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass and has become the single-most dependable guide at most funerals, said Strassa Smallwood, president of the usher’s board.
“Joe is very committed to our church,” said Ms. Smallwood of West Baltimore, “and he always arrives early.”
In addition to his usher duties at St. Bernardine, the married father and grandfather also runs the parish’s “Kid’s Night Out” program and pitches in wherever needed, she said.
Ushers at St. Bernardine are responsible for lighting the church candles before each Mass, making sure the gifts are set up and in place, welcoming parishioners, directing them to open seats as the pews fill up, handing out bulletins, passing out the collection baskets, opening the doors at the end of the service and a host of other duties.
They also volunteer their services for funerals, concerts and other special events at the church, said Peter Hammerer, treasurer of the usher’s board.
Parish leaders wanted to do something that would recognize the sacrifice and service of a deserving church attendant at its fundraising event, so for six weeks they printed a tear-off ballot in the bulletin for the parishioners’ choice of “usher of the year” and provided a polling box for the votes, said Mr. Hammerer of the Northeast Baltimore neighborhood Lake-Walker.
“Joe won by a landslide,” he said. “He got 65 percent of the vote.”
Hoping to elect an usher of the year annually, Ms. Smallwood said she was overjoyed Mr. Oden was the parish’s first recipient of the honor.
“Joe was one of the first people I met when I started coming to St. Bernardine’s in the 1960s and he devotes so much of his time and energy to the church,” she said.
“We’ve seen priests come and go and we’ve seen the neighborhood and parish change from predominately white to predominately black with all of the racial tensions that come along with such a transition,” Mr. Edwards of Gwyn Oaks said. “But Joe has been here through all of this. He’s a stable, dependable and loyal member of the church and this community.”