Ask Father Erik Arnold to name one area of parish life where Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City excels, and the response comes instantly.
“So much of what we do is focused on young people,” said Father Arnold, pastor for more than a year of the growing Howard County parish. “We have a wonderful connection with families.”
A vibrant parish school that enrolls 231 children in grades K-8 and a religious education program teeming with 600 students are the most obvious places where young people are present at OLPH.
Children and teens, however, seem to be active on campus just about all day long, throughout the year.
This past summer, teens could be seen racing across the parish grounds playing Ultimate Frisbee. When the games finished, Father Arnold said, a large number of young people gathered in the church to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament during Eucharistic adoration.
At summer’s close, the parish hosted an outdoor movie night that attracted 100 people to see the family flick “Ice Age: The Meltdown.”
Home-school families meet monthly in the church for special Masses, and the parish has started a popular monthly service of Eucharistic adoration for children. Students in the parish school have weekly school Masses for each grade, and families take turns praying for vocations in their homes, using a special chalice from the parish.
Two youth groups, one for middle school students and another for high schoolers, are among the most active in the region, and the parish is also home to a large scouting program.
The parish opened a gymnasium three years ago that is home to a basketball program.
“Pope John Paul II told young people that they are not just the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today,” said Kristin Fisher, director of middle school youth ministry and confirmation preparation. “We need the enthusiasm and energy that young people bring. The church needs them, and they need the church.”
The parish works hard at providing substantive catechesis for young people and giving them opportunities for service, Ms. Fisher said.
“The more they are offered retreats, Eucharistic adoration and holy hours, the more they want to learn more,” she said. “They want to know really in-depth teachings of the church.”
Erin Cooney, director of high school youth ministry and young adult ministry, said older parishioners are excited to see young people taking their faith seriously and attending Mass regularly.
“They have so much passion that they set the rest of the parish on fire for their faith,” she said.
Because of the parish’s commitment to young people, Father Arnold said, OLPH just completed a major repair and renovation of the education building. The parish is also planning some improvements to the church, providing a greater focus on the altar and relocating a historic icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help to a more prominent place in the church.
The parish traces its roots to the mid-1800s and was officially established in 1893. The Redemptorists, who operated a now-closed seminary in Ilchester called St. Mary’s College, were responsible for the pastoral care of Our Lady of Perpetual Help until they left in 1996. Since then, archdiocesan priests have led the faith community.
“Parishioners have been very supportive,” said Father Arnold, noting that
a group of parishioners recently spent a day sprucing up the parish grounds by weeding, trimming and edging the plants and beds.
“There’s a great commitment to this parish,” he said. “The people step up to do whatever they can to help.”