One of the highlights of our vacations is visiting different parishes. It’s interesting to take in new art and architecture, to learn the history behind churches other than our own, to experience the homilies of priests new to us, to sing new songs, and to exchange peace with friendly new faces. Above all, it’s important to thank God for seeing that we have arrived at our destination in one piece and to ask that he returns us home in an equally safe manner.
This summer, we visited two churches that were new to us, one in Wildwood, NJ, and the other in our beautiful state capital, Annapolis.
Patrick and I visited Wildwood in late June to celebrate our anniversary. St. Ann’s Church of Notre Dame de la Mer parish was a two-block walk from our B&B.
From the outside, the variegated tan brick church had a very Eastern feel with its rounded windows and huge wooden doors and the gold domes on its roof. Inside, arches and a balcony dominated overhead. The altar, like the rest of the church, was vast and warmed by honey-colored wood. Above, an enormous carved wooden crucifix.
The high stained glass windows depicted various saints in jewel tones. One statue in particular drew my attention. Patrick thought it was St. Joan of Arc, the patron of our parish, but upon closer glance, it was a young-looking St. Joseph holding a saw.
The priest relayed the story of three Jewish students who ignored their rabbi’s instructions to study and chose to play checkers instead. The rabbi caught them and told them they needed to learn the rules of the game first, then teach others how to play. It connected beautifully the theme of vocations in our Communion hymn, “Servant Song,” which became a new favorite for me.
Wildwood has a large Catholic population (many of the Irish variety like myself), and Notre Dame de la Mer parish serves approximately 10,000 churchgoers during the summer. We were privileged to be two of those people and hope to return again.
Though not a typical vacation destination, last weekend we found ourselves at the Annapolis Irish Festival. We chose to stay overnight so that we could take the boys on a walking tour after Mass on Sunday. We found ourselves at historic St. Mary’s in downtown Annapolis.
Our church is very modern, so we were in for a complete reversal of atmosphere when we opened the deceptively small side door to the dark red brick edifice. The parish was officially established in 1853 on land set aside by Charles Carroll, who was born on the premises.
The first thing we noticed was that the ceiling was painted dark blue with white stars. My mom, who had joined us, revealed that the stars were painted to emulate the sky on the night that Jesus was born. Intricately carved ivory columns, arches, and trim embraced us as we walked the intricately tiled path to our seats on tiny, narrow pews. Elevated statues of saints adorned the wall behind the altar, with Mary holding a special place of dominance.
Stained-glass windows in predominately cool colors lined the church. To my left – a window of the Nativity. To my right – the Presentation. I showed both to Frank when he got restless. “See, Jesus was a baby just like you,” I told him. Carved and painted bas-relief Stations of the Cross protruded from the stone walls between the windows.
The homily focused on real love, and Father Tizio made his message particularly memorable through the use of visuals. He presented a red rose and a dirty work glove and attested that real love takes getting our hands dirty sometimes. I kept this in mind as I took Collin to the bathroom for the third time. (I think he just liked exploring such a beautiful place).
It’s pretty awesome that our faith can allow us to fit in just about anywhere. The order of the Mass is almost exactly the same no matter what parish you visit. The songs can change, which can be a little awkward when you know the words, but not the tune. But, it’s a relief to see that some people are still having a tough time transitioning into the new Roman Missal.
I know that going to church on vacation isn’t something all Catholic families do, but they should. One hour out of an entire week is a small sacrifice for all that we’ve been given – including the opportunity to relax in a faraway place. God doesn’t take a vacation from us, so why should we take a vacation from Him?