By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
OCEAN CITY, N.J. – It is 8:45 a.m. on a sunny Saturday morning, and a dozen or so people are reciting the rosary at St. Frances Cabrini Church in Ocean City, N.J. Before the hour strikes, the numbers will swell to more than a hundred for the morning Mass. Because this is an ordinary weekday morning, this is not a Mass of obligation. It is attended purely for love of God and to obtain grace.
Welcome to the Jersey Shore, where such attendance is not unusual during the summer months.
Remarkably, most of the people at the Mass are not members of St. Frances Cabrini. Their home parishes are many miles away. The 750 seat church is packed for all seven weekend liturgies, including a lively Spanish language Mass held at 4 p.m. on Sundays.
“Our weekend Masses are filled to the hilt, even the choir loft,” said Father Edward Kolla, administrator of St. Frances Cabrini. “We have one or two Masses for the overflow in our parish hall, which can seat another 200 to 250.” Churches up and down the coast have similar experiences.
On all summer weekday mornings except Saturday there are two Masses at St. Frances and both are well attended, according to Father Kolla. He himself admits to having “sand in his shoes,” born and raised in nearby Margate. “These people who come to daily Mass are coming because of faith, including younger people,” he said.
Al Tegler, down to the shore from SS. Simon and Jude Parish in West Chester, has been attending summer Masses at St. Frances for about 30 years. “It’s a nice parish and as often as I can I try to attend daily Mass,” he said. “It’s a great way to start the day. Afterward, I’ll hit the beach.”
His friend, Gerry Gallagher, also from SS. Simon and Jude, attends the Saturday Mass whenever he is in Ocean City, which is about every other weekend, year-round. “It makes me feel good,” he said.
Henry and Joan Dougherty of St. Luke Parish, Glenside, have been vacationing in Ocean City for 40 years and attending St. Frances. “I come for the rosary; it’s a good habit,” Joan said. Henry sings in the choir and their daughter, who is a year-round parishioner, is a cantor.
Ray Faran, down from St. John Neumann Parish in Bryn Mawr, usually attends the daily 7 a.m. Mass. “If I can’t, I come to the later one,” he said. “It’s great.”
Barbara and Nick Palakow from St. Andrew Parish in Newtown were attending because it was a family memorial Mass. “We have a house here and we come when we are here,” Barbara said.
Mostly because of a priest shortage, Ocean City’s three Catholic parishes are scheduled to merge, but the three churches are expected to remain summer worship sites. This wouldn’t be possible without the availability of visiting or retired priests. Father Edmond Speitel, pastor emeritus of St. Philip Neri Parish in Pennsburg and Father James E. Locke, pastor emeritus of St. Cornelius Parish in Chadds Ford, both assist at St. Frances and other parishes as needed.
“It’s beneficial to me because it gives me an opportunity to celebrate Mass in public and I like that,” said Father Locke, who also celebrates in Sea Isle and does nursing home visitation.
“I’ve met people from all parts of my life down here,” said Father Speitel. “The people who come here and go to church are the crème de la crème of their parishes in Philadelphia.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.