Cumberland Times-News

April 17, 2013

Coney residents say they can save Catholic church from demolition

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News

— LONACONING — Some of Lonaconing’s Catholics say they have a donor willing to pay for the restoration of St. Mary of the Annunciation Church, a 150-year-old structure the Archdiocese of Baltimore intends to raze because of mold and water problems.

“A couple weeks ago, one of the members whose grandfather helped build the church said she would pay the $200,000 or so to fix it,” said Sandy Fletcher, a lifelong parishioner. “But we can’t even get the archdiocese to return our phone calls.”

Archdiocese officials said in a December article in The Catholic Review that the Allegany County Health Department considers the church to be unsafe.

A 2011 report by Aerosol Monitoring & Analysis, Hanover, described “heavy amounts” of mold spores through the stone building, including on pews, choir chairs and wooden joists, the article indicated.

“If that’s the case, then the organ they just took out of the church will have those spores and it is being taken to some other church,” said Jack Coburn, a parishioner and also Lonaconing’s mayor.

Coburn said his attempts to reach Archbishop William Lori by phone have been futile.

“We have a letter ready to go to the Vatican,” Coburn said.

Fletcher said she would be happy just to know that her funeral Mass could take place at St. Mary before her body is buried in the nearby church cemetery.

“If I can’t be buried from my own church I don’t want to go to another church. They can bury me from the funeral home,” she said Wednesday.

Both Coburn and Fletcher said the Maryland Historical Trust will be asked to evaluate the church building for possible preservation.

Coburn, who was an altar boy there as a youngster, said the nearest Sunday Mass is at St. Joseph in Midland. None have been available at St. Mary since 2007.

“I’d like to see the archbishop and the bishop practice some of the humility that the new pope has been talking about,” Fletcher said. “We don’t work for them. They work for us.”

The archdiocese notified St. Mary members in December that it was unlikely that the church would reopen.

“... We would fail in our obligation to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us if we were to authorize the kind of expense we are talking about,” said Bishop Mitchell Rozanski in The Catholic Review article, speaking of the mold and water cleanup.

Contact Michael A. Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.