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Marriage made in heaven

Charlestown answers Sulpicians’ prayers

Created date

June 21st, 2011

It s hard to imagine what would have happened to the Our Lady of the Angels Chapel had the abandoned St. Charles Seminary, in Catonsville, Md., not been transformed into the Charlestown community. But for Father Leo Larrivee, former seminarian and current pastor of the chapel, one thing is evident, the union between the two was a marriage made in heaven. When the seminary closed in 1977, we all wondered what would happen to the chapel, says Larrivee. Now, the chapel is used more than ever by the Catholic parish and Protestant community, and even with the community s concert series. The nearly century-old chapel has served as both sanctuary and inspiration to the seminarians of the former St. Charles College, the thousands of people who now reside at the Catonsville community, as well as visitors who come to experience the beauty of the chapel firsthand. You cannot visit the chapel and not feel a sense of peace and experience God s presence and love, says Larrivee, who describes the last 18 years as pastor as the best years of his life.

Home away from home

Larrivee, who studied at the seminary in the 1970s, eventually went to Catholic University in Washington, D.C., to study theology. In the years following his ordination, he worked in a Seattle parish, taught in seminaries in California and Baltimore, Md., and attended The University of Notre Dame for graduate studies in American church history. No matter what the distance, Larrivee says he always maintained a special affection for the chapel and hoped one day to return. In 1994, while teaching at St. Mary s Seminary in Baltimore, Larrivee s dream came true when he received word that a pastor was needed at Our Lady of the Angels, now the epicenter of Charlestown. Since the Sulpicians owned the chapel, we were expected to provide a pastor and I jumped at the chance, he says. With women outnumbering men living at Charlestown, Larrivee has strived to fill the chapel with artwork and artifacts that reflect the female population. For example, Mary, the patron saint of the Sulpicians, is featured in a painting of the Sedes Sapientiae or The Seat of Wisdom by Sulpician priest Peter Gray. Three other paintings of St. Theresa of Liseaux, St. Joan of Arc, and St. Martin of Tours, were also done by Gray. Statues of St. Katherine Drexel and St. Jeanne Jugan, both carved in Tuscany, are on display. And traditional marble statues of the blessed mother, as well as a plaster one which Larrivee says was once in every student s room when he was a student at St. Charles Seminary, grace the chapel.

Divine inspiration

In 2009, Larrivee successfully captured the chapel s history in his book Our Lady of the Angels: A Celebration in Color and Light. Alongside breathtaking photos by local photographer Jim Stratton, the book takes readers through the story of the chapel and its connections to St. Charles Seminary and the Sulpician fathers. In his research, Larrivee visited the ruins of the original college as well as the original chapel which can still be found in a residential neighborhood at Terra Maria in Ellicott City. By telling the story of Our Lady of the Angels in words and pictures, I hope to convey something of its beauty and wonder to those who walk with me through these pages, describes Father Larrivee in the book. Our Lady of the Angels: A Celebration in Color and Light is available for purchase at the pastoral ministries office at Charlestown, St. Mary s Seminary bookstore, and Our Lady of Victory in Catonsville. Proceeds benefit the chapel via the Charlestown Catholic Parish Fund.