Sacred Heart Church in La Plata, Maryland
When visiting a friend in La Plata, Maryland I often take the opportunity to visit Sacred Heart Church. It gives me an extraordinary good feeling about my faith, my fellow Catholics, and the many good priests for whom we can be very grateful. You get that good feeling just by walking up to the entrance. There are two very large Project Gabriel signs in front of the parking lot informing pregnant women that help is available if they feel they are in a ‘crisis pregnancy’ situation. In front of the entrance near the street is a huge statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On the opposite corner of the church grounds is a small garden containing a memorial that reads “Remember the unborn who were denied life”. The sign outside notifies the visitor of the Mass and Reconciliation schedule, plus the fact that a Perpetual Adoration Chapel is available.
Going inside the foyer, in what is now termed the ‘gathering place’, you are welcomed by another life size more elaborate statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Inside the church itself is another surprise. The church was built in 1964 therefore it has some of the design of that period with the ‘A’ Frame appearance and cruciform layout. There is no room for tall stained glass windows on the sides, but behind the altar and above the life size crucifix is a huge stained glass window of Saint Margaret Mary when she had her vision of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The remainder of the church contains the familiar statues found in all churches. I refer to the statues of Mary, St. Joseph and the Child Jesus, realistic Stations of the Cross, and a statue or two of another saint. You know that “all things are right in this church”.
This parish consists of some 1400 families and is predominately white, but does have a large percentage of black families as you would expect in rural Southern Maryland. They are fortunate to have two excellent priests as well as a permanent deacon. What is amazing is that this medium size parish is able to support a Perpetual Adoration Chapel as well as a 500 student Catholic Grade School. Much of this is due to a saintly priest, Father Matt Siekierski, who passed away in 2003. You can read more about him in another article.
The original church was started in the year 1901 when La Plata, originally called Le Plateau because of the flat land in that area, became the county seat of government. Construction of the existing church building began in 1964 and it was consecrated a year later. The school was started one grade at a time and now is a complete grade school, grades pre-K through 8. Although Father Matt and other priests led the church in its growth, one also has to give credit to the parishioners who give their money to pay for the facilities and their time to staff the perpetual adoration chapel, set up pro-life activities, raise funds, provide maintenance, and take care of the hundreds of other tasks needed to run a parish. You have to think “these are good people.”
As an example, one Saturday evening when visiting La Plata, I thought I would go to Confession at Sacred Heart before heading back home. I did not plan to attend the Saturday Vigil so after Penance I went to the Adoration Chapel for a visit before I left. The chapel is in a small room off one of the ‘arms’ of the cruciform. After a time of meditation with our Lord I heard a woman leading the Rosary in the nave of the church. To me she sounded like Marian Anderson. It was beautiful! Before I left I noticed there were a good number of parishioners who came early before Mass to pray the Rosary. These are good people!
The priests are great too! You will not see one sign of liturgical abuse even if you look. The consecration is done with total reverence. The hosts and chalice are held high, with both hands, and time is taken to allow the parishioners to say a silent prayer of adoration.
What wonderful homilies I have heard there! While the priests speak about loving your neighbor, talk about sin is not omitted. Father Karl Cimiak, the pastor, gave us wonderful a homily on the entire 10 commandments as few other parishioners have ever heard. Each commandment was dissected in detail down to its application to the smallest mortal sin. As an example, he spoke about how gossip is an element of the sin of murder since it does such great harm to another person. And gossip was dissected down to the various forms of gossip and related to common forms of gossip we all probably hear everyday. Most people think, “Well I did not kill anyone this week so I will skip that commandment.” What a good reading his homily would be to have as part of an examination of conscience prior to confession.
Father George Wilkinson gave an excellent homily on hypocrisy (the subject of that day’s gospel reading) in which he related to a story he had read the prior day about a woman poet who recently died. In her youth, as a grade school student this woman won the local ‘spelling bee’ contest and advanced to the state level. The girl was black and it was during a time of great prejudice toward blacks. During the final leg of the spelling bee she was tied for first place. When her turn came to spell a word the judges picked a word which was not on the list of words previously submitted to the contestants. The hypocritical judges did not want her to win because she was black. She lost, and the loss had a devastating effect on her for the rest of her life. She was trapped in this world of prejudices and never became what she could have become. Father went on to explain how others are trapped in their life due to hypocrisy – from unborn babies thought of as globs of tissue and trapped in their mother’s womb waiting abortion, to the elderly trapped in nursing homes by their children who place them there and forget about them. His homily provided a different view of hypocrisy to which each of us can easily relate. We can no longer say to ourselves, “Well I am not a Pharisee so I don’t have to think about this.”
Another memorable homily by Father Matt was entirely on the Eucharist. His talk ranged from the biblical background substantiating the validity of the Eucharist as the true body of Christ - to how the Eucharist should be received. He told of how when some of His disciples left Christ because they could not accept His teaching (they viewed his words “This is My Body” as cannibalism) Jesus did not say, “No, I mean this only represents My Body.” Rather He let them leave. He meant what He said; “This is My Body.” Father emphasized the importance of receiving the Host in a state of grace. To receive in a state of sin is sacrilegious. Father emphasized the importance of dress in going up to receive the Host, the procedures in the procession, a person’s posture during and after receiving the host, the “Amen” when receiving the Host, and so forth. He put it all in his own words, i.e., you don’t wave to your friends, you are not going up to get a piece of popcorn. His homilies were always interesting, informative and instructive.
Another remarkable example of the extraordinary life of this parish is the school. Called Archbishop Neale School, its principal is Sister Helene Fee. On April 28, 2002 the school was completely destroyed by a tornado which also destroyed a good part of downtown La Plata. Thanks be to God, no one was at the school and no one was injured. The very evening of the disaster, parents combed through the wreckage to salvage records and equipment, and ever since that date the parents, parishioners, numerous firms and organizations have banded together to rebuild the school. Insurance paid for a good part, but new and upgraded equipment was needed. The Waldorf Jaycees “adopted” the school, pledged money and supported an enormous fund raiser to buy the basketball floor from the old Capitol Centre which will be put down in the new gym by parent volunteers. The Jesuits from Chapel Point gave a ‘considerable’ amount, the Knights of Columbus bought a new scoreboard for the gym, bricks from the old building were sold for $100 each to contributors, and the list goes on. While the new school was being constructed, classes continued in rented mobile classrooms. They moved from the rented classrooms to the new school with the help of many, many volunteers during the week prior to January 24, 2004. As Father Matt wrote in the book marking the groundbreaking on September 8, 2002, “Archbishop Neale School is not about buildings. It is about people and the community.” Father Matt was not only an inspiration to many to rebuild after the tornado, but he was an inspiration to holiness in his parish.
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