There is a statue of the Blessed Mother which sits adjacent Our Lady Star of the Sea Church. The statue, like many items of religious devotion, had been neglected over the years. Christina Thomasello began to take an interest in the Marian shrine, as thanksgiving to Mary for the Blessed Mother’s intercession in her personal conversion to the Faith.
Ms. Thomasello vigilantly removed trash and encouraged other people to do the same. Slowly and surely the trash lessened and interest grew. One person brought flowers, another a candle, so on and so forth. Before long, the statue became a place of vibrant devotion.
Things were well and good, until Ms. Thomasello announced her desire to re-establish the shrine as a dedication to Our Lady of Lourdes. Rev. Joseph Pham, OLSS’s Pastor disagreed gently, pointing out that the parish is dedicated to Our Lady Star of the Sea, not Our Lady Lourdes. Ms. Thomasello maintained her position that the grotto had always been dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. The disagreement between Pastor and parishioner remained subdued, until Ms. Thomasello ordered a statue to be shipped to the parish of St. Bernadette, who is the young girl to whom the Blessed Mother appeared at Lourdes, France.
Father Pham refused to give the statue to Ms. Thomasello. He argued pastorally that the addition of St. Bernadette would confuse the faithful. The argument is rooted in Marianology (the study of the Blessed Mother). The Pastor’s position is that the parish grounds ought to focus on explaining the apparition of Mary known as Our Lady Star of the Sea, not Our Lady of Lourdes. Father Pham further argues, and the Diocese of Camden agrees, that legally the statue belongs to the parish, because it was sent to Our Lady Star of the Sea Church. All parish property ultimately falls under the authority of the Pastor.
The dispute over the dedication of the grotto is a local instance of the drama between popular devotion and authority within the Catholic Church. Juliet Fletcher writes in today’s Press of Atlantic City features a story about some historical evidence supporting the argument that popular devotion has previously recognized the Marian grotto as a place for devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes.
The story is intriguing and illustrates the intricacies of both the Catholic Faith and the difficulties of being a Pastor. Catholics encourage fellow Catholics to grow in their faith and to find ways to spread the Faith to others. We also pray for our Pastors and must be obedient to their God-given authority, which is bestowed through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It is oft times difficult to ascertain the right course of action, yet Catholic and non-Catholic alike can enjoy the intrigue of the parish drama unfolding between Father Pham and Ms. Thomasello, authority and popular devotion.