Father Maurice Alexander Legendary First Pastor of Our Lady Star of the Sea
For the past three years, the Parish of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Solomons has awarded the “Father Maurice Alexander Award” to individuals or organizations whose outreach has made the Solomons area a better, more welcoming and caring community. Past honorees for this prestigious recognition include Doug Alves of the Calvert Marine Museum, Raymond Lankford, a member for more than 60 years of the Solomons Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad, S.M.I.L.E. and Bill and Carolyn Keefe. This year, the Parish is bestowing this honor on Reverend Meredith Wikins-Arnold, Pastor of the Solomons Methodist Church and Trudy and Bob Priddy, long-time community volunteers.
So you may be asking yourselves, “So who is this Father Alexander for whom this award is named???” This good Padre was the first permanent Pastor assigned by the Archdiocese of Baltimore to the small Catholic congregation in Solomons. Prior to this time, the flock was attended to by a missionary priest who made the rounds visiting three groups of Catholics here on this side of the Patuxent River. I am told these groups often were attended to by priests who arrived by horseback to administer the sacraments and visit the sick.
At the turn of the century, there were no permanent Catholic churches, much less parochial schools or convents. The county was primarily populated with Episcopalian, Methodist, and Baptist citizens most of whom earned their living through farming or as watermen. There were a few shopkeepers. It was a very rural environment with small sleepy villages. But by the time Father Alexander arrived in 1920, times were changing and much of this good “shepherd’s” forward thinking ideas and dreams would help accelerate the advances made in the southern part of the County over the next 25 years…
Father Maurice Alexander was born in Washington, DC on February 13, 1872, the only child of Henry and Elizabeth Ann Neale Alexander. He attended St. John’s College High School, Mount Saint Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary and Saint Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. At the age of 30, he was ordained as a priest in September, 1912 by Cardinal Gibbons. During the early years of his priesthood, he served at Saint Martin’s in Washington and Saint John the Evangelist in Baltimore.
Upon arriving in our little fishing village and its vast number of fishermen who also were known for their boatbuilding skills, the new Pastor took note of the fact that the weekly collection at Mass usually ran between $6 and $9. Coupled with the “pew fees” which only averaged an additional $60 to $80 per year, Father realized he had to do something about the lack of funds produced by this impoverished parish. The money was barely enough to maintain and operate his automobile and was totally insufficient to pay him a salary, much less to grow and improve the church.
Strong willed with a fierce determination to build a permanent church, Father Alexander began a massive nationwide appeal through a letter writing campaign that was met with a great deal of ridicule and reaction. Many of those members of his flock and others who learned of his plans likely questioned this young religious man’s sanity to engage in such a huge program with such lofty goals. And despite predictions his efforts would never reach fruition, in 1927 the Catholic community dedicated the historic, beautiful white church you see on the left as you enter Solomons Island today! The good, driven priest did not stop there, but next set about building a Parish school, and a Convent to house nuns he as yet did not have, and a Rectory. In 1937, he realized another goal in attracting nuns from the Divine Sisters of Providence in Covington, Kentucky to teach in his new Parish school.
But this brilliant man was still not satisfied and was committed to the idea that our County seat should have a Catholic Church. In 1938 he realized this desire with the establishment of a mission church of Saint John Vianney in Prince Frederick. At the time of his death in 1946, Father Alexander had produced a Parish that was debt free, had a beautiful Church and Parish Hall, a free school with bus transportation, a modern Convent for the Nuns, a comfortable Rectory and Parish Office as well as the church in Prince Frederick.
His job was anything but easy. During his time here in Solomons, he faced a continued, strong anti-Catholic sentiment that was reinforced by a horrific hit and run incident that resulted in the death of his mother who moved to Solomons previously. The details of this accident remain murky at best. He had a tireless spirit, a real zeal for the faith, a commitment to his Parish and a devout love of children and their education. He never backed down especially if it meant his flock would be blessed by his efforts. Upon his passing, he left a community of faith that was vibrant, committed to Christ, and a force for good in Calvert County. It is in this spirit that the Father Maurice Alexander Award is bestowed upon those great citizens that strive to make their community a better place through their long time, unselfish volunteer efforts. He is a perfect role model and example of what one human being can do to better the lives of others!
ADDED NOTE: This year’s Father Maurice Alexander Awards Gala is being held on Saturday evening May 7, 2016 at the Providence Room at OLSS in Solomons. This year’s theme is “Run For The Roses” and will be coordinated with the viewing of the Kentucky Derby followed by a Dinner/Dance with a live band. Many games of chance, betting on the race, and raffle tickets for a Sea Cruise, a large flat screen TV, and a dinner cruise for 6 up the Patuxent River will be awarded. For additional info please contact me at the email below or check the ad here in the Calvert Beacon.
Dave Spigler resides in Lusby and has been a resident of Calvert County since 1979. He has been recognized many times for his years of community service. He received the “Calvert You Are Beautiful Award” for 2013 and recognized by the Knights of Columbus as the “Maryland Citizen of the Year” in 2011. He was a member of the HOGETTES, the Washington Redskins “Biggest Fans” for 22 years. If you know of an unsung citizen of Calvert County, please contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org.And thanks to the folks at OLSS that provided information that was used to write this story.