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Blessing of the Fleet continues 49-year tradition

St. Clement's Island

Colton's Point, MD -- The newly-formed Seventh District Optimist Club wanted to do something to shine the light on the area’s crown jewel. St. Clements Island, the site of the founding of Maryland, had shrunk to one-tenth of the size it was when the Ark and Dove ships sailed up the Potomac River in March of 1634. Something needed to be done or the island would disappear.

In the mid-1960’s the idea of honoring the area’s watermen with a celebration called Blessing of the Fleet was incubated by the new club. The festival on the grounds of the St. Clements Island Potomac River Museum and on the island itself would at the same time honor the history and culture of St. Mary’s County’s most revered place and attract attention to it.

In 1967 the crowds were small but quickly the Blessing of the Fleet grew to be one of the area’s premiere fall events. Over the years the island has been stabilized and become a state park and a replica of the former Blackistone Lighthouse was constructed through the hard work of another volunteer group, St. Clements Hundred.

This year the first day of the event on Saturday, Oct. 1 was rained out so the schedule was compressed into Sunday and a large crowd showed up as the weather finally broke and became quite pleasant.

Lord Baltimore’s colonists were Catholic, seeking religious freedom from Protestant-ruled England. And Maryland became a Catholic colony for a time. Among the colonists was Jesuit missionary Father Andrew White, who said the first Catholic mass in the English-speaking colonies on the island. The Blessing of the Fleet now includes a Catholic Mass on the island.

This year’s mass was held on the lawn between the lighthouse and the cross erected in 1934 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the first landing. The mass was celebrated by Father Anthony Lickteig, pastor of Holy Angels and Sacred Heart parishes. Fr. Lickteig, in his homily, wondered what it was like for those first colonists. He said Fr. White would be proud that after nearly 400 years that Catholicism “is still strong after all that time.”

The mass was celebrated on the Feast of the Guardian Angels, after whom Holy Angles in named. Fr. Lickteig said that guardian angels are real, sent by God to watch over us. “God truly is interested in everything we do…everything that happens to us,” he said.

After the mass, Fr. Lickteig, joined by the concelebrants, blessed the boats tied up at both of the docks on the island.

Another strong symbol of the area’s Catholicism is the Mother of Light Shrine that adjoins the museum grounds. The shire is the loving work of Millie Huseman and her family. Huseman was instrumental in bringing a film crew from the Catholic cable channel EWTN to St. Mary’s County to film the history of the area’s religious tolerance. That video was shown on July 4th and copies were on sale at the event.

Also on display at the Blessing of the Fleet was the Popemobile, a Fiat car that ferries Pope Francis around during his visit to Washington, DC. The car was on loan from the Archdiocese of Washington for the day.

Blessing the Fleet

Sunday’s formal opening ceremony included the awarding of the 19th Annual Member of the Ancient Order of Watermen to Donnie Thompson, a life-long local waterman. The award was presented by Delegate Matt Morgan (R - District 29A).

Blessing of the Fleet Chairman Richard Lord welcomed everyone to the event and then Lois Beverage acted as MC for the annual parade, which featured the marching bands from all three county high schools.

In addition to free rides to the island, the day was filled with musical entertainment, arts and crafts under a big tent, children’s activities and food (and plenty of beer).

Proceeds from the Blessing of the Fleet go to the Seventh District Optimist Club’s youth and senior citizen activities. Also, funds raised by the club are “channeled to regional campaigns such as those assisting children with cancer, development of future leaders in our school systems and providing scholarships,” according to club President Robert “Bobby” Sterling.

Contact Dick Myers at dick.myers@thebaynet.com

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