Wayne Williams had just dropped off his wife - a member of the choir at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in College Park - before midnight mass on Christmas Eve in 2008 when he was attacked in the church’s parking lot and seriously injured.
It was an event that shook the church and the quiet Berwyn Road neighborhood, said fellow parishioner Rita Thompson, but also showed the best of qualities of the community.
The story of Williams’ recovery and the support of the parish — the meals brought to his family at their Greenbelt home and the prayers offered up — is one of the stories being collected by Thompson and a team of volunteers to celebrate the parish’s 100th anniversary. The stories — along with photographs spanning the century — will be put together in a book, a kind of 100-yearbook, Thompson said.
Two other such books have been published: one in 1962 for the parish’s 50th anniversary, and one in 1987 for the 75th anniversary.
The biggest challenge facing Thompson, the chairwoman of the 100-year committee, and her team of about 20 volunteers is digitizing all of the accumulated material in the previous books, she said, including typing information and stories to be saved electronically and scanning and restoring photos from the book — a process that will take several months.
“Fortunately, we’re not building the book from scratch, but it’s taking a lot of time and energy to digitize everything,” Thompson said.
During the course of the year, the committee has asked the church’s 700 parishioners to write down their stories and to bring in photos of the church and parish activities throughout the years to be scanned and added to the collection, which has grown to more than 500 photos, Thompson said.
“Now that we have the technology, we’ll be able to continue to preserve these memories,” Thompson said, adding although they would continue to collect stories and photos for future milestone anniversaries, they have received all that will go into this year’s book, which will be published and distributed to parishioners by the end of the year.
At a celebration following mass on Sunday, current and former parishioners gathered to share memories of the community.
A lot has changed in the parish and the surrounding community since the original church on Berwyn Road was built in 1912, said John Bryan, 91, a former parishioner who lives in Forest Heights.
“This used to be a cornfield,” he said, standing in a meeting room beneath the sanctuary during Sunday’s celebration. “It was a very rural community, but it’s entirely different now.”
The original church still stands — now called Fealy Hall after the parish’s first pastor, the Rev. Leo Fealy — but it was replaced with a larger building in 1954, just across the street.
Mary Lou Milstead of Berwyn Heights said parishioners are proud of the brick buildings built during the course of the past century that make up the campus of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church and school, but added the real history is in their stories.
“The people make the church,” said Milstead, who has been a parish member for all of her 84 years. “We care for each other and have looked out for each other and grown together over the years.”
Bryan said he remembers when the Holy Redeemer School, which serves preschool to eighth grade, was built in 1931. He graduated from the school in 1935.
“Everyone chipped in,” he said of the effort to build the school. “My mother gave $10, and that was an enormous sum at the time.”
Having the school, which enrolls about 270 students, in the parish has been essential to growing the parish, said the Rev. Charles Smarsh, who has been a weekend assistant at the church for 40 years.
“We’re in an era of young people and young families, especially with the school,” said Smarsh, adding that the youth will keep the parish changing and growing for the next century.