The new Stella Maris Catholic chapel.

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Text and photos by Peter Vankevich

Update: For the time being, the chapel will be open daily from 2 pm to 5 pm. Weekly Mass will be Wednesday, 4 pm.

Roman Catholics on Ocracoke finally have their own place to worship.

The dedication of a newly built chapel, Stella Maris, celebrated by Luis Rafael Zarama, bishop of the Diocese of Raleigh, along with several other priests, took place on the cool, windy, overcast morning of the last day of October.

This secluded building, located behind the Ocracoke United Methodist Church and not visible from School Road, includes a small residence.

How did it come to be built?

“Through much prayer,” said Rev. Alfred Smuda, OSFS, affectionately known as Father Fred, in an interview. He is the pastor of Our Lady of the Seas parish in Buxton and travels to Ocracoke to say Mass, usually on Wednesday afternoon. Date and time for the next Mass are on the community board at the post office.

The home and the land graced with old live oaks belonged to the Wilson and Martha Garrish family and was the home of Wilson’s late parents, Preston “Jule” Garrish and Etta Mae Howard.

Father Fred recounted how after saying Mass in the Ocracoke United Methodist rec hall he would look at the property and think it would be a wonderful place for a chapel.

Bishop Luis Rafael Zarama awaits Fr. Fred Smuda (in green) who concelebrated the dedication Mass.

The praying led to the sale of the house, donation of adjacent land, financial benefactors and the support of the Diocese of Raleigh, and the chapel with beautiful stained glass was built.

“Some folks saw the need for a church and from their hearts donated to the church and the land and that’s a miracle of love,” said Bishop Zarama after the Mass.

Statue of Mary on the grounds of the Stella Maris Chapel

The pews of the chapel can accommodate 80 worshippers, but on this dedication day an additional 30 seats were added and still there were folks standing all the way outside.

The name, Stella Maris, is Latin. Translated as Star of the Sea, it is an ancient title for Mary, the mother of Jesus.

“I wanted a name that would reflect the Ocracoke community and it was approved by the diocese of Raleigh,” Smuda said.

Celebrating Catholic Mass on Ocracoke has been a challenge over the many years, according to Nancy Carlson who has been attending Mass on the island for 26 years. Services have taken place in many locations, including people’s homes, the old fire station, outside at Books to be Red, the Community Center, the aforementioned rec hall and, most recently, in the Ocracoke United Methodist Church.

“I am so happy for today, not just for me but the entire community,” said Gloria Perez. “Building the church is a result of the work of many volunteers.”

Standing with her before the dedication were Rocio Trejo and Vanessa Perez who reiterated that it was a day for celebration and to acknowledge the efforts of so many who made this come true.

“If you want to know who is responsible for today, look up,” said one of the principal benefactors who wished to remain anonymous.

After the Mass, food was served and those who attended had an opportunity to spend some time outside where there are benches and a statue of Mary. The secluded grounds will serve as a place where folks can go for reflection.

The new chapel was filled for the dedication Mass
Island Catholics attending the dedication. From left: Yaneth Camacho, Antonina Ortiz, Roció Trejo, Vanessa Perez and Gloria Benítez Perez.
Performers continuing outside after the conclusion of the dedication Mass.
Inside the new chapel.

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