ATLANTIC CITY — Neither heat, humidity, or beach umbrella could stop the tanned, sandaled Catholic masses making their way from Boardwalk Hall, to the boardwalk, to the ocean’s edge here last Monday afternoon, with Bishop Dennis Sullivan leading the way.
Just before 2 p.m., with the help of lifeguards, and surrounded by flash photographers, the Camden leader boarded a patrol boat and headed into the waters. A few yards into the cool surf, he tossed a wreath into the ocean, “marrying” the sea and the community of Atlantic City.
With this act, and the one similar he performed on the shores outside Wildwood’s Notre Dame de la Mer parish the day previous, Bishop Sullivan kept alive an ancient Catholic tradition, rooted in the bond between a town and its shores, and the love of the Blessed Mother.
Saint Brendan the Navigator Parish in Avalon also held a Wedding of the Sea ceremony.
History notes that the tradition began in the Middle Ages when an Italian bishop threw his ring into stormy waters, asking Mary for her intercession; soon after, the sea grew calm.
Italian immigrants soon brought this practice to Atlantic City. It is always held in Atlantic City on the feast of the Assumption, Aug. 15, which marks the belief that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven.
In his homily during the noon liturgy at Boardwalk Hall, before the oceanside ceremony, Bishop Sullivan called Mary “the first to enjoy the fruits of Jesus’ Resurrection,” adding “we are created for that same glory. If we are faithful too, heaven is our destiny.”
The procession from the hall to the beach included a statue of Mary, placed right on the Boardwalk, looking out over tourists and locals alike.
Atlantic City Councilman Jesse O. Kurtz, who sat next to Bishop Sullivan in the patrol boat, remembers the Wedding of the Sea as he grew up in this Atlantic County town.
“It’s very special to represent this event as a civic leader and as a Catholic, dedicating the city to the Blessed Mother,” said the Parish of Saint Monica parishioner.
After the Mass and procession, revelers proceeded down Mississippi Avenue to Saint Michael Church for food, music and games.
Monday’s event was the highlight of a three-day celebration for the city’s Catholic community. On Sunday night, festivities kicked off with a Marian concert and Vigil Mass, followed by a multicultural dinner in the church’s Quaremba Hall, which showcased dishes from the Italian, Vietnamese, African-American and Spanish communities of the Parish of Saint Monica.
On Tuesday the 16th, a Veterans’ Service and luncheon was held at Saint Nicholas of Tolentine Church.
Father Jon Thomas, pastor of the Parish of Saint Monica, praised the hard work of the Wedding of the Sea Committee, and the generosity of local leaders and businesses in helping to organize the successful event.
“We put a lot of work into this, it was a great turnout,” he said. “Atlantic City is a very diverse Catholic community, and it’s important that this annual event incorporate those cultures.”