The Rev. Al Masluk, pastor at St. Martha Catholic Church, was looking for a way to beautify a large patch of grass outside the chapel.
At the same time, parishioner John Press was looking for a meaningful Eagle Scout project.
The two got together earlier this year and agreed that a prayer garden would look good in that space.
Press went to work, receiving plenty of help along the way, and completed the project to Masluk’s satisfaction and delight.
On a Sunday morning earlier this month, the garden was dedicated after the 8 a.m. Mass. Press led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, and all joined in singing God Bless America. Masluk offered prayers and blessed the garden.
Press deflected the praise he received from parishioners and others who got their first official look at the garden.
“I’m really happy with it, but I had a lot of help,” he said. “A lot of Eagle Scout projects help people and have meaning.”
Press, 18, who lives on Morrell Avenue, has been a member of Boy Scout Troop 460 for eight years. The troop is based at Our Lady of Calvary Church.
Press graduated from St. Martha Elementary School and Archbishop Ryan High School, where he was vice president of the Community Service Corps. He attends Community College of Philadelphia’s Northeast Regional Center.
The garden features a short walking path, flowers, mulch, American flags, benches, a plaque and a statue of St. Michael the Archangel. Exterior church lights shine on the garden at night.
The benches are dedicated to the memories of Debbie Maxwell, a former Troop 460 scoutmaster, and Joseph Searles, a family friend and former Eagle Scout.
The plaque reads, “Dedicated to All Police & Firemen Past, Present & Future & Both Shields.”
St. Michael the Archangel is considered the patron saint of the military, police officers and firefighters.
John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, attended the ceremony.
Press explained that the garden honors the sacrifices of police officers, firefighters and members of the armed forces who’ve died in the line of duty, but he wanted to make sure the shrine recognized active personnel.
“I don’t think we focus enough on the people who are out there today,” he said.
Press was joined at the ceremony by his parents, John and Maureen, younger brother Patrick, his grandfather, an aunt and two cousins. He raised money for the project by selling soft pretzels after Mass. He thanks the Philly Soft Pretzel Factory store at Academy and Byberry roads for giving him a big discount.
The young man also is grateful for the support of Reen’s Deli, the Millevoi Brothers auto center at Frankford and Morrell avenues, St. Martha parishioners and his fellow Troop 460 Scouts.
Press expects to officially become an Eagle Scout at a Court of Honor ceremony within the next two months, once he submits the required paperwork and appears in front of a review board.
“Scouting has been good for me. I’ve become a leader through Scouting,” he said.
Masluk is happy with the way the garden looks and credits Press with doing a good job.
“I wanted something nicer, a peaceful place where people could get their thoughts together,” he said. “It’s John’s own design and color scheme, and he maintains it. He did a great job.” ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org