BELMAR, NJ — The cohort of local Roman Catholic parishes, including St. Rose in Belmar, has moved its annual mass on September 8 from the borough’s Silver Lake Park to Maclearie Park.
The decision was made so that the event would not interfere with the Autism Beach Bash, which for years has been held along the Seventh Avenue beachfront several blocks from the park on the Sunday after Labor Day, according to borough and church officials.
While the church mass with the bishop of the Trenton Diocese has in past years attracted up to 1,000 people, the beach bash draws as many as 7,000 children with special needs and their families. It is the first year both events were scheduled on the same day.
The move was announced during a meeting this morning, August 21, of borough officials and representatives of both events. It also came a day after supporters of the beach bash voiced their concerns to Mayor Mark Walsifer and the borough council that accommodating both large groups would create a major parking problem, especially in light of safety concerns for the special needs children.
While Belmar Police Chief Andrew Huisman and Public Works Director Michael Campbell had developed a comprehensive plan to address the parking issue — primarily by closing a portion of Ocean Avenue to traffic and specially designating a drop-off location for beach bash attendees — there was still overall trepidation by parents and others that the children would still be at risk.
“In speaking to church (representatives), they decided not to create conflict and are moving the event to Maclearie Park,” said Belmar Business Administrator Edward Kirschenbaum, referring to the park which overlooks the Shark River along Route 35. “There is no doubt we could have made (the parking plan) work, but (the church) did not want to impede with that event.”
Thomas Mullooly, a trustee of St. Rose parish and cohort chairman, expressed his appreciation to borough officials in helping to come up with options — first with the parking plan to have both events on the same day, and then abandoning that plan and finding a new location in Belmar.
“I thought the initial (parking) offer was excellent and was comfortable with it, so there was no reason to attend (the council meeting) on August 20,” he said.
However, because of the concerns expressed by special needs parents and their supporters, changing course with a new venue became a better option. “We’re delighted with the patience, flexibility and gracefulness (of borough officials) and how they handled this,” Mullooly added.
While the mass has traditionally been held in August, he said he was contacted by the borough in January, informing him that all major events were being pulled off the beachfront from Memorial Day to Labor Day — and he was offered the September 8 date.
As part of the latest agreement with the borough to move the event to Maclearie Park, Mullooley said, it comes with the assurance that the mass will return to Silver Lake Park in August 2020.
Several years ago, the Catholic Diocese of Trenton organized its 109 parishes into cohorts as a way to look toward the future and exchanges ideas and practices, Mullolly explained. The annual mass with Bishop David O'Connell is a major event of Cohort 19, which includes St. Rose in Belmar, St. Catharine-St. Margaret in Spring Lake, St. Mark’s in Sea Girt, St. Teresa of Calcutta in Bradley Beach, St. Denis in Manasquan and Holy Innocents in Neptune.
Fran Hines of the Belmar-based Colton and Friends Foundation, which has organized the beach bash since its founding some 15 years ago, called the churches’ decision “good for the kids,” However, the scenario that played out over the conflicting events was “unfortunate all the way around,” he said. “People’s feelings got hurt, and so did mine, when the only concern we had was the safety of the children. I’m upset the entire thing had to happen. It was totally avoidable.”
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