Salute to the Magi Choral Festival

Since 1994, the Magi Choral Festival has delighted audiences in Salisbury each November with concerts that herald the holiday season. This year marks the 25th anniversary, although organizers have announced that the upcoming performances will be the last (November 17 and 18, 2018; visit for tickets).

The concerts have been the primary fundraiser for the Magi Fund, an all-volunteer nonprofit dedicated solely to raising money for the Joseph House and the Christian Shelter. The Magi Fund was started by Bonnie Luna, a very dear friend of the Little Sisters. The inspiration came to her one Christmas Eve: “I realized the season was almost past and I never stopped to enjoy it. I cried out to the Lord and God spoke to my heart.”

It really was a miraculous inspiration. Plans for the first concert developed, and it was so successful it became an annual event. Over the years, the Magi Choral Festival has grown phenomenally, thanks to Bonnie’s tireless efforts and her ability to involve a breathtaking number of people.

The concerts feature literally hundreds of performers and require the help of countless volunteers. Corporate sponsors underwrite all expenses so the two designated charities receive every penny from ticket sales. The amount of money raised is always exceedingly generous.

A full year of planning and practice are needed to prepare for the concerts. It definitely shows: the quality of the music is outstanding and of the highest standard.

Bonnie Luna and Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, founder of the Joseph House and the Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary.

Words are inadequate to express our gratitude to Bonnie and her small army of goodwill ambassadors. Special thanks also go out to the music directors, the renowned National Christian Choir from Washington, D.C., the Magi Festival Orchestra, the Magi Festival Choir, the Magi Children’s Choir, Symphony 21, and all the local and church ensembles that have participated. They created something beautiful for God and the poor.

We don’t have space to list everyone, but we also wish to thank the Magi Fund Steering Committee, the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, and of course all of the patrons who purchased tickets. Our heartfelt gratitude lies with each person, organization, and corporate sponsor that made a contribution in some way throughout the past 25 years.

When the curtain falls on the last concert it will be sad, although we agree it’s good to end on a high note, so to speak. The music will fade to a happy memory, but Bonnie has promised that the Magi Fund will continue to assist the Joseph House. She said before, “I don’t take credit for any of this. This is a testament to what can happen when a group or individual just gives selflessly of their time and talents.”

To that we say, “Amen.”

Magi Grand Finale Performances
November 17 at 7pm & November 18 at 2pm
Wicomico High School Auditorium

Program from the first Magi Choral Festival in 1994:

A few newspaper photos about the Magi Choral Festival through the years:

The Daily Times (Salisbury, MD), September 1, 1995.
The Daily Times (Salisbury, MD), November 6, 2001.
The Daily Times (Salisbury, MD), November 21, 2001.
The Daily Times (Salisbury, MD), November 21, 2010.

2009 McCulloh Street

2009 McCulloh Street, Baltimore. Photo taken in 1999.
2009 McCulloh Street, Baltimore. Photo taken in 1999.

May 1, 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the first building known as “Joseph House.” It was a three-story row house with green-and-white-striped awnings at 2009 McCulloh Street in Baltimore.

The house was a God-send. At the time, the nascent Joseph House ministry was operating out of the rectory basement of Immaculate Conception Church. That space was proving to be too small for the number of people coming for assistance.

Years later, Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, our foundress, recalled how she obtained the house on McCulloh Street in the early months of 1966:

“I went down Pennsylvania Avenue and found a man named Herman Katkow. I wanted him, I knew I had to form a board to be tax-exempt. So I asked Mr. Katkow if he would be on my board. And he said his only acquaintance with me had been that he had a shop, a clothing shop, and I had sent people down to get clothing that we couldn’t give them, and he said he would give it at cost, and we could have an account with him, so that was his acquaintance with me.

“So I went down. (He had told me of a store that had a piece of linoleum that had a misprinted pattern on it that I could have for nothing to put on the floor so I wouldn’t be sitting on the cement floor. So I got that from him.) I asked him to be a member of the board and he said no, he really didn’t want to be a member of the board. He had all these activities, he was Jewish and had all these activities that he needed for his own congregation. But he would help me. He’s the one who got me the house.

“He invited me to the Pennsylvania Avenue Lafayette Market Association’s annual banquet. And at that dinner he announced that he had hoped that they would sponsor one of the women who was a guest there. He gave me the opportunity to get up and talk about what I was trying to do and that I needed a place to do it out of. Mr. Kurland was there.

“They had all been feasting and having little drinks. They were not drunk by any means, but they were convivial. So Mr. Kurland said that he was landlord of a house that was empty on McCulloh Street, and he would let me have it for a dollar a year and that I could use it for my work.

“Well, I was a little apprehensive. I thought what kind of house was this going to be, but when I saw it it was lovely, it was very nice. So I had it. Then I went up there and looked it over and as I said it was a very nice house. It needed just a little bit of painting and stuff. So that’s where we started.”

With help from seminarians from St. Mary’s Seminary and novice Franciscan sisters, the house was ready for its official dedication on May 1, 1966.

Here is a newspaper article about the aforementioned banquet of the Pennsylvania Avenue Lafayette Market Association. Mr. Katkow is on the far right in the photo, and Sr. Mary Elizabeth is seated next to him (she was a layperson at the time).



As seen by this notice from a local paper, the dedication ceremony for the new Joseph House building had an inclusive, ecumenical tone:


2009 McCulloh Street became a home for the entire neighborhood. Volunteers tutored children and teenagers and organized recreational activities. A Job Placement Program gave special attention to people with police records and those with limited education and skills. Families received fiscal help through the Budgeting Program. Lessons in cooking, sewing, and care for the sick and infirm were part of the Home Management Program.

A Block Program sent volunteers out into the community, to meet the residents and learn firsthand what their needs were. A few of the volunteers stayed around and lived on the upper floor of 2009 McCulloh Street, along with Sr. Mary Elizabeth.

In October of 1968, Arnold Kurland sold the house on McCulloh Street to the Joseph House for $5,000. A benefactor helped with the purchase price. Mr. Kurland died in 2002.

Mr. Arnold Kurland (Ancestry).
Mr. Arnold Kurland (Ancestry).

Mr. Katkow died in 2013. His obituary from the Baltimore Sun highlighted his progressive and generous actions:

“In a talk he gave in 2010 at a Morgan State University forum, he reminisced about selling clothing in an African-American neighborhood. He said he was color-blind to race and enjoyed his experience. He said he hired his salespeople and managers from the neighborhood and when he and his wife traveled overseas, he left the store in their hands. He acted as a confidant to his customers and helped them get better jobs and schooling.

“As the founding president of the Pennsylvania Avenue Lafayette Market Association, he promoted events such as a popular Easter Parade along the street and voter registration drives. He lobbied city registration officials to keep Saturday hours to accommodate working people.”

Mr. Herman Katkow (Baltimore Sun).
Mr. Herman Katkow (Baltimore Sun).

Both Mr. Kurland and Mr. Katkow show what can happen when business people care for more than just the bottom line. Fifty years ago, these two men helped to get the Joseph House established. Could they have dreamed that what they did is still bearing fruit today?

Sr. Mary Elizabeth on the steps of 2009 McCulloh Street during a visit to the old neighborhood. Photo taken in 1999.
Sr. Mary Elizabeth on the steps of 2009 McCulloh Street during a visit to the old neighborhood. Photo taken in 1999.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth on “Mother Angelica Live”


Mother Angelica, founder of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), died on March 27, 2016, Easter Sunday. Born in 1923, she was a pioneer in religious media programming.

EWTN was the first Catholic satellite television station in the United States. It began broadcasting on August 15, 1981. Today the network has 230 million viewers in 140 countries.

A mainstay of EWTN was Mother’s talk show, “Mother Angelica Live.” Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling, our foundress, was a guest on the show in 1987. Here is a partial transcript:

Mother Angelic: How and when did you start?

Sr. Mary Elizabeth: I started in 1974, I don’t know how. I had already begun what we call Joseph House, which is our apostolate, and I was doing that as a layperson with other lay people, but knowing that I was waiting for the first vocation to come. So I think it was nine years after I started Joseph House that a young lady came to be a helper, and I recognized that she had a vocation, so the two of us decided that we would start. And so we went to a bishop and we said to him would he mind if we tried it? And if it didn’t work, well it was a sign from God. He said, well, it was a free country, and if we wanted to try it just try it. And I thought, well, evidently he doesn’t know anymore about it than I do! So from all that ignorance we got started.

Mother Angelic: You made a deal with the Lord. What was it?

Sr. Mary Elizabeth: I told the Lord that I would be willing to do the work if He would do the worrying. I would not worry. So He has done magnificently with His end of the job, I hope I’ve done well with mine.

Mother Angelic: What do you do?

Sr. Mary Elizabeth: We do anything that the poor need. We are free, that’s the beauty of our work. We are absolutely free to do anything that the poor person needs. So we do many things, from job placement to instruction to counseling to paying rents, paying mortgages, turning on gas, turning on electric, feeding people, minding children, cleaning houses. Whatever a person needs at the moment is what we try to do for them.

We work very well with the established agencies and mostly we’re happy to take care of people who fall between the cracks with other agencies. People that they can’t take care of, people who for example either live in the wrong vicinity to get help from an agency or have maybe $10 too much to get Food Stamps — it’s just pathetic — or who are not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid and so they can’t even go out and get medicine when they need it. They simply cannot supply the necessary things to get what they need, and so we’re very happy to be able to step in there.

We live totally on Divine Providence. Sometimes we spend today what we might get tomorrow, which is very daring, but we often do that. I started this in the sixties and we have lived that way ever since. It’s just wonderful. What comes, goes. And it goes for whatever is needed, whatever God sends, whatever people He sends and the problems He sends.


Mother Angelic: What can people do to help the poor?

Sr. Mary Elizabeth: One of the things I think they can do is just become very friendly with some poor families, help them to understand what help there is for them, many of them do not know how to use the organizations that are set up to help them. And the other thing is to just be a good listener for them, a person who is empathetic, somebody who will mind their baby for them while they go to the store or somebody who will tell them what to do about a problem with someone.

Most of the poor need friends, they need friends more than they need money, they just need someone who makes them feel like they are somebody and who will be there when they have trouble and listen to them. That is very hard for social workers to do because they are just not able to do that. We don’t consider ourselves social workers, we consider ourselves as carrying out the Gospel. That’s really what we want to do.

Caller: How can I get a strong faith?

Sr. Mary Elizabeth: I don’t know how you get it, I just know I have it. But I’m sure that God will give it to you if you desire it. God gives us everything that we really need — everything — and we don’t have to feel that we have the faith, that’s what we have to remember. We do not have to feel that we have the faith. We simply have to believe that God will take care of us. He does, that’s all I can say. It’s in the will.

The Church of the Immaculate Conception

The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Baltimore. This is the third church building constructed. From Google Maps.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Baltimore. This is the third church building constructed. From Google Maps.

As the Joseph House is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, we are taking a look back at some moments in its history. This post is about the first home of the Joseph House, the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Baltimore.

When Sr. Mary Elizabeth began the Joseph House as layperson in October of 1965, her circumstances were quite humble. She was alone, had no money, no support, and no place to go. That changed after she met a Vincentian priest, Fr. Donald Knox. He was pastor of the Immaculate Conception on the corner of Mosher Street and Druid Hill Avenue in Baltimore.

Fr. Knox welcomed Sister and her vision of ministering to the poor. He said she could set up shop in the rectory basement, although it had not been used in some time and was due for a cleaning. That did not deter Sister. She found a volunteer whitewash crew, a desk salvaged from the trash, and she was ready to begin her work.

The Immaculate has a long history, and it has been described as the poorest Catholic Church in Baltimore. Nevertheless, as a sign of the generosity of grace it provided a home for the fledgling Joseph House.

It seems appropriate that Sister’s work started in a basement, like a seed underground, and took shape within a parish named in honor of Mary as a pure creation of grace. That sounds like the workings of Providence. Seedlings are delicate: the Immaculate gave Sr. Mary Elizabeth the time she needed to solidify her aspirations. The generosity of Fr. Knox was especially helpful.

After a few months the basement was too small, and the Joseph House ministry moved “above ground” and into a new place on McCulloh Street.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling visiting the Immaculate in 1999.
Sr. Mary Elizabeth Gintling visiting the Immaculate in 1999.

Rafael Alvarez, in his book, First and Forever: The Archdiocese of Baltimore – A People’s History, tells the history of the Immaculate:

Administered by the Vincentians since its founding and established in 1850, Immaculate Conception was dedicated on September 21, 1851 to the Blessed Mother. At first a two-story brick building with a ‘well-lighted basement’ on Mosher Street, it is the first parish in the United States to bear the title of ‘Immaculate Conception.’

At the time of its construction on Mosher and Ross Streets, now Druid Hill Park, the area was considered rural, and with the exception of St. Mary’s Chapel on Paca Street, it was the only Catholic Church in northwest Baltimore.

By 1854 then-pastor Rev. Joseph Guistinianni realized the church’s need to expand, and in June the corner stone for the second church structure was laid. Three years later, Archbishop Kenrick consecrated the new, larger church where Father Guistinianni served for 32 years.

An earlier history of Baltimore, written by John Thomas Scharf in 1881, fills in a few details about the interior:

Many important improvements have been made to the church from time to time. Stained-glass windows have been added, the sanctuary adorned with some of Costagiani’s paintings, and a beautiful marble altar rail placed in position. The edifice is one hundred and thirty feet in length, seventy feet wide, and fifty- two feet high from floor to ceiling.

This second church that was built was the one that Sr. Mary Elizabeth knew. It was torn down in 1973, an act that Carleton Jones mourns in his book, Lost Landmarks of Baltimore:

Shamelessly destroyed in a deal between the church and the short-term needs of a hospital, the Immaculate Conception Church was the finest example of Tuscan Baroque in the city. But in 1973 it was simply another marooned ecclesiastical masterpiece, though impeccable inside and sweepingly moving without.

The second building, razed in 1973. From Lost Landmarks of Baltimore.
The second building, razed in 1973. From Lost Landmarks of Baltimore.

In 1994, the Church of the Immaculate Conception was twinned with St. Cecilia’s on Windsor Avenue, another parish served by the Vincentians. Alvarez notes that the Immaculate “remains vibrant, operating a variety of community outreach programs that serve the needy, ex-offenders, and recovering addicts.” A program for the latter is now housed in the former rectory.

The recollections of Sr. Mary Elizabeth about her time at the Immaculate can be found in our October 2015 Newsletter.

The feast day for the Immaculate Conception is December 8.