Archdiocese Plans to Close Two of the South Baltimore Peninsula’s Catholic Churches

| April 24, 2024 | 0 Comments

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has released its Seek the City proposal where the plan is to downsize Baltimore City’s 61 parishes and 59 worship sites to 21 parishes and 26 worship sites. Under the plan, St. Mary Star of the Sea in Federal Hill and Our Lady of Good Counsel in Locust Point will close. Holy Cross in Federal Hill will remain a worship site for the Catholic Community of South Baltimore (CCSB) and Pigtown’s Transfiguration Catholic Community will remain open and merge into CCSB.

A community effort is underway to save Our Lady of Good Counsel. There is additional community support for St. Mary Star of the Sea.

Under the plan, St. Rose of Lima in Brooklyn will be the new worship site for Cherry Hill, Brooklyn, and Curtis Bay. St. Athanasius Church in Curtis Bay and St. Veronica Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore are proposed to close. Seek the City said there is a possible worship site at Cherry Hill Town Center.

From the proposal:

After nearly two years of listening, study, prayer, analysis and community weigh-in, the Seek the City to Come initiative has entered into the public comment phase. A recommended proposal was developed for the Catholic Church in Baltimore City to include investment and ministries, the realignment of parish communities designed to offer a strong sense of belonging for all and the merging of parish campuses. The proposal is the culmination of visits to 61 parishes in the city and some immediate suburbs and input from thousands from our parish communities.

Archbishop William E. Lori invites feedback on the proposal at two open public comment sessions. There will be a virtual component available for the sessions. The open public sessions are scheduled for:

    • TODAY, Thursday, April 25th: 
    • Monday, April 29th: SPANISH ONLY (ESPAÑOL) 
    • Tuesday, April 30th:
      • NEW LOCATION (again): Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N Charles St, 21210
        • previously at Mt St Joe High School / Our Lady of Victory – location was updated yesterday late afternoon

The proposal reduces the number of worship and ministry sites to 26 while including options for construction and the creation of new ministries.

A final decision on the proposal is expected in June.

From the Seek the City webpage:

Why the Need for Seek the City to Come

The Archdiocese of Baltimore isn’t what it used to be. The city and its makeup are completely different from generations past:

  • Baltimore City population has declined 38% since 1950.
  • “The demographic shift has seen the city’s Catholic population plummet from a peak of 150,000 half a century ago to 33,000 today [1995].” -Washington Post
  • COVID-19 has made this even more challenging, as our pews have fallen from 20% full in 2019 to only 9% full in 2022.
  • 34 parishes in Baltimore report more funerals than converts and baptisms combined.
  • The average Baltimore parish has over four times the space per parishioner than the rest of the archdiocese.
  • Our facilities and buildings are increasingly old and in need of repair while funds are decreasing.

Father Kevin Ewing of CCSB told SouthBMore.com that Our Lady of Good Counsel has $2.6 million in needed structural repairs.

“The Catholic community we have in South Baltimore is very strong,” said Father Ewing, noting mass attendance is typically between 400 to 500 people per week and growing. “The challenge is trying to navigate the needs of three worship places.

“It takes about 500 regular participants in sacramental life to maintain a building, but essentially we have three,” said Pastor Father Ewing.

“My inbox has been going crazy the last few days, and I consider that a way of folks showing their love,” said Father Ewing. “I encourage folks to share information and support one another. People have done a great job in being able take the concern and grief that such a proposed loss can be and channel that constructively. I’ve been encouraging them to reach out for any information I can provide. People have responded to that call by asking questions and putting that constructive information in letters to the Archdiocese.”

“We seek to make it work no matter the situation and grow,” he said.

With religious education currently taking place at the Our Lady of Good Counsel campus, Father Ewing said the parish will continue to offer religious education if the proposal moves forward.

A group of Locust Point residents and parishioners of Our Lady of Good Counsel have been meeting and discussing the importance of the church in the community. Letters will be submitted to the Archdiocese making the case for having Our Lady of Good Counsel remain open.

Points made in a group letter being drafted by this group include:

The South Baltimore Catholic Community is a vibrant, fast-growing community of families and young professionals who, along with generational families, reside in two distinct neighborhoods within South Baltimore–Federal Hill/Riverside and Locust Point. Both of these neighborhoods provide their respective community members with walkable public schools, daycares, stores, parks, community centers, and places of worship. Families stay in these neighborhoods in large part for their walkability and convenience. And, as such, we urge the Diocese to provide a physical presence in both of our distinct neighborhoods in South Baltimore.

With its high-traffic location, Our Lady of Good Counsel is a beacon of light for the Catholic Church as so many can see the positivity emulating from the building. We think about the hundreds of families walking past our church to school at Francis Scott Key or The Baltimore Montessori School every day, the hundreds of cars driving down Fort Ave. daily, the thousands of people playing sports or taking in an activity at Latrobe Park across the street, and the many patrons of adjacent businesses, such as Himalayan House, Ice Queens, and City Limits Sports Bar, feeling Our Lady of Good Counsel’s presence.

Importantly, Our Lady of Good Counsel provides our families and parishioners of all ages a walkable place of worship, in addition to a walkable place for:

  • Church and community gatherings including family days, parish events, caroling, outdoor masses, and events throughout the year both at the church and church hall
  • Our children to receive church teachings including CCD and Children’s Liturgy of the Word
  • New families to receive support and guidance including Baptism preparation, new parent gatherings, parent walking groups, and more
  • Community support groups–AA, NAA, and Girl and Boy Scouts, among others–to convene
  • Visitors–cruise line workers, port workers, Marine Corps, National Guard members, and tourists–to worship and be a part of our community
  • Parish and non-parish families and friends to remember and gather across from the adjacent funeral home

The group also seeks participation in any fundraising efforts to keep Our Lady of Good Counsel. The letter adds:

The truth no one wants to talk about or truly consider: Parishioners will leave the Catholic Community with these closures. For us, families will find new, walkable locations to raise their families in faith within the Locust Point neighborhood. 

With the Catholic Community already under enough scrutiny, we urge you not to dismiss a neighborhood that is growing and on the path of re-evangelizing our faith. We urge you not to take away a growing community gathering place that has the means for financial responsibility and for building revenue, not only for our neighborhood, but for our great City of Baltimore as a whole. 

Father Ewing said they are not only receiving support from the parishioners but also other members in the community as well as from the local civic associations. “They may not necessarily join us in worship, but they know CCSB is a positive presence in the community,” he said.

Father Ewing noted the Archdiocese and CCSB is not yet at a point of figuring out what to do with the real estate if the proposal becomes a reality.

Our Lady of Good Counsel had its church built in 1889, office and convent building built in 1889, and school building constructed in 1930. The Baltimore Montessori has a lease at the school building until 2027.

St. Mary Star of the Sea had its church built in 1868, the convent built in 1869, and the school, which is currently leased to St. Ignatius Loyola Academy until 2028 with renewable terms, built in 1868.

In the late 1800s, the cross with the star was erected at St. Mary’s and served as a beacon for ship traffic in the Inner Harbor and was an official landmark on mariners maps of the Port Baltimore. It was originally lit by candles and later using electric power.

Holy Cross, which is proposed to remain open, has a church and retreat house, which date back to 1858, as well as a rectory and office building.

Our Lady of Good Counsel

St. Mary Star of the Sea 

Holy Cross

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About the Author:

Founder and Publisher of SouthBmore.com, longtime resident of South Baltimore, and a graduate of Towson University. Diehard Ravens and O's fan, father of three, amateur pizza chef, skateboarder, and "bar food" foodie. Email me at Kevin@InceptMM.com and follow me on Twitter at @SoBoKevin.
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