Archdiocese Reverses Decision to Close ‘Our Lady of Good Counsel’ Church in Locust Point

| May 23, 2024 | 0 Comments

Yesterday, the Archdiocese of Baltimore released its Seek The City Final Plan. In the plan, 61 existing parishes in Baltimore City and the immediate suburbs will be merged into 30 worship and ministry sites. While the proposal released to the public in April had St. Mary Star of the Sea in Federal Hill and Our Lady of Good Counsel in Locust Point closing, the final plan will keep Our Lady of Good Counsel open.

The Catholic Community of South Baltimore (CCSB) will be seated at Holy Cross in Federal Hill with additional worship at Our Lady of Good Counsel. St. Mary Star of the Sea will be closed within six months.

The proposal had Pigtown’s Transfiguration Catholic Community remaining open and merging into the CCSB parish as an additional worship site, but Transfiguration will now be closing.

A large community effort to save Our Lady Good Counsel proved successful. More than 100 letters were submitted to the Archdiocese of Baltimore on behalf of the church, and many CCSB parishioners and supporters showed up to public comment sessions.

Father Kevin Ewing of CCSB released the following letter yesterday:

Dear All,

After years of discussion and consultation as part of the Seek the City process, today the Archdiocese has decided to seat the parish at Holy Cross, with an additional worship site at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church. St. Mary’s, Star of the Sea, is to be closed within the next 6 months.

I know that this decision imparts a particular grief for those who have called St. Mary’s their spiritual home, even amidst the decades-long journey taken thus far of uniting and reconstituting our parish.

To be certain: the implementation of this decision still requires a considerable, sustained, and collective effort and stewardship on the part of our entire parish community. Short of continuing to operate all three worship sites, this option represents one of the most demanding long-term paths from a financial, facilities, and logistical perspective.

The Archdiocese has heard the concerns and recommendations shared by so many members of our community. It has revealed a passionate conviction and love, not just for buildings and gathering spaces, but for what they signify, and to whom they bring us into contact: God, and one another.

Having explored many contingent proposals, I feel strongly that we can see this particular decision through, with a reinvigorated view towards mission and growth. Our parish does not exist in a vacuum, and can be primed to welcome anticipated neighborhood growth and new ministry opportunities. But this success does not happen all on its own.

The mission-centered discussions that have been taking place are the real reason for any of our endeavors as a church community, and they have been fueling my hope. The deliberations of this recent discernment period in the wake of the initial proposal has prompted all of us to look more closely at why we are here and what we are about. I’ve had so many discussions with members of the parish, about partnerships with National Federation of the Blind or the schools, to name a few; about intentional ministries of hospitality and Gospel encounter to the cruise ship workers and passengers, or to stadium-goers; about making an impact in the other neighborhoods within our parish borders, from Sharp-Leadenhall to Baltimore Peninsula; and so many more.

All of this has been coalescing into a vision for ministry that I look forward to sharing in the days and weeks to come. Its working title is “Project Pietá,” reflecting the call to piety and perfect mercy so beautifully offered through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and expressed in a famous work of Michelangelo by the same name. (A replica of Michelangelo’s “Pietá” is located in St. Mary’s.) It reminds me that the ministry of mercy and healing is our task, and our salvation; it is a work not carved in stone, but in the hearts of the faithful. In humility, I hope that our collective implementation of this vision will honor the legacy of those parishioners who are being asked to make the incalculable sacrifice of the church they have known for generations.

St. Mary, Star of the Sea: watch over and pray for us always.

In Christ,
Fr. Kevin Ewing

Father Ewing told SouthBMore.com that Our Lady of Good Counsel has $2.6 million in needed structural repairs. Holy Cross needs more than $3 million in repairs and renovations.

“The Catholic community we have in South Baltimore is very strong,” said Father Ewing in April, 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 one building, but essentially we have three,” said Father Ewing in April.

A group of Locust Point residents and parishioners of Our Lady of Good Counsel held meetings to make the case to keep Our Lady of Good Counsel open.

An excerpt from a draft group letter stated:

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 added:

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 the church additionally received support from 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.

Archbishop William E. Lori released the following letter yesterday:

Dear Friends in Christ,

For the past two years, the Church here in the City of Baltimore has been actively engaged in the Seek the City to Come initiative. Over these two years, our process has engaged almost 6,000 people in prayerful listening, visioning, and discernment. And now, having carefully considered all that we have seen and heard, including the considerable feedback we have received in the past several weeks, I write to share with you the final outcomes of this process.

First let me say, that while these decisions are difficult, I believe they hold great promise for the future of the Church in Baltimore City. I also believe that these decisions were guided by Holy Spirit whose voice was discerned in listening to the voices of the faithful throughout the city and in prudently considering the challenges and possibilities that lay before us. These decisions, while difficult, are made with an eye toward a future full of hope.

In short, we will merge 61 parishes to 30 worship and ministry sites in Baltimore City and the immediate suburbs. Full details on the parish mergers and realignments can be found here: Seek the City to Come 2024.

Much can be said about the practical reasons behind this dramatic realignment of our Church footprint. But as we have said from the start, this process was aimed at allowing our parishes to focus on mission and ministry, as opposed to leaking roofs, crumbling walls and failing electric and plumbing systems. These decisions were made to pull together gifts and resources, often spread thin across many parishes, to form new communities that are well equipped to carry out the urgent mission before us: announcing the Gospel and helping our neighbors here in the City to encounter the saving love of the Father revealed in Jesus Christ. I firmly believe that these mergers will help accomplish this goal, allowing these new parish communities and their pastors to direct the needed material, human and spiritual resources toward that mission.

While some parish mergers will occur more quickly in the coming months, others will continue over the next year or so. More information on implementation will follow along with plans for each parish community reflecting the particular situation of each community. New investment in ministries and buildings will follow and careful consideration will be given to any church property that will eventually be sold to ensure responsible reuse for the community and our neighbors.

Many will suspect that these mergers are related to the Chapter 11 Reorganization filing undertaken by the Archdiocese. I assure you; they are not. I have heard speculation connecting future sales of properties to supporting the bankruptcy settlement. This is not true. During implementation some properties will be repurposed while some will be sold. Proceeds from any building sale will remain in the parish and follow the people to the newly formed parish. This is Church law, and it is supported by civil law.

The Church will remain present in Baltimore as we have since 1789, radiating Christ from sanctuaries to street corners. Seek the City to Come is about the true renewal of the Church in the City. To reach this promise we must turn toward Christ and seek to grow closer to him and to hear where he is calling each of us to love here and now. To reach this goal we must work together in love, for only love can drive the Church’s mission forward, a love that is more than a fleeting sentiment but love that is sacrificial, like the Lord’s own love for us.

We have been on a journey and that journey continues. We have worked hard but that work goes on. So, with our feet planted firmly here in the City of Baltimore, let us set our sights on the City that is to come, filled with hope for what is possible as we journey together in mission.

May God bless us and keep us always in His love.

With warmest personal regards, I am

Faithfully in Christ,

Most Reverend William E. Lori
Archbishop of Baltimore

Father Ewing noted the Archdiocese and CCSB is not yet at a point of figuring out what to do with the real estate at St. Mary Star of the Sea.

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 has a church and retreat house, which date back to 1858, as well as a rectory and office building.

Also in South Baltimore and impacted by the Seek the City Plan, St. Athanasius in Curtis Bay will remain open and St. Rose of Lima in Brooklyn will close. St. Veronica Roman Catholic Church in Cherry Hill will remain open.

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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