"This isn't just a Catholic church, but a major piece of the downtown Baltimore skyline," says the Rev. Richard T. Lawrence, speaking of St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church, where he is pastor.
This Sunday, the parish will hold a solemn pontifical high mass to rededicate the historic structure after the recent start of physical repairs. The service, to be followed by a champagne brunch, also will mark the beginning of the church's 150th year at North Front Street and the Fallsway.
Seven years in the planning, the repairs finally got under way five months ago when the church's woodwork was stripped and restained, the pews were moved from parallel rows to a semi-circle facing the altar, and ramps were created for the access of handicapped worshipers.
The work cost $400,000 and was paid for with contributions from parishioners, Catholic businessmen and philanthropic foundations, says Lawrence. He estimates another $250,000 will be needed to cover the cost of future repairs. These will include painting, plastering and an overhaul of the heating and air-conditioning system.
"We want to accommodate our needs for improvement and, at the same time, be respectful of what was already here," the pastor says. "We don't want to just tear up the footprints of our forebears."
Lawrence adds that the planning process was a group effort led by a committee of parishioners. In contrast, when repairs were needed for St. Vincent's centennial in 1940, the pastor at the time hired an architect and contractors without consulting church members.
The current group of parishioners, says Lawrence, "has proved its ability to make good decisions by itself. This is a triumph of the collegial process started twenty-five years ago by the Second Vatican Council -- namely, we have a community here working together for a consensus. The pastor and the parish council make the final decisions together, and we don't leave the room until we all agree on what's to be done. No one person calls the shots."