Closure the fate for some city churches on endangered list

October 25, 1994|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop John H. Ricard, who gave a status report yesterday on 16 Baltimore parishes threatened by an archdiocesan reorganization, said at least some of them must be closed.

His statement dashed the hopes of Catholics who still believed less drastic solutions could be found for all of the historic churches on the endangered list, which was made public in May.

The churches that will be closed will be announced before the end of December, Bishop Ricard said.

"Parishioners have been surveyed, pastors are engaged and parish teams and archdiocesan facilitators have kept the process on track," the bishop said. "We have made enough progress to determine that we will implement a combination of mergers, staff-sharings and closures to reach our goal."

He conceded that the final decisions will come as a shock to some.

"Clearly, some people will be angry, some people will be upset," Bishop Ricard said. "But the status quo is not possible."

The goal, he said, is "proper stewardship" of the dwindling financial resources of the affected parishes "to meet the spiritual and physical needs of changing neighborhoods."

Shortages of priests and a dramatic drop in the number of urban parishioners are also triggering the reorganization.

Bishop Ricard noted that 75 percent of the 57 Catholic churches in Baltimore were built before 1940 to accommodate 150,000 parishioners. The city's churches now serve fewer than 33,000 Catholics.

Of the 16 churches on the endangered list, two have been saved from the possibility of closing. They are Holy Cross and St. Mary Star of the Sea, four blocks apart in South Baltimore. They have been told they will continue to function under a shared pastor.

Bishop Ricard said he wished that this "twinning" option could be used to save all the churches on the endangered list, but this is not possible.

The other threatened churches are:

St. Ann at Greenmount Avenue and 22nd Street; St. Stanislaus Kostka at 700 S. Ann St.; St. Cecilia at Windsor Avenue and Hilton Street; Our Lady of Lourdes at Liberty Heights Avenue and Edgewood Road; Holy Redeemer Chapel at 800 S. Oldham St.; St. Gerard Chapel at Charlotte and Cardiff avenues; St. Michael the Archangel at Lombard and Wolfe streets.

Also, St. Patrick at Bank Street and Broadway; St. Alphonsus at Park Avenue and Saratoga Street; Immaculate Conception at Mosher Street and Druid Hill Avenue; St. Martin at Fulton Avenue and Fayette Street; St. Peter the Apostle at Poppleton and Hollins streets; Most Precious Blood at 5010 Bowleys Lane; and St. Wenceslaus at Collington and Ashland avenues.

Clergy and lay leaders in these parishes have been told they must decide before the end of this month which neighboring parish they would be most comfortable becoming part of if their church is closed.

In the last two decades, Bishop Ricard said, 27 Catholic dioceses in 15 states have closed urban parishes as part of a reorganization "with varying degrees of parishioner involvement."

Among them are Chicago, which closed 75 of its 380 churches; Detroit, which closed 46 of 310 churches; and Philadelphia, which closed 25 of 288 churches.

Those closings were accompanied by intense controversy and bitterness.

"We have tried to engage and involve our pastors and parishioners in the Baltimore restructuring rather than impose decisions upon them," Bishop Ricard said.

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