Harford Catholic parishes expand Churches growing to accommodate worshipers from city

August 09, 1998|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

When Frann Geraghty was a little girl growing up on Plainfield Avenue in Northeast Baltimore, the local parish helped foster a strong sense of community.

"I don't think you could go five blocks without someone knowing who you were," said Geraghty, 42, of Forest Hill, who attended St. Anthony Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore. "Everyone knew who you belonged to."

It's the same she and other former city parishioners now find throughout Harford County, which has become home to a growing number of expatriate Catholics from Northeast Baltimore.

Drawn by the suburbs -- and by the prospect of joining fellow parishioners from the city -- thousands of Catholic families have swollen congregations from Bel Air to Havre de Grace, many of which are in the midst of capital fund raising to deal with the influx.

And in making their move, these newcomers are bringing to Harford County a flavor of the city's older, working-class neighborhoods, where churches such as St. Anthony, Shrine of the Little Flower and St. Dominic and St. Michael Roman Catholic churches remain a bedrock.

"Traditionally the northeast corridor of Baltimore has had a large concentration of Catholics," said Father Francis X. Callahan, whose church, St. Margaret Roman Catholic Church in Bel Air, has been dubbed "Little St. Anthony" because so many members came from there. "Harford Road and Belair Road meet in Harford County, and that is why we are getting all the action."

The changes are apparent throughout Harford's close-knit Catholic community.

St. Patrick Roman Catholic Churchin Havre de Grace, which has added more than 100 families in the past year and now has more than 800 families, is planning a multipurpose building and hopes reopen its school in fall 2000.

Last year, St. Margaret built a facility that will become a parish to help service the 5,000 families that attend the church. St. Mark Roman Catholic Church in Fallston, which has about 1,500 families, also has built a new mission.

And St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church in Hickory -- the oldest continuously operating church in the Archdiocese of Baltimore -- is raising money to expand, having added Masses to accommodate its growing congregation.

"We actually have 10 Masses on the weekend," said Katie Kurek, director of development for St. Ignatius, which has more than 2,100 families. "There has also definitely been a strong 'u movement for Catholic education, and that has also brought more people into the churches."

Joked Robert Lehr, 54, a deacon at St. Ignatius: "Instead of growing crops, we are growing houses. It's an exciting time for the parish."

The archdiocese is well-aware of the boom in Harford, where membership has increased by 20 percent in the past eight years, according to Sister Rosalie Murphy, S.N.D., director of planning and council services. Last year's Catholic population in the county totaled 17,924 families and 49,180 individuals.

"There's growth not only in numbers but also in the longevity of the congregations," Murphy said. "Younger families are looking for somewhere to educate their children, and that puts a stress on the parishes to be able to provide those types of services."

One result has been decreased enrollment in Catholic schools in Northeast Baltimore and a concurrent increase in suburban enrollments.

"We can definitely trace that migration," Murphy said. "With the migration out of the city and into that region, the schools have had to expand their geographical boundaries beyond their parishes or implement special programs to attract students."

The Rev. Frank C. McFadden, pastor at St. Patrick, said growth prompted his church's plans to reopen the school that closed in 1974, when the area's population more older residents.

"I just think Maryland is a very Catholic state," McFadden said. "We have many more young families because of the development up and down Route 155."

At St. Margaret, the church membership has doubled since 1986. A waiting list exists for school enrollment and already the parish is looking ahead, said Karen Saccenti, the church's head of development.

"We estimate that by the year 2005, St. Margaret will have the largest congregation, and our mission will have the second largest," said Saccenti, 51, who also moved from Northeast Baltimore.

Still, Jeanne Hawtin, a member of St. Patrick, said congregations are enthusiastic about the growing numbers of new members.

"I actually heard one young family that had been living outside of town bought a house in town to be closer to the church," said Hawtin, who joined last Easter. "There is a lot of spirit in the Catholic church right now, and that's very evident here."

And Frann Geraghty said that despite the size of the congregations, the parishes still maintain the family atmosphere she knew as a child.

"The high morals and standards I always loved were here in Harford County," Geraghty said. "And there were people here who I've known for years, so it was like coming home."

Pub Date: 8/09/98

nTC

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