Feeling the hurt

East Baltimore: Lack of priests, suburbanization force two Catholic chapels to close later this month.

January 02, 2002

FOR worshippers at two East Baltimore chapels, Holy Redeemer's and St. Gerard's, there is little to celebrate this new year. Those two Catholic sanctuaries will close after services Jan. 27.

Parishioners in Greektown and O'Donnell Heights feel angry and betrayed. They paid the mortgages and helped in cleaning and maintenance even as the sanctuaries' activities kept shrinking. Many say they are too old or sick to get to Highlandtown's Sacred Heart of Jesus Roman Catholic Church, which established the two chapels as its outposts during World War II.

Baltimore Catholics have gone through this trauma before. Three other city parishes closed during the past decade. Several others continue to operate with a shared pastor after the Archdiocese of Baltimore determined the clergy was more needed in the suburbs.

Ultimately, this is not a city vs. suburbs issue. A far more serious dynamic is at work here.

"Basically, it comes down to the problem of having no men," the Rev. Thomas Loftus, the Sacred Heart pastor, said in explaining reasons for the two chapels' closing. "In the past few years, we had two priests, but we've lost both of them, one to illness and one in retirement. I have nobody to replace them."

This shortage of clergy isn't limited to the Redemptorist Order or the Archdiocese. It's felt by the Catholic Church throughout the United States and elsewhere.

That's why, sadly, the emotional East Baltimore closings may just be precursors of tough things to come.

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