Baltimoreans tend to migrate to more northern parishes

March 16, 2002|By JACQUES KELLY

AS A CHILD, I often heard the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen called "O'Neill's Belvedere," a reference to: a) its donor, the Irish-descended department store owner Thomas O'Neill, and b) Belvedere Avenue, a nearby North Baltimore street where another department store was then located.

That cathedral, which also carried the nickname "New Cathedral" to differentiate it from the more ancient one on Cathedral Street downtown, reminds me of the particular way Baltimoreans move, change their addresses and seek new homes. In Baltimore, we possess old and new cathedrals, just as we have old and new neighborhoods, yet continue our reverence for wherever we've received the mail.

Now mind you, I have a certain perspective on this. For reasons that I have never completely figured out, my immediate family has stayed anchored in the same location for decades. But from this immobile perch, I've watched other folks' migration to a number of locales, often in the same general direction. (My rule of Baltimore movement is, you generally keep going, but in the same general direction. You do not leave an established corridor.)

The last time I was in Towson, I observed certain people on the street and mused at how they well could have been the same walkers and shoppers I'd observed at North and Greenmount many years ago. They just went north, and not too far.

The Irish get sentimental about of lot of things, and their homes are no exception. That is why we continue to hear so much about the Tenth Ward, the square of battered East Baltimore real estate around the State Penitentiary and its now closed home parish, St. John the Evangelist.

By the time I was born, the Irish had pretty much left the Tenth Ward and were moving up Greenmount Avenue or its continuation, the York Road.

In the 1950s the move was on. Indeed, many families had moved on and away from the next parish, St. Ann's, at Greenmount and 22nd Street. But Baltimore, a town with tenacious roots in both sentimentality and loyalty, never gave up on this pile of saintly rocks. I was delighted to watch a determined band of African-American families fight to keep St. Ann's doors open when the archdiocese wanted to close it down.

Families always move, if nothing else, to buy a new house and get away from meddlesome relatives. Some escaped the Tenth Ward by a couple miles and moved farther out, to other parishes - SS. Philip and James, Charles and 28th, St. Bernard's Waverly, Blessed Sacrament on the Old York Road or Pius X in Rodgers Forge. Or they joined the old, well-established, once rural halls of prayer - St. Mary's Govans, Immaculate Conception in Towson and St. Joseph's Texas (Cockeysville) in Baltimore County.

And, of course, I can recall looking at new homes under construction in Rodgers Forge in the 1950s, a neighborhood built by the Keeltys, the same clan that is still giving us new addresses in Mays Chapel.

Today we would call this movement ethnic and demographic change. As a child, all I heard was some big news around the dinner table, about how a friend or family was moving and, of course, the new address and all the particulars about the house.

At this time of March, I've been to Homeland and observed Irish flags proudly displayed from what seems to be every other house. And so, when I hear of the nearby Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, I think of all the families who have moved here, families whose grandparents once resided on East 22nd Street. And, when I also hear of that Cathedral, I often think to myself: Ah, yes, St. Ann's North.

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