St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, one of ten parish churches participating in the Archdiocesan project with Partners.
Photo: A. Robert Jaeger
There is a feeling of pride that goes along with the heritage expressed in the building; it speaks to the lives of the faithful who helped build and pay for the churches and passed along the faith to future generations. Many of our churches were built by the poor or working classes, and when a church is not able to maintain its buildings, there is a sense of loss in the parish and in the area that it occupies.
GG: What impact has the pandemic had on the poorest parishes of the Archdiocese? And what kind of support are you offering? Has the Archdiocese worked closely with city agencies and nonprofit organizations in this time?
BM: The impact has reduced the already small numbers in some parishes; this has had an effect on community and ministry (and financial support for ministry). In the Black community, there is great fear because of the higher risk they may face, so people are reluctant to come back in person. They prefer to attend Mass via live-streaming from the parish church.
Liturgy in the Hispanic and Black communities (especially with choirs and physical touching at the sign of peace, which are so important to the worship experience) is very different now. Many parishes in the city are destination parishes (people come back to the churches where they grew up); these folks tend to be older and therefore at higher risk so there has been a direct impact on city parish Mass attendance. On the positive side, smaller parishes that have larger buildings have not had to worry about capacity/social distancing requirements.
There also has been a notedly strong commitment, even in poor parishes, to feeding the hungry and providing additional support for people who are struggling (e.g., stocking parish food pantries and other assistance, as well as partnering with Maryland Food Bank and other non-profits). Some parishes have become COVID testing sites or have provided mobile testing resources (especially in heavily Hispanic and Black parishes). This work is being done in collaboration with the City Health Department, University of Maryland Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Hospital, and is organized by our pastors—especially Bishop Bruce Lesandowski who also serves as pastor of one of our Latino parishes.
Parishes have partnered with Catholic Charities to stock food pantries and provide hot meals where possible or pick up meals. The Archdiocese has provided major support to parishes by completing all the paperwork for the Payroll Protection Program; greater flexibility in financial matters and some temporary financial support is being offered on a case-by-case basis. The Archdiocese has also helped parishes in reporting the use of funds from the Payroll Protection Program.
A stained glass window at St. Edward’s Catholic Church. The station’s sculpted relief and gold mosaic were created in Italy in 1947.
Photo: A. Robert Jaeger
GG: Can you tell us about your expectations and hopes for the collaboration between Partners and the Archdiocese?
BM: Our collaboration with Partners will be giving parishes a great sense of their own identity and who they really are—they are much more than a poor struggling parish. Hopefully this work will help the parishes discern the best way to be present and evangelize their communities in a sustainable way; our working together with you blends planning and evangelization. All in all, the Archdiocese is expanding the scope of its professional capacity through its work with Partners’ staff.
GG: Partners’ work over thirty years has shown that sacred places are not only spiritual centers but are often community hubs. Is this the case with the parishes selected to work with Partners? Can you share some examples?
BM: Indeed, each of our Parishes is part of the whole neighborhood and plays an important role in its collective spirit and sense of worth. The presence of parishes is important in ways above and beyond worship. These parishes have food pantries and soup kitchens; St. Peter Claver houses the Safe Streets program and St. Edward hosts an employment center. The former site of St. Gregory Church is now a Senior Center, and the school at St. Ann houses outreach also. They definitely serve as community hubs.
GG: Many Dioceses and Archdioceses around the country are consolidating parishes given the changes in our society. What is the situation in Baltimore and can you anticipate how you might plan to put buildings that will no longer be active parishes to new use?
The Stations of the Cross at St. Edward’s Catholic Church. The station’s sculpted relief and gold mosaic were created in Italy in 1947.
Photo: A. Robert Jaeger
BM: At this point, we can’t know what changes might happen but we do know that our urban parishes face a multitude of challenges that are good cause to prayerfully reflect on the best way to utilize those resources in mission-focused, evangelizing ways. We hope that the work with Partners will help to inform that discussion and better equip the parishes to make the necessary decisions.
A number of buildings in these parishes have already been repurposed for community-oriented functions—for example, St. Ambrose’s school for senior housing; St. Edward’s school for employment training and automotive training; St. Gregory church site for a senior center; St. Peter Claver school for Head Start; and St. Ann’s school for a Catholic school and a prayer garden that provides an oasis of peace in a very dangerous neighborhood.