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Archdiocese: Closing churches will begin final masses in fall, close by December

Baltimore Catholic Church leader sits down with WMAR to discuss 'Seek the City' implementation
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Posted at 9:57 PM, Jul 10, 2024

BALTIMORE — It was once a stronghold for the Catholic faith; now, as Baltimore's population and the number of worshippers in the pews decline, dozens of Catholic churches are closing.

WMAR sat down with Bishop Bruce Lewandowksi, vicar for Baltimore City, to discuss the 'Seek the City to Come' process and its implementation.

READ MORE: Archdiocese of Baltimore cuts parishes from 61 to 23

Most folks slow things down in the summer months. But with 31 closures looming, Bishop Bruce Lewandowski is fully immersed.

"This summer, it's been full-speed ahead," Lewandowski said. "Parish visits, visits with parishioners, visits with pastors."

The Archdiocese is laying the groundwork and clerical work needed for its final 'Seek the City' plan to materialize and for the merged parishes to form. Lewandowski was part of a group of church leaders, staff, and consultants which put together plans to close and merge dozens of churches.

As part of that process, the closing churches will hold their last masses beginning this September and will all close by December, a spokesperson confirmed to WMAR.

"The next phase, which will really start in the fall, and this will be the most difficult part of all of this—parishes are setting up the dates for their final masses—it's hard to even say that. Those masses that will be the goodbye and farewell masses for parishes," Lewandowski told WMAR.

The church needed to get smaller to get bigger, according to the Archdiocese. A fraction of mid-20th-century church attendees go to mass now, and costs to keep the buildings in shape were piling up.

The Archdiocese is asking merging parishes to form transition teams made up of worshippers from closing and staying churches.

"There are 31 parishes that will go through this pilgrimage of saying goodbye. Rites of farewell," Lewandowski added.

Over the weeks since the final closures were announced, several parishioners from across town told WMAR they felt upset and disenfranchised, losing their lifelong church homes. WMAR asked Lewandowski about those feelings:

"Let's embrace new life," Lewandowski said in part, "and look at the great opportunity we have before us to make history. It really is that, and I want the history to not be that we closed churches; only that will be part of the history in the story that's told. But I want the history to tell the story of the new and exciting initiatives that were made possible because we got out from underneath the maintenance and care, and management of buildings and property."

St. Ann's, an historic black Catholic church on Greenmount Ave., for example, is slated to close and merge with St. Francis Xavier, just over a mile away. Its parishioners, dismayed by the planned closure, told WMAR they worried about the closure's effect on their community and spiritual service in Greenmount.

RELATED: St. Ann’s Catholic Church, with its 150-year history, among Archdiocese closures

Lewandowski told WMAR he wants parishioners to maintain their presence, continuing their charity and ministry, but not necessarily with a church.

"It may not be consoling right now. These wounds of church closures are still open; they're gaping wounds; people are hurting; I understand that—but there's a future beyond a building and beyond a campus that would allow us to be Christlike neighbors in new, exciting, and powerful ways," Lewandowski added.

For Catholics still looking to keep their churches open, Lewandowski said there is still an appeals process through the Holy See—the Vatican itself.

Lewandowski likened Baltimore's situation to the very early days of the church, when the apostles started from nothing to spread the gospel. He hopes the changes bring about a promising future, for a faith in a trying present.

The Archdiocese has maintained the ongoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, and the church closures, are separate. Parish assets, leaders say, will follow closing churches to their new parishes.

None of the properties have been sold yet.