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The Baltimore ‘Seek the City’ switch-up from a priest’s perspective

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Posted at 10:33 PM, Jun 25, 2024

ARBUTUS, Md. — This summer, Catholic churches in Baltimore are planning for historic closures and mergers. The Archdiocese is shuttering a long list of churches, it says, amid low attendance and piling maintenance costs.

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

The 'Seek the City' process will be a shuffle for clergy as well as parishioners.

For Catholics on Sunday morning, a priest can offer balance amid life's uncertainties. Father Mike Murphy offered that to parishioners at St. Joseph's Monastery in Irvington.

"It's not a closure; it's not a farewell; it's not a goodbye; it's basically more work for me. And less pay," said Murphy, always ready to break the ice with a joke.

Murphy, a Baltimore native, worked at Mt. St. Joseph's High School for almost 30 years and eventually became pastor of the historic monastery.

"I've been in the neighborhood all my life as a priest, except for 3 years I was in Cumberland, Western Maryland," Murphy added.

Murphy's duties are changing; he will now be the pastor of Our Lady of Victory in Arbutus. With that role: assuming a larger territory, maintaining an on-the-ground approach, helping those in need in the city, and regrowing the Catholic faith in Baltimore.

"My role as pastor's really going to change, because it's not going to be, 'I'll be around the office all day.' It's going to be—I'm going to be out in the community doing things, and that means you have to empower parishioners and laypeople to take up their rightful role to ministry," Murphy described.

St. Joseph's Monastery will stay open as a 'worship'site'—still holding mass, funerals, and baptisms—but all administrative work will take place at OLV. Two other churches in the general area, St. Benedict and Transfiguration Catholic Community, will close and merge with Our Lady of Victory.

Similar changes are happening all across town; the Archdiocese of Baltimore says a fraction of its peak congregants decades ago go to church each Sunday, and that maintenance costs were stacking up.

For the faces at the altars every Sunday, it presents a new test: in a larger sense, reigniting Catholicism.

"More outreach, more presence. Doing things differently. The days of—they used to call it the 'Church Triumphant'—the church people would always come—those days are gone. For a lot of reasons. So now the church needs to go out into the community and be present, and invite people into a community they may find new life in," Murphy told WMAR.

Right now, Father Mike is putting together a transition team, comprised of two members of each congregation set to merge with OLV, to determine which elements to bring from each parish.

Murphy steadily asked for the public's patience as the 'Seek the City' process unfurled. As we prepare to see its impacts, his message is "...to be optimistic, to be positive, to be charitable, and loving is going to be even more important now that we're going into this next new phase."

The Archdiocese, which announced the plan last month, has said no changes would be immediate and leaders would take into account the needs of each parish.