Baltimore Archdiocese announces major restructuring that will merge dozens of parishes

Baltimore St. Vincent de Paul St. Vincent de Paul Church, the oldest Catholic parish church in continuous use in Baltimore, which was dedicated in 1841, is among the churches slated for closure. | Credit: Smash the Iron Cage|Wikimedia|CC BY-SA 4.0

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has announced the details of its major parish merger plan, one that will merge 61 parishes in the episcopate’s titular city into 21 parishes. 

The archdiocese said on its website on Sunday that its Seek the City to Come initiative “has entered its public comment phase,” with the plan set to address “investment and ministries, the realignment of parish communities designed to offer a strong sense of belonging for all, and the merging of parish campuses.”

The plan, detailed on the archdiocese’s website, would reduce the total number of “worship sites” in the area from 59 to 26. 

The final plan will be announced in June, the archdiocese says, although “no changes will be immediate,” with the mergers taking place “with consultation and over time.”

Parishes in the city have faced sustained challenges in recent years, the archdiocese said, including “deferred maintenance, low Mass attendance, and multiple unmet opportunities to better serve the needs of the broader community.”

The diocese has “known for a long time that we could not continue to ignore the decline in Mass attendance and increased resources required to keep our physical plants in good condition,” the plan says, necessitating the local Church to “realign and consolidate our efforts and resources.”

Decisions on how to dispose of the decommissioned parishes will be made at a later date. After those decisions are made, “all churches will be available for sacraments that include baptisms, weddings, and funerals,” the archdiocese said. 

Among the proposed closures is St. Vincent de Paul Church in downtown Baltimore. Dedicated in 1841, it is the oldest continuously operated church in the city and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also facing closure is the historic Corpus Christi Parish, which was consecrated in 1891 in the city’s Bolton Hill neighborhood.

The archdiocese in September of last year declared bankruptcy after warning it might do so in response to a looming wave of sex-abuse-related lawsuits. The bankruptcy process will “involve several steps over the next two to three years,” Archbishop William Lori said at the time. 

This week the archdiocese noted that the restructuring of the city parishes “began long before” the Chapter 11 filing in September. 

“Seek the City is a ground-up solution being developed based on the Church’s decades-long need for creating a sustainable Catholic presence in Baltimore City and commitment to reinvest in vibrant and effective ministries,” the archdiocese said. 

The archdiocese said it would hold two public comment sessions on the proposal later this month. 

Lori in the announcement said the plan will “help the Church in Baltimore minister to our neighbors and respond to the needs of the city for the centuries to come as we have since 1789.”

“Together, we must design a plan that confronts decades of disinvestment and population loss in the city and brings the Eucharistic vision to life through mission and ministry,” the prelate said. 

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