The Archdiocese of Baltimore put forward a proposal Sunday that would dramatically reduce — by two-thirds — the number of its churches in Baltimore and areas of Baltimore County.

The plan, which officials said was the result of two years of consideration, would cut 40 of its 61 parishes, resulting in the closure of several historic landmarks and once-thriving worship sites.

Archbishop William E. Lori will hold public listening sessions on the proposed plan at the end of the month, with a final decision expected in June.

On its website, the archdiocese cited maintenance costs of aging churches, low Mass attendance and “multiple unmet opportunities to better serve the needs of the broader community,” adding that “we could not consider ourselves to be good stewards if we did not take bold steps to ensure a brighter future, not just for tomorrow, but for years to come.”

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“This requires us to carefully take stock of, and realign, our human and material resource so that we have revitalized parishes and ministries actively bringing Christ’s healing presence to those in need,” they said.

The plan, called Seek the City to Come, began in September 2022 in response to dramatically falling participation, and officials say it was not related to its bankruptcy case filed last fall.

“One does not relate to the other,” the archdiocese said on its website. “The Seek the City process began long before the passage of the law lifting the statute of limitations and the subsequent filing for Chapter 11 reorganization.”

The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy protection in September right before a state law went into effect allowing more survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits. That followed the release by the Maryland Office of the Attorney General of a more than 450-page report that outlined decades of allegations of sexual abuse and cover-ups within the archdiocese.

Our Lady of Good Counsel on East Fort Avenue is one of the dozens of city churches targeted for closure. The cornerstone was laid by its former pastor, Cardinal Gibbons, in 1889, when it served many Irish immigrants.
Our Lady of Good Counsel on East Fort Avenue is one of the dozens of city churches targeted for closure. (Norman Gomlak/The Baltimore Banner)

The number of churches and worship sites would go from 59 to 26 under the proposed plan. Among those churches closing is downtown’s St. Vincent de Paul, which was dedicated in 1841 and is the oldest Catholic church in continuous operation in Baltimore. St. Pius X in Towson, St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish in Southwest Baltimore’s Irvington neighborhood and East Baltimore’s St. Wenceslaus, which was founded in 1871, are among the other sites slated for closure.

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Once the final plan is announced, church closures will take place during an implementation phase, which could be a “lengthy process depending on the parish and community it serves,” said Christian Kendzierski, executive director of communications for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, in an email. “Until decisions were made and implementation occurred, buildings would be available for sacramental purposes such as weddings, baptisms and funerals,” he added.

Parishioners at one South Baltimore church were informed of the change after Sunday Mass. Geographically clustered parishes will merge under the plan. For example, in Southwest Baltimore, St. Agnes, Our Lady of Victory, St. Benedict, St. Joseph’s Monastery and St. William of York will be seated at St. Agnes.

The Archdiocese is accepting comments from congregants about the proposed plan. The open public sessions are scheduled for:

Justin Fenton is an investigative reporter for the Baltimore Banner. He previously spent 17 years at the Baltimore Sun, covering the criminal justice system. His book, "We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops and Corruption," was released by Random House in 2021 and became an HBO miniseries.

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