After logging hundreds of miles, shaking hands with scores of Catholics and making a pitch for religious vocations at every turn, Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien has completed his mission of visiting each of the 151 parishes of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
The whirlwind tour started in the mountains of Western Maryland seven months ago and ended May 1 in fast-growing Howard County where Baltimore’s spiritual shepherd met some of his flock at St. Augustine, Elkridge; Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Ellicott City; St. Paul, Ellicott City; Church of the Resurrection, Ellicott City; St. John, Columbia; St. Louis, Clarksville; and St. Francis of Assisi, Fulton.
In an interview with The Catholic Review, Archbishop O’Brien said the visits have helped him learn more about the diverse parishes of the archdiocese and have allowed him to get to know the priests in a “much deeper way.”
“I’ve been encouraged by the dedication of our priests,” said Archbishop O’Brien, holding his crosier outside St. Augustine after celebrating a May 1 Mass that attracted hundreds of students from the parish school and Catholics of the region.
“Our priests are just extraordinary,” he said. “Some pastors have several parishes, and some pastors have parishes where there used to be three or four priests. They have a great gift of attracting people to work for the church.”
With fewer priests available for ministry, the archbishop said clergy are motivating parishioners to support their parishes “in a way we couldn’t have imagined a generation ago.”
At the end of the St. Augustine Mass, Archbishop O’Brien pointed to a large, white statue of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and asked girls to consider becoming religious sisters like St. Elizabeth. He then made a special request for boys to think about becoming priests. It was a familiar plea he has made while traveling throughout Baltimore City and nine surrounding counties since his Oct. 1 installation.
The archbishop has similarly asked Catholics to pray for vocations during eucharistic adoration. He would like more parishes to offer opportunities for adoration.
“That’s going to be key to our growth as a Catholic community and certainly for building vocations,” he said.
God makes the call for religious vocations, Archbishop O’Brien said, “but we can certainly echo that call and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The night before visiting Howard County parishes, Archbishop O’Brien stopped by the three parishes of the Catholic Community of South Baltimore: St. Mary, Star of the Sea; Holy Cross and Our Lady of Good Counsel.
Celebrating a Mass at Good Counsel on the vigil of the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, the archbishop reminded parishioners that one of their former pastors, then-Father James Gibbons, was an important figure in upholding the dignity of workers. While serving Our Lady of Good Counsel, then known as St. Lawrence O’Toole, the future cardinal saw how hard the dock and railroad workers labored at Locust Point and he never forgot it, Archbishop O’Brien said.
Cardinal Gibbons succeeded in urging the pope not to condemn the Knights of Labor, a late 19th-century labor organization that some other bishops wanted to squelch, Archbishop O’Brien said. Many Catholics belonged to the Knights and were concerned about the rights of workers, he said.
“If not for this great archbishop, many would have left the church,” said Archbishop O’Brien.
The archbishop thanked parishioners for their work supporting the church as musicians, lectors, committee members and in other ministries.