Beacons of Light: Parishes expand their footprints

First in a Series

The October 2017 issue of the Catholic Review explored the theme of “Positively Catholic” through Education, Health Care, Parish Life and Service. Each Review print issue in 2019 will explore one of those aspects of being “Positively Catholic.”

The newly illuminated steeple at St. Joseph Church in Cockeysville, with a crescent moon and the planet Venus in in the pre-dawn sky Dec. 3, is among the ways parishes stand out. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

A time of great joy and celebration, Christmas has a way of bringing people back to the Catholic church – or maybe into a pew for the first time.

Here are some of the ways parishes in the Archdiocese of Baltimore make spirits bright and expand their faith communities.


Monsignor Richard B. Hilgartner, pastor of St. Joseph in Cockeysville, noticed one night that the property on Church Lane was dark and its church not as prominent as when it was built.

“Our strategic plan included a call not only to be more welcoming but to be more inviting,” Monsignor Hilgartner said. “It became clear to me early on that our church is rather hidden behind all the shopping centers on York Road, even though we were here long before anything else.”

That was rectified last September, when the approximately 150-year-old spire (pictured on the cover) was lighted for the first time, fulfilling the parish’s new motto, “A beacon of faith, worship and witness.”

New signage was also installed, physical improvements that are a concrete reminder to the local community of the church’s presence, according to Monsignor Hilgartner.

Just to the south, in Timonium, the Church of the Nativity’s new worship center includes an airy café, a place that encourages fellowship and comfort – and a visual reminder that the faithful are welcome to linger before and after Mass.


The new worship center at the Church of the Nativity in Timonium includes a café for parishioners to continue fellowship after Mass. (Kevin J. Parks/CR Staff)

Effective bulletins, whether on paper or online, supply information and inspiration that go above and beyond listing a staff directory and Mass times.

St. Peter the Apostle in Libertytown is among those that include a weekly message from the pastor. The Catholic Community of Ascension and St. Augustine recently used its weekly bulletin as a way to introduce staff members and their backstories to the recently merged congregations in Halethorpe and Elkridge, respectively.

St. Ignatius in Hickory and St. Patrick in Havre de Grace welcome new parish members in their bulletins. Our Lady, Queen of Peace in Middle River lists its newest members – those recently baptized – by name. St. Ignatius in Baltimore  has its “Parish: ‘the thought’ ” newsletter that includes graphics, articles, links and videos.


Frederick Fonlon leads the African Catholic Community at St. Joseph in Fullerton.

Visitors to St. Peter Claver and St. Pius V in Baltimore receive a door hanger filled with a booklet of daily reflections, an invitation to Mass, a prayer card, a bumper sticker, prayer bookmark and a rosary. A similar packet can be found at St. Ambrose in the city, described as a “A Beacon of Light for the Park Heights Community.”

St. Clare in Essex has a welcome brochure, in both English and Spanish, with information on religious education, sacraments and ministries.

When Father Jesse Bolger became pastor of St. Joseph in Fullerton in July 2016, he found a diverse community, but noticed that African immigrants did not have a strong identity there. Its African Catholic Community, headed by Frederick Fonlon, filled that void.

“It’s an important element to bringing our brothers and sisters more into the life of this parish,” Father Bolger said. “They’re not only welcome, but have a leadership role in the life of the parish.”

The African Catholic Community, which includes members from more than 10 nations and includes both longtime parishioners and newcomers, sponsors quarterly Masses and monthly service outreaches. It will celebrate its second anniversary March 17 with a 2 p.m. Mass, followed by a reception.


St. Louis in Clarksville is one of the largest parishes in the archdiocese, but Monsignor Joseph L. Luca, pastor, said  keeping it a personal community is a priority.

“Even though we’re large,” he said, “we’re conscious of them (parishioners) as a person.”

Members of the parish council and parishioners take turns staffing a hospitality table in the narthex, where they meet and greet new faces and answer questions.

St. Louis hosts monthly welcomes for new parishioners that include refreshments, a presentation about the parish and its history and ministries. New families get to introduce themselves to each other, and many bond over common workplaces, such as the National Security Agency.

Every year near Christmas, the parish publishes a parish directory (of those who consent) with names, addresses and phone numbers. Around the same time, parish council members call every family listed to remind them of upcoming Christmas Masses – and to wish them a Merry Christmas.

Monsignor Luca said many families register at St. Louis when their children are being baptized. For nearly a decade, a team at the parish has designed age-appropriate cards to send to every child on the anniversaries of their baptisms. It lets the children – and their families – know they remain loved and acknowledged.

Emily Rosenthal Alster

Emily Rosenthal Alster

Emily Rosenthal Alster, a former staff writer for the Catholic Review, is a contributing writer. She is a lifelong resident of Maryland and a parishioner of St. John in Westminster.

Emily is a graduate of Delone Catholic High School in McSherrystown, Pa. She holds a bachelor's degree in business communication from Stevenson University.