In the seven years Bishop W. Francis Malooly has led the western vicariate, he has faced the challenge of overseeing a part of the archdiocese experiencing significant demographic changes.
Carroll, Frederick and Howard counties have all undergone steady rises in population, while far-western counties like Allegany and Garrett have continued to lose numbers in the wake of departed industries.
The changes have resulted in new, bigger churches erected in Clarksville, Westminster, Ijamsville and Manchester, with a new parish and a greatly expanded regional school established in Frederick. A bigger church is under construction in Libertytown, and many parishes in Frederick and Carroll counties have expanded their facilities.
In the western corner of the archdiocese, meanwhile, there has been consolidation and sharing of resources. St. Peter School in Westernport closed, and St. John Neumann School in Cumberland consolidated with Bishop Walsh School on Haystack Mountain.
Seven parishes in “Mountain Maryland” were united under one pastor, and the four parishes of the Cumberland area are currently completing a study exploring ways to deal with declining numbers and fewer priests.
Last year, the total Catholic population for the western vicariate (Allegany, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett, Howard and Washington counties), was 144,287, according to Marce D. Scarbrough, manager of information research and decision support in the archdiocesan division of information technology. That’s up from 126,729 10 years ago.
With 59,455 Catholics, Howard County is home to 12 percent of the total Catholic population of the archdiocese, while Garrett County has less than 1 percent, with only 892 Catholics.
The six counties in the western vicariate make up 29 percent of the total archdiocesan Catholic population.
According to the Maryland Department of Planning, the projected total population for the western vicariate counties will hit 1.2 million in 2030.
Frederick County is expected to be the fastest-growing county in the archdiocese for the next several decades, according to Mr. Scarbrough, with an anticipated influx of jobs in the Washington area and affordable housing among the factors.
“In Western Maryland,” Mr. Scarbrough said, “many people work in the Washington, D.C., area, but they don’t want or can’t afford to live in D.C. and the adjacent counties, so they move further out.”
The archdiocese is in regular contact with the county planning offices to keep track of demographic trends.
“We look at where future housing developments and schools are planned, and we look at where we currently have parishes and what their capacity is,” he said.