He was absent from a Mass marking the 175th anniversary of the parish he has led since 1975, but from the pews and the people in them, to the ambo and homily, the direction and touch of Father Richard T. Lawrence were apparent at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Baltimore Nov. 6.
For more than four decades, he has made the church at the bottom of the Fallsway a gathering place. His faithful embraced the liturgical reforms of Vatican II and saw that he was already on board with Pope Francis’ 2013 call for priests to embrace the marginalized and be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.”
The Baltimore native, 74, had a fall at his residence Oct. 7, leading to complications that left him hospitalized until Nov. 4, when he moved to a care center in north Baltimore.
“He said, ‘Word. Sacrament. Service.’ That made my life a lot easier,” Bishop Madden said.
The auxiliary bishop noted the appropriateness of the opening hymn, “All Are Welcome.” Moments before it was offered, a disheveled man entered the church and shouted, “Glory to God! Alleluia.”
The parish-owned park on the south side of the church has long been a place where the homeless are not just abided, but assisted. As Catholic worshippers gathered, River Christian Fellowship’s Sunday meeting in the park included coffee and hot breakfast.
For the last decade, Our Lady of the Fields in Millersville has helped provide a Friday night meal at the parish. As Audrey Rogers noted, St. Mark in Catonsville and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City have joined that outreach, as well as other communities, such as Empowerment Temple and the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore.
It’s not just partners who go the distance, but parishioners.
“Most drive 20 minutes to worship here, some drive 40,” said Rogers, a member of the parish Liturgy Committee. “It’s truly an intentional community.”
Liz Hasan, who moved from Chicago five years ago to be near her grandchildren, makes the drive in from Parkville.
“It’s a place that’s dedicated to the Gospel and to service,” said Hasan, who serves on the Education/Enrichment Committee. “It carries the philosophy of Vatican II, and lets me, as a woman, have a voice.”
“He’s the person who has convinced me that God loves me,” Heil said. “The love of God is the message. It’s one thing to talk about it. It’s another thing to experience and live it.”
It was a distinctive parish before Father Lawrence arrived, as noted in temporary displays in the vestibule honoring its pastors.
The orphanage was demolished in the 1970s and Catholic Charities of Baltimore continues that charism through St. Vincent’s Villa in Timonium, but the parish’s care for others continues.
As its November bulletin reported, over the first nine months of this year it has:
- Served 8,353 dinners on Friday nights;
- Distributed 250 sets of men’s clothing and 426 bags of groceries; and,
- Through Health Care for the Homeless, furnished dwellings for 88 formerly homeless people.
Father Charles J. Canterna, a prison minister in residence at St. Vincent de Paul, concelebrated the Mass with Bishop Madden. The liturgy included the presentation of a medal bearing the Seal of St. Vincent de Paul Church to Jerome Bird, who was instrumental in the 1990s renovation of the church.
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