Apostolate Spotlight: Baltimore

The FSSP has officially begun its administration of the National Shrine of St. Alphonsus Liguori in Baltimore, Maryland. This is the first national shrine to be entrusted to the care of the FSSP.

The shrine is a jewel of the East Coast, a place of extraordinary architectural beauty built in 1845 in the southern German Neo-Gothic style. It is also a church that holds a significant place in Catholic history, it being the church where the provincial headquarters of the Redemptorist Order were located for many years and where that most illustrious Redemptorist, St. John Neumann, professed his religious vows, served as pastor and was consecrated bishop.

The sanctuary of the National Shrine of St. Alphonsus Liguori

Sunday, August 6, marked the first Sunday of the Shrine being under the care of its new pastor, Fr. Joel Kiefer. Weekday Masses, including a special Mass in honor of the Shrine’s patron on the evening of Wednesday, August 2, were begun the week leading up to that Sunday.

The congregation which gathered for the 11:30 Mass was able to greet their new pastor at a celebratory meet-and-greet held in the rectory afterwards. The smorgasbord of coffee, pastries and hors d’oeuvres was completed by a cake emblazoned with an FSSP shield and the words “Habemus Pastorem” – that is, “We have a pastor.” The crowd listened eagerly in the little hall as Fr. Kiefer gave a detailed speech in which he spoke of the coming days and the plans he has in mind for the Shrine of St. Alphonsus and answered questions from the parishioners. The gathering eventually moved outside into the beautiful summer sunshine that looked down on a charming grassy courtyard where children played and cake was served. Fr. Kiefer continued to speak with his new parishioners until late in the afternoon.

Sunday Mass at the Shrine

To learn more about St. Alphonsus and the days leading up to the FSSP’s arrival in Baltimore, we talked to Mr. John Walter, Master of Ceremonies and senior server at St. Alphonsus, a young parishioner whose family has attended St. Alphonsus for 24 years and who has been serving for 22 of them. Mr. Walter contributed both facts on the history of the parish and his own thoughts on recent events.

During the homily

The Latin Mass, Mr. Walter explains, began in 1991 at St. Alphonsus and was offered twice a month until it became a weekly Mass. Around that same time members of the community started the Gregorian Society of Baltimore in order to promote and preserve the Traditional Latin Mass in the Baltimore area. Several priests said the Mass over the years until Monsignor Arthur Bastress became pastor in 1998. After Monsignor’s arrival, Fr. Casmir Peterson and Monsignor were the priests who most often said the Latin Mass.

“Monsignor Bastress was a great pastor,” says Mr. Walter, “since he would have Mass for us every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. He took care of the Latin Mass community and the parish itself.” Monsignor accomplished needed restoration work at the historical shrine, repairing the roof, windows and steeple and replacing the finials on the top of the church.

“Growing up attending St. Alphonsus makes the church feel like home,” Mr. Walter continues. “And serving for Monsignor during his time at St. Alphonsus made his retirement sorrowful. The community is grateful for everything that he has done for the parish. Without him and the work he accomplished during his time as pastor, St. Alphonsus would have been closed.”

The beautiful Neo-Gothic architecture is a hallmark of the Shrine

Two former attendees of St. Alphonsus are now priests with the FSSP. Mr. Walter told us more about the connection that the community at St. Alphonsus has with the Fraternity.

“The arrival of the FSSP still feels like a dream, but a dream that has come true,” he says. “For about the last twenty years and counting various members of the Gregorian Society have been friends with the FSSP. We have had the pleasure of befriending multiple Fraternity priests when our members attended the Fraternity ordinations over the decades, and we also have taken up collections at Mass in order to sponsor some of the priests back when they were in the seminary.

“It has always been our dream to become our own traditional parish, and after getting to know the FSSP, that dream continued. After decades of petitioning, letter writing, promoting the Latin Mass around the City, and praying for the dream to come true, it is wonderful that the Diocese has finally allowed the FSSP to come to St. Alphonsus.”

Processing out

Mr. Walter is looking forward to what the coming days will bring. “Having the Fraternity is beyond glorious, especially when imagining just how much the parish can grow, not just in size but the growth in spiritual life as well,” he says. His words are certainly confirmed by the plans that Fr. Kiefer explained to the parishioners on Sunday. In time parish life will be established in all its facets, including a full Sunday schedule of Masses, feast day celebrations, regular parish social events and groups for men, women, boys, girls and young adults. The Shrine is to become not only a flourishing parish but a center of tradition in the Baltimore/DC area, the East Coast at large and the entire United States. Retreats, conferences and other events are to be regular occurrences here.

“A new chapter has started at St. Alphonsus, and Mass there will be more glorious than ever, especially Midnight Mass at Christmas,” says Mr. Walter. “The dream has come true and we are thankful to Bishop Lori for allowing the FSSP to come, and to Monsignor James Hannon, who is the Director of Clergy Personnel for the Diocese of Baltimore, for hearing our voice over the past few months after Monsignor Bastress’ retirement.” 

This historic shrine has paint peeling from the walls in places, and more restoration work is needed in order to return it to its former splendor. But it appears as though the renewal of the shrine has already begun in earnest. The Shrine of St. Alphonsus, a landmark in the city of Baltimore for such a length of years, is poised for an extraordinary springtime, and it will be a wonder to see it blossom.

October 3, 2017