Archdiocese proposes to close Corpus Christi church

Father Marty Demek – Kristine Smets

On April 14 the Archdiocese of Baltimore unveiled its “Seek the City to Come” proposal, which seeks to reimagine the Catholic Church’s ministry and reorganize Roman Catholic parishes across Baltimore City. The proposal would consolidate 61 parishes down to 21. Among those facing potential closure is the 144-year-old Corpus Christi parish, situated at the corner of Mt. Royal and West Lafayette Aves.

Corpus Christi parish was established in 1880 to strengthen the Catholic presence in the growing “Bolton Depot” neighborhood. The first services were held at the residence of the Rev. William Star, the first pastor, located at 45 Bolton St., a house that once stood near present-day Bolton House Apartments. Ground was broken for the first Corpus Christi school building at Mt. Royal and Lafayette in May 1881, and mass was celebrated in the school’s chapel starting in November.

The church building, financed by the Jenkins family, was consecrated on Jan. 1, 1891. It was designed by renowned architect Patrick Charles Keely, featuring neo-Gothic stained-glass windows, mosaics, marble wainscoting, and a two-manual Odell organ. Additional enhancements were made over the years, including the addition of a new tower and spire in 1913. Its Florentine glass mosaics are considered some of the finest examples in the world.

Throughout its history, the parish faced challenges such as the Tivoli disaster in 1883, which claimed the lives of many parishioners, and the decline in membership after World War II as residents moved to the suburbs. In 1976, the Rev. Francis Dougherty left the parish, and the future was uncertain until the Revs. Frank Callahan and John Sewell were appointed, ushering in a new era of leadership. Under their guidance, the church underwent a much-needed renovation. Sister Jane Coyle’s appointment in 1987 as pastoral life director brought national attention as an early example of a woman-led Catholic parish, which flourished with a strong community spirit and outreach programs. Her leadership upheld the strong “Vatican II mission” that encouraged parishioners to actively engage and take ownership of their parish ministries.

The Rev. Richard Bozzelli, installed in 2000, continued this progressive legacy of lay involvement and oversaw another extensive renovation. Despite declining religious practice and controversies within the Catholic church, the parish remains vibrant, inclusive, and active in community outreach to this day.

Corpus Christi parish today counts 170 registered households. The Rev. Martin Demek, the pastor’s 14th pastor and Baltimore native, came in 2010. The parish prides itself on being an inclusive community that embraces individuals who may have previously felt marginalized by the church.

Kristen Bowden, who joined the pastoral team in 2012, runs a successful faith formation curriculum for the parish’s children. Parishioner and Bolton Hill neighbor Beth Steinrock leads a thriving food ministry at the St. Francis Neighborhood Center in Reservoir Hill. The parish engages in ecumenical activities with neighboring Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church and Memorial Episcopal Church, including longstanding traditions such as the Ash Wednesday service (established in 1989), the Palm Sunday procession, and participation in the Tri-Church Lenten Series. The “Corpus Christi Chili Booth” has been a beloved fixture at Festival on the Hill since 1969.

The recent archdiocesan proposal sent shockwaves through the congregation. Numerous parishioners weighed in during the public comment sessions. Kevin Kostic, a resident of northeast Baltimore, voiced the concern of many parishioners that the proposed merger may not continue the parish’s longstanding commitment to supporting women leaders and the LGBTQ+ community.

Dan Meyer, the music director at Corpus Christi since 2001, worries that the current proposal places too much emphasis on geography and not enough on diversity. Dan remarked: “At Corpus Christi I am fully accepted into the church and am not just a member of a ‘gay group’.” At the April 30 session, a group of parishioners voiced their optimism and desire for the archdiocese to reconsider its stance and recognize the pivotal role that Corpus Christi’s parish can play in revitalizing the church’s ministry within the city.

Corpus Christi has parishioners who come from as far away as Perry Hall, but at the same time, it is rooted in the central city. Local parishioners who do not have easy access to transportation are understandably worried. Roberta Morgan, who lives on Guilford Avenue and rides her power wheelchair to church, discovered the church when she was a MICA student in the early seventies. The priests allowed her access to the church space for quiet contemplation before classes each day. Al Johnson, a resident at Bolton North since 1979 and a proud parishioner, is deeply upset about the possibility of the Catholic church abandoning his neighborhood.

The formal public comment sessions concluded on April 30, with the archdiocese indicating that a final plan will be announced in mid-June. Echoing the archdiocese’s statement that the proposed parish reorganization and closures are not yet finalized, Father Demek encourages his parishioners to continue to make their voices heard.

Likewise, all Bolton Hill neighbors and any others who value the presence of faith-filled congregations in their community are encouraged to voice their opinions about the fate of Corpus Christi, its building, its people, and the resources it provides, by emailing

–Kristine Smets