For the final time, at least until my trip in 2021, I visited Baltimore last week. The occasion was my oldest child’s graduation from Johns Hopkins University. Needless to say, I’m a little proud of the young man, even if my role in his acceptance into and degree from one of the country’s finest institutions was quite limited.
I spent three days in the city, allowing me to do a little more sightseeing than most of my quick drop-offs/pickups over the last 5 years. And for a Catholic, there are many, many worse places to find yourself in than Charm City.
In many ways, Baltimore is the country’s original Catholic city (with apologies to St. Augustine, Fla.), given its importance in Maryland, a place where Catholics found a home in the overwhelmingly Protestant fellow 12 colonies. The colony was founded by Catholic convert George Calvert, who sought to create an area where people could be free to worship as they pleased.
Catholicism has flourished in Baltimore, and continues to do so.
My first stop, shortly after reconnecting with my son at his current place of work, was the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is America’s first Cathedral, built by famed architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe and home to America’s first bishop, John Carroll. It was the funeral site for Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. Most of the early bishops were consecrated here. Few churches in this country match its place in Catholic history.
Sitting one block up and one block east of the Cathedral is the Pope John Paul II Prayer Garden, a tiny spot of green to commemorate his visit to the city in 1995. The garden contains a lovely statue of the pope and two small children, based on a photo taken when the pope arrived at BWI Airport. It also features a quote from his visit highlighting the importance of religious freedom, harkening back to the colony’s founding. It’s a lovely tranquil place in an otherwise busy neighborhood.
By happy coincidence, the hotel my wife chose to stay in, a few blocks northeast of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, was also just across the street from the National Shrine of St. Alphonsus Liguori. On Graduation Day, I woke up early to attend Mass at the beautiful church, once home to St. John Neumann. It was my first Latin Mass, though it’s possible I attended some when I was a very small child.
Finally, as we were making our final preparations before the four-hour commencement exercise at Royal Farms Arena, I sneaked off to the St. Jude Shrine. The “Forgotten Saint” or the patron saint of lost causes, Judas Thaddeus has been celebrated here since 1917, when the Nationwide Center of St. Jude Devotions was founded by the Pallottines. As with the Basilica, there was a steady stream of guests dropping in to pray that afternoon.