The History of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Pikesville

 

The Parish was founded in 1848 as a mission of the Cathedral by the Reverend Charles White. Pikesville itself had been founded only a few years earlier in an area of landed estates tended by immigrants and slaves. Several prominent Catholic families, including the Carrolls, had land in the area and spent their summers here in the cool countryside. Besides not wanting to go back into the sweltering city for Mass, they also wanted their dependents, especially the German and Irish Catholic immigrants, to be able to hear the gospel regularly. Before Fr. White, itinerant priests said Masses and heard Confessions in homes or private chapels every few months.

 

The original Church building was in desperate shape by the 1880’s. We have no pictures of the original altar, but in 1888 a new main altar and side altars were added but this did not help the structure itself and in 1898 a new building, the one we have now, was finished. The stained glass window from the original Church can be seen in the sacristy. The 1888 altar was retained. It is the one we use today.

 

As Pikesville grew, Fr. White, a strong advocate for education, briefly established a school for boys at St. Charles, but it did not thrive. It was not until after the start of the twentieth century that the St. Charles School most parishioners remember was started. Previously Religious education or Sunday school was taught in parishioners’ homes. The original school building is now St. Charles House, a facility administered by Associated Catholic Charities. The Catholic community in the area grew and the Parish, which once stretched north to the state line, propagated two new parishes, St. Ambrose and Sacred Heart of Glyndon.

 

The changes in the Faith Community of St. Charles reflected the social and religious changes throughout its history. The baby boom after WWII saw about 2000 families worshiping at St. Charles. By the 1960’s there was a new school building, a new rectory and a new convent and many active ministries, especially Sodality and Holy Name Society. Vatican II mandates required changes to the physical plant of St. Charles and also opened up many opportunities for lay participation of which the parishioners of St. Charles took immediate advantage. We were one of the first parishes to have lectors and Eucharistic ministers, to participate in outreach programs like Our Daily Bread, and to sponsor SWORD and now Together We Can Make It for separated and divorced Catholics.

 

This strength was again tested in the early 1980’s when the decision to close the St. Charles School was made. Active parishioners now tended to be grandparents and the number of families slumped to less than 400. However, we have always had a strong religious education ministry, having one of the first Directors of Religious Education in the area to coordinate education for Catholic children in public schools.

 

The number of families at St Charles is now around 600. We are among the most diverse parishes, with over 20 languages spoken. The school building is now leased to a private Christian school and remains in use for Parish functions. In addition, St. Charles was one of the first parishes to be administered by a Pastoral Life Director due to the shortage of priests. Though challenged by emerging needs, the Faith Community of St. Charles continues to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to meet those needs and to shine, strong and vibrant, attracting new members and converts. It will, no doubt, do so for another 150 plus years.

 

Pamela B. Wright

September 2003

 

For a detailed history of St. Charles, see St. Charles Borromeo Parish: The story of its people and their faith, 1848-1998 by Mary Jane Klein, written for our sesquicentennial. The book is available in the rectory.