Life magazine famously named 1968 “the year that changed history.” Certainly the multiplication of historic events that year earn it a noted place in the history books. And, among the events of special recognition was the establishment of our parish.
Back then many suburban parishes in this country were bursting at the seams and North Baltimore was no exception. Nativity was carved out of the middle of St. Joseph’s Cockeysville and Immaculate Conception, Towson. The parish started meeting in the gym at Ridgely Road Middle School and plans were quickly developed for the construction of a church building on a 20 acre property the Archdiocese owned across the street from the school.
This was a period of seismic changes not only in society but also in the Church, following the Second Vatican Council’s intention to modernize. Cardinal Lawrence Shehan, the Archbishop at the time, established Nativity as a distinctly different kind of parish, an incarnation of the Council’s teaching.
For one thing, it would not have a school, the Cardinal prudently foreseeing that the whole landscape of Catholic education was changing and the traditional model of parochial or parish based schools staffed by convents full of nuns (who essentially worked for free) was already disappearing.
Another notable difference from the traditional parish culture, was that there would be no fraternal/social programs, like a ladies sodality, Knights of Columbus, or CYO. Instead, youth and adults alike would be invited to participate in ongoing faith formation together with the program of religious education (in place of a school).
The most visible difference would come in the church building itself, one of the first in this area to be built in the modern International style. A single complex would connect religious education classrooms, with the worship space and fellowship areas. The church would have bathrooms (churches didn’t always have bathrooms) and an ample parking lot (also a novelty for most parishes).
Obviously a lot has happened in the ensuing 50 years. Some of the original strategies succeeded and some did not, others have been developed. But what I am so very proud of is the fact that as a parish that continues to be innovative, indeed to lead the way in parish innovation, we are building on the intention and best tradition of those who have gone before us.
We will celebrate our 50th in our beautiful, amazing (debt free) new church. And we do so as we recognize the many other blessings the Lord has graced us with in recent years, really in every measurable way. At the same time we see our reach extend as we seek to support other parishes as they rebuild.
Our celebration will take place the weekend of September 15th and 16th and many fun and festive features are already in the planning stages. Mark your calendars now to celebrate the year that changed everything.