South Conkling & Claremont Streets, Baltimore, Maryland
A Highlandtown parish since 1923
Our Lady of Pompei Catholic Church
Our Lady of Pompei was founded as a parish in 1923 in order to serve the Italian immigrant community in Baltimore. Construction of the church began on January 16, 1923 and was completed the next year; the first mass was held on June 1, 1924. The church was founded by the Vincentian Fathers. The first pastor and founder was Fr. Luigi Scialdone, C.M. (Congregation of the Mission).
After spending 17 years of missionary work in the land of China, Fr. Luigi Scialdone, C.M. came to Highlandtown. The archbishop at the time, Michael J. Curley, appointed Fr. Scialdone pastor of the scattered Italian flock. Archbishop Curley reflects on Fr. Scialdone’s work in his letter of April 7, 1934: "He began his work under the most difficult circumstances. The Italian flock was scattered. Very little attention had been paid to them."
Our Lady of Pompei quickly became an anchor for the Highlandtown community, and over the next 50 years, Our Lady of Pompei continued to be an anchor. The parish school offered K-12 education and Sunday School. Parishioners enjoyed the feast day celebration and procession, the annual bull roast, and the summer street carnivals, where the best fried dough in town was served!
In the early 1990s, both the parish and the neighborhood were currently experiencing very difficult times. Enrollment in the parish school was declining and families were leaving the city. New realities were setting in - the polarization of the population which consisted of two groups, the very young and the very old, the increased presence of transients, and growing financial difficulties for the parish and the people.
In 1991, the Vincentian Fathers made the decision to no longer administer Our Lady of Pompei. Fr. Lou Esposito, still the current pastor, petitioned Archbishop Keeler to take charge of Our Lady of Pompei. Fr. Esposito had been part of Our Lady of Pompei for 27 years since first being assigned to the parish. He made the difficult decision to request a dispensation from his religious vows with the Vincentian Fathers in order to be incarnated into the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Fr. Lou led the parish in a time of rebuilding.
In 2008, in response to the growing Hispanic community, Our Lady of Pompei began its Spanish ministry, offering mass in Spanish. Fr. Luis Cremis joined the parish, from our sister mission, in Peru, operated by Operation Mato Grosso. Fr. Cremis assisted with the expanded ministry. Parish life was reinvigorated! The parish school combined with the parish school of St. Elizabeth's of Hungary to form Archbishop Borders School. This was a K-8 school administered by the Archdiocese of Baltimore operated in the Our Lady of Pompei school building.
Unfortunately, in 2011, then Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, decided to consolidate the Spanish ministry in East Baltimore to one church. The Archbishop Borders School was also moved. Not permitted to offer a Spanish ministry, many of the newer parishioners, who made Our Lady of Pompei their home, were uprooted.
In August 2013, Bishop Madden visited Our Lady of Pompei and spoke with the parishioners. He heard the determination of the parishioners that Our Lady of Pompei is not dead. The message was clear - we require some help from the Archdiocese but we want Pompei to live on! Under the leadership of Archbishop Lori, Archbishop O'Brien predecessor, Our Lady of Pompei began it's Spanish ministry again in 2014.
Also in 2014, Fr. Lou celebrated his 50th anniversary of priesthood in July 2014. It was also a celebration of his 50th year of continuous ministry to one parish - Our Lady of Pompei. Somewhat of a bittersweet moment, the anniversary celebration was the last event that was in the school hall before the sale of the building was finalized in August 2014.
With the revival of the parish's Spanish ministry, many of the parishioners, who left Pompei due to then Archbishop O'Brien's decision, were returning. Our sister mission group, Operation Mato Grosso, sent Fr. Giuliano to Our Lady of Pompei in 2016. His arrival was in the nick of time, because Fr. Lou entered the hospital for a hip replacement. Fr. Giuliano is an Italian priest who speaks Spanish, and was learning English at the time. A life-long parishioner commented during the Easter Vigil Mass in 2016, saying, "I am listening to an Italian priest, speaking broken English on the alter. The church has really come full circle."