St. Peter the Apostle Church

St. Peter the Apostle Church, known as the “Mother of the West” was the Mother Church of all churches in West Baltimore.

Designed by the famous Baltimore born architect, Robert Cary Long*, Jr., the church was patterned after the famous temple Theseus in Athens and is constructed in the classical Grecian style, the outside Doric, and the inside Corinthian. St. Peter the Apostle Church’s cornerstone was laid on 23 May, 1843 at Poppleton and Hollins Streets.

At a time when Baltimore was experiencing a great Irish migration (67,000 more Catholics arrived in Baltimore from 1840 to 1850, during the time of the Great Hunger in Ireland), all the Roman Catholic Churches in Baltimore were located in the eastern environs of the city.

In 1827, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, located in the countryside of west Baltimore, erected stations, roundhouses, shops, yards, and other labor demanding structures. The newly arrived Irish responded to the call for labor. The beginning of St. Peter's Parish near Mount Clare started with a school in 1838 where religious instruction and Mass could be held. The Sulpician Fathers at the Saint Mary’s Seminary on Paca Street agreed to staff the Mission. Father Armand Marie de Charbonnel, a relative of the Marquis de La Fayette, was one of the first priests to serve.

Baltimore’s Fifth Archbishop, Samuel Eccleston, created St. Peter’s Parish in 1842 and commissioned Edward McColgan, a young Irish priest, to lead the arriving thousands of Irish immigrants in this southwest Baltimore parish in the remarkable success they soon enjoyed.

The Church’s first committee was composed of a solid, substantial Irish presence- Charles Coyle, John McColgan ( brother-lawyer of the Priest), James Shaughnessy, Dennis Sullivan, James White, Francis Neale, Treasurer, and John W. Barnico, Secretary.

Money was raised quickly for the new church, and the Irishmen of the neighborhood gladly furnished free labor. So great was the response that many were refused. Much of the money was raised at fairs, some of which were held in the original Calvert Hall building on Mulberry Street. Construction, supervised ably by Robert Cary Long Jr., architect, went forward smoothly, leading to its dedication on 22 September, 1844, before a grand ceremony attended by a Who’s Who in Catholic leadership. Interestingly, St. Peter’s was designed and intended to include “colored persons”. The large basement was intended for school purposes.

Father McColgan, a man of consummate energy, now turned his attentions to schools. While early St. Peter’s Parish had a school beginning in 1838, the male school, housed in a large brick building on Poppleton Street, facing Sister's Convent, was created in 1847, under the direction of the Sisters of Charity (of Mother Seton from Paca Street). The Sisters of Mercy, who had been teaching the younger boys, assumed responsibility for all schools from 1892 until 1968.

The Sisters of Mercy founded in Dublin in 1831, answered the fervent plea of Father McColgan (through Bishop Michael O’Connor) to establish a religious community at St. Peter’s, sending twenty-three nuns under the leadership of Mother Francis Xavier Ward to Pittsburgh in 1843, of which four were sent to Baltimore in 1855 to St. Peter—s. Here they established their first presence in Maryland and second in the United States — and remain extremely active.

Under the direction of Mother Catherine Wynne, the third postulant to join the Sisters in the United States (Mother Catherine was instrumental in the creation of a military hospital in Washington at the beginning of the Civil War), the Order commenced the schooling for girls in the Church basement, where more than a thousand girls were eventually enrolled.

In 1869, a new six room new school was erected on the grounds for the instruction of girls, thanks to the generous gift of Mrs. Emily Harper MacTavish*, the granddaughter of Charles Carroll of Carrollton and the daughter of General Winfield Scott. Two houses fronting on Callender Street were purchased thanks to another munificent gift from Mrs. McTavish, permitting a House of Mercy for distressed women.

Having prepared so well for his parishioners welfare during their lives, Father McColgan now directed his attentions for the repose of their souls. St. Peter’s Cemetery, purchased by Father McColgan in 1850, was opened as St. Peter’s Graveyard in 1851. Located at Moreland Avenue and Bentalou Street and consisting of twenty acres, the cemetery soon saw active burials of the parish’s Irish born membership in its beautiful surrounds. Unfortunately, no arrangements were made for perpetual care, and the cemetery today is neglected and virtually abandoned except for occasional rescue efforts by interested Irish descendants.

Those interred there include Monsignor McColgan, his brothers and sisters, Father William Reardon, the second pastor, Father John T. O”Brien (1888 to 1898), Father Austin McCauley and Joseph B. Moriarity, sexton for twenty-five years at St. Peter’s. Prior to 1867, deceased Sisters of Mercy were buried there, but later reinterred at Mount St. Agnes in Mount Washington.

Numerous off-shoots of St. Peter’s Parish occurred in later years, including the now famous Saint Mary’s Industrial School, the home of Babe Ruth*, America’s most famous baseball player. Father McColgan, again at the helm, planned and eventually executed plans in 1860 for this school for incorrigible boys.

St. Peter’s was active in medical missionary work during the Civil War. Father John Foley, assistant pastor to Father McColgan, labored unceasingly on behalf of the souls of soldiers of both sides. The confiscated mansion house and property of Confederate General George Steuart’s (not to be confused with the General James Ewell Brown Stuart, the famous Confederate calvary commander; General George Steuart of Baltimore had an enviable record of his own including brigade command at Gettysburg) on Fulton Avenue became a hospital (Jarvis) where Father Foley administered to the daily needs of over 5,000 men during the war.

The Sisters of Mercy’s Irish names underscore their Irish heritage. These nuns performed war service: Sister Wynne, O’Connor, Brown, Doyle, Duffy, Fitzgerald, Flynn, Flaherty, Healy, Keefer, Leddy, Matthews, Moran, Mulhare, O’Kane, Quinn, Rigney, Smythe, Brown and another Wynne.

Following the War, the need for another church west of St. Peter’s became obvious and Father McColgan organized St. Martin’s. The new church was built on the lot of the razed home of Confederate General Steuart (St. Martin’s cornerstone was laid in 1865).

Miss MacTavish, still active with her money, also donated her family’s mansion at Hollins and Mount Streets in St. Peter’s parish to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, for the care of young girls. Unfortunately , the house and adjoining buildings were razed in 1966, but the elegant “Oval Parlour” was removed from the home and placed in the Baltimore Museum of Art for posterity. Father McColgan was the Father Confessor to the Sisters of Good Shepherd for many years.

In the years that followed, almost every type of honor was heaped on St. Peter’s. Political and religious rank frequented St. Peter’s on various anniversaries, with Father McColgan’s renown enhanced. On 5 February, 1898 — after over fifty years of service — the good Father died. His incredible record is only briefly mentioned here with many accomplishments omitted. Cardinal Gibbons performed the funeral Mass in the Cathedral on February 9th. He left an estate valued at $7,000.

920 Lemmon Street, Baltimore MD 21223     email: info@irishshrine.org