July 5, 2021
Written by 
Luke F. McCusker III

New Beginnings: West Baltimore's Irish of 1900 and Today

We welcomed 2021 with considerable enthusiasm at the Museum. Our reopening finally happened...on July 2, 2021 and we are thrilled to return to personal interaction with our many friends and visitors.

Our Museum Welcome Center building (Pictured...yellow one) at 910 Lemmon Street was purchased recently, and a Small Cap Grant for its refurbishment has been awarded to the Museum. It's from a local organization (Baltimore National Heritage Area) that has shown its commitment to the Museum in tangible ways over the last several years.

More on that soon, but a considerable challenge has been placed before us during 2021. We will undoubtedly rise to the occasion, with the leadership of our all-volunteer Board of Directors and the generosity of Museum friends and supporters. History inspires us, and we expect to rise and thrive as West Baltimore’s Irish community did at the turn of the previous century.

They expected great things at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church (pictured), and primped and preened to prepare to welcome thousands into their refurbished sanctuary as they began anew in 1900.

Perhaps a lingering sadness was experienced by many who had been part of the establishment and development of a major Irish congregation for more than 50 years. They had welcomed their desperate countrymen to the New World and aided them in their transformation from a persecuted, uneducated rural people into thriving citizens of a booming major city. Many of the heroes of the church’s earlier years were no longer with them, including their founding pastor. Parish boys had been educated by the De La Salle Christian Brothers from 1849-1892, but they left the education of all children to the Sisters of Mercy who had first arrived in 1855, led by Mother M. Catherine Wynne (pictured).

Church members themselves had scattered a bit as the Mother Church of West Baltimore helped establish 13 additional congregations: many with their own schools and Irish emphases. Perhaps the positive changes at the Church were just the tonic they needed. We hope you enjoy this story of a major refreshing and rededication of the Church and parish, and find inspiration for your new beginnings as we enter a new era both personally and at the Museum, where many incredible things are anticipated.

1898 was a tumultuous year for the parishioners of St. Peter the Apostle Church. Monsignor Edward McColgan, founding pastor of the church, passed away on February 6, 1898 after 56 years of service (pictured, in state).

Reverend William A. Reardon (pictured) was named as his replacement on March 7, 1898 by Cardinal Gibbons, a close friend of Msgr. McColgan. Reardon was a prestigious priest who had served as Chancellor of the Archdiocese, and was former Assistant Pastor at the Cathedral. He formally began his leadership of St. Peter’s on April 17, 1898.

A major refreshing of the Parish buildings and properties began shortly thereafter. Church windows were the culmination of these beautification projects, and Father Reardon followed the pattern of several Catholic churches in the City by selecting Mayer and Co. of Munich, Germany to do the work. Nine large windows were replaced and paid for by individuals and groups for $400.00, the equivalent of $12,217 in today’s currency (2020). As a matter of perspective, a small alley house could be purchased for a similar price in 1899, while a laborer or lamplighter might earn a similar amount for a full year’s work.

A newspaper article appeared in the Baltimore Sun on December 22, 1899 that described the windows. Their installation was expected to be completed in the coming weeks.

Much can be learned by considering the purchasers of these windows, and who they were placed in memory of:

·       Three windows were placed by church-affiliated organizations.

·       Six were placed by individual parishioners.

·       Three of these six purchasers were single women of the parish: each with an Irish heritage.

·       Two purchasers were successful married men; one dedicated the window to his mother…a native of Ireland.

·       One purchaser, a widow, was from a well-to-do family.

·       Seven of the nine windows were placed in remembrance of a lost parent, spouse, sibling or clergyman.

·       Seven of the nine windows were placed by individuals with an Irish heritage, or significant numbers of Irish members within their organization.

Here’s an example of one of the windows that were placed at the Church to welcome the year 1900. A new era had begun for thousands of parishioners at the historic Church and Schools.

St. Peter Window

Placed by Holy Name Society

In Memory of Monsignor Edward McColgan

This window was dedicated by the Holy Name Society to Monsignor Edward McColgan, founding pastor of the Church. The Society was a city-wide organization that sought to “bind men against cursing, swearing and blasphemy”, and sought to “cultivate the virtue of purity” among its 4,000 members. The parish formed their chapter on February 7, 1897 with Dr. Hiram L. Spicer serving as President. They served as honor guards during the viewing of their pastor’s passing in 1898. Joseph B. Riston, a painter by trade, served as President in 1899.

We anticipate a wonderful 2021, and express our thanks to so many who gave sacrificially of their time and treasure this past year. We found several fruitful paths forward in 2020-2021 in spite of it all!

We also thank these who contributed to this article:

Costello, Sister Mary Loretta M.A. The Sisters of Mercy of Maryland 1855-1930. St. Louis, B. Herder Book Co., 1931.

Archdiocese of Baltimore

Baltimore Sun

Martha Connolly, Ph.D. (Museum Board Member)

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