November 6, 2020
Written by 
Luke McCusker

St. Paul Window at St. Peter’s Church (McPhillips)

A major goal of our Museum this Spring was to present the remarkable stories behind the stained glass windows of St. Peter's Church, the parish for many thousands of Famine Irish. Our present situation has precluded that, but we plan on having the event when possible. Sister Anne O'Donnell, a descendant of the family that purchased one of the windows in memory of her Great grandmother, will be with us.

St. Peter the Apostle Church was at the center of their lives. The Parish was established in 1842, and the sanctuary was dedicated in 1844 amidst considerable fanfare. Famine in Ireland brought thousands to Baltimore, and the church grew significantly. 10,000 attended Mass there on Christmas Day. The adjoining Male and Female Schools had 900 pupils at their high point. School buildings grew over the years, and the sanctuary was also expanded in 1868. The Parish continued to thrive for over a century, under the leadership of dedicated clergy and considerable effort by Sisters of Mercy, Christian Brothers de La Salle and lay leaders. The parish had many social organizations that gathered regularly, including those with Irish themes.

The church itself held its last regular Mass on January 26, 2008. Occasional special Masses were held in the building, including a Great Hunger Commemoration Mass held by the Irish Railroad Workers Museum on May 24, 2009, but the structure’s place in Baltimore’s Catholic community was coming to an end. The buildings, including the rectory, convent, Church and school were sold by the Archdiocese to another Christian denomination in 2012.

The building’s facades were protected from alteration, however, by its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The interior was another matter, as a massive remodeling happened. Relics were scattered among various Catholic Churches, and some made their way to our Museum due to the generosity of Father Michael J. Roach and others. These are on regular display in our building at 920 Lemmon Street. The magnificent Stained-Glass windows were considered a part of the historical façade, and are still in place at the Church.

Leaders of our Museum have always thought of St. Peter’s Church as a key element in understanding the life experiences of the immigrant Irish community that surrounded it, and research into the parishes’ role has led to several important themes, including this presentation on the purchasers of the windows, and who they were placed in memory of. Several current and former Museum Board members and docents have done research near and far, and we thank them for their contribution to this insight into an 1899 Irish community in Baltimore.

The stained-glass windows of St. Peter the Apostle Church were purchased by and dedicated to a diverse collection of parishioners and member organizations. Among those purchasers were the seemingly modest of the community, as well as wealthy and connected people who lived among, and interacted with the simpler folks of the parish, serving the professional or employer roles they occasionally needed. While the motivations of purchasers seem predictable, the situation and role of many is surprising, and delightful.

Elements and Elaboration

Saint Paul Window

Purchased by: Miss Bridget McPhillips
In memory of: Father and Mother

Bridget was perhaps the most unlikely of donors of a window at first glance. She was born in 1823, a native of Munnilly, Drumgoon Parish in County Cavan. The McPhillips family only had one listing in the old parish in Ireland in 1857, a “Bridget”....most likely her mother. There is evidence that she immigrated to America during the Great Hunger in the late 1840’s with her brother James.

Bridget was a spinster, and listed as a housekeeper in both census records and Baltimore City Directories, but had a unique relationship with the Winans family. Thomas DeKay Winans, master of the house at nearby Alexandroffsky estate, left her $5,000 in his will, dated 1878. This sum is the equivalent of $125,000 in today’s dollars (2019).

Research has been done at the Maryland Historical Society, where some of Thomas DeKay Winans’ employee records are stored. Our Docent Jackie Frank discovered that Bridget McPhillips was listed among the employees of Alexandroffsky Estate, and seems to be a leader among the house servants during the 1870’s.

Bridget continued her service to the Winans family after Thomas' death, working as a domestic in the home of Ross and Neva Winans in a neighboring home at current-day 930 Hollins Street.

Bridget McPhillips used the bequest she received to help others, including her family. Upon her death in 1902, she left her home at 908 W. Lombard St. to a niece, Katherine Riggin, and funded the perpetual care of nephews James McPhillips (a former student at St. Mary’s Industrial School who had since become a patient/orderly at St. Agnes Hospital) and John McPhillips (who was cared for by nearby St. Jerome’s Church and their pastor, Rev. James Holden).

Bridget also left money to St. Peter’s Church and its pastor, and its Male and Female Schools. Funds also went to Little Sisters of the Poor, Sister Josepha House of Industry, the Sisters of Bon Secours and St. Mary’s Orphan School.

Dedication Panel for the Saint Paul Window
Receive your Baltimore Irish History fix directly to your inbox