The Apse Windows
The Bell Tower
History of the Church of The
The Age of Churches
Page 1 of 6
The first mass was celebrated here
by Fr. Manley
The early days in Towson gave little hint that the tiny,
unimportant hamlet was to become the county seat of a large, bustling metropolitan
community. Though records reveal George Washington passed through the area, these is no
indication that the Father of Our Country paused for refreshments at the Towson Tavern
(licensed in 1768).
It was not until 1824 that the name
"Towsontown" appears in assessment records. Some fifteen years later, in 1839,
the Methodists established Epsom Chapel on East Joppa Road. Catholics had not been
numerous in the Towson area. Baltimore City had but a single parish in colonial times. St.
Peter's, founded in 1770, later became the Cathedral parish in 1806 when Father John
Carroll was elected the first American bishop. Catholics living in Long Green Valley met
for Mass at the Jenkins Homestead before building this county's first church on Carroll
Manor Road in 1822. A little closer to Towson, St. James the Less was established on
Aisquith Street, Baltimore, in 1838, followed by St. Mary's in Govanstown, in 1849, and
St. Joseph's, Texas, 1852. Catholics who resided in the Towsontown area traveled long
distances to attend Mass at the Church Lane in Texas or to Homewood Avenue and Charles
Street; some of them walked several miles, and even those families affluent enough to have
carriages and wagons faced jolting trips over dirt roads or along the graveled turnpikes
where a fee was demanded at each toll gate.
A referendum in January 1854, selected Towsontown as the future county
seat when Baltimore City and its rural surroundings made a complete political separation.
Construction of the courthouse and jail were completed by 1854, and streets were soon laid
out, lots measured off, ground-rents established, and a row of lawyers' offices built. In
1863 a horse car line began to provide hourly service to downtown Baltimore linking
Towson, which was fast developing into an active, thriving community.
It was in 1880 that a Towson lawyer, N.
Charles Burke, called a meeting of a few local Catholics in his office in the Masonic
Building, Towson, on December 16, resulting in the appointment of a committee of five to
"wait upon" Archbishop Gibbons in Baltimore to obtain the authority to pursue
the establishment of a church. In addition to Mr. Burke, the other committee members were
lssac Hartman, Julius Rudiger, T. C. Linzey and S. C. Tomey.1
Msgr. Lyman, R.D.
On May 14, 1881, the Maryland Journal
2 reported that the Catholics
had purchased a lot on the west side of Highland Avenue between Chesapeake and
Pennsylvania Avenues. Two weeks later, on May 19, the Very Reverend Dwight E. Lyman, R.D.,
Pastor of St. Mary's Church, called a meeting at the parish to plan for erecting a
"small chapel" in Towsontown. The committee members, N. C. Burke, Julius
Rudiger, L. H. Urban and S. C. Tomay, assumed responsibility for raising the $5,000 needed
for the project. The Journal commented that a new church "would enhance the value of
the lots in the section in which it is built."3
Despite "gratifying progress in the matter of subscriptions,"
the committee was unable to buy the Highland Avenue lot. A letter from Rev. Lyman found in
the Archdiocesan archives disclosed that the attempt to get up a new church in Towsontown
was a complete failure as no one was willing to give more than a few dollars, even to buy
the land. "So we had to abandon the project until better times or some persons settle
there who will show more interest and generosity towards it." Two years later, no lot
had been purchased, but Monsignor Lyman established a mission in the second story of a
store owned by Mary Shealey, a brick building erected in 1879 on the site of the former
shops at "Flat Iron Square." During the week, the hall was used as the Armory of
the Towsontown Guards, a State militia unit composed of veterans of both armies of the
Civil War. This inauspicious site was the birthplace of our parish, also serving as
Burgoyne's Band Hall and in 1893, with a new tower, became the Towson Engine House,
serving as the fire department until 1955.4 By April 15, 1883, Mrs. Julius
Rudiger had organized the first Sunday Schools of the fledgling parish. On April 29,
the Reverend Dominic Manley, chaplain of Notre Dame College
Convent, who had been assigned to the mission, using a "temporary altar and kneeling
Stools,"6 celebrated a low Mass for 150 people, the first recorded Catholic service in or
near present-day Towson. By June of 1884, the congregation had purchased a lot on Ware
Avenue, and according to the Maryland Journal, "preparations for the foundations of a
frame edifice to cost about $2,000 has been commenced."7 It was purposed to erect a
frame building which could later be used as a school. Mr. William Kennedy was the
architect for the building.