Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

St. Vincent De Paul of Baltimore: The Story of a People and Their Home

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

St. Vincent De Paul of Baltimore: The Story of a People and Their Home

Article excerpt

St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore: The Story of a People and Their Home. By Thomas W. Spalding and Kathryn M. Kuranda. (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society. 1995. Pp. x, 299. $24.95.)

Founded in 1840, the parish of St. Vincent de Paul has continually served the people of Baltimore for more than 150 years. In a remarkable manner its history, especially its architectural history, mirrors the larger history of Catholicism in the United States. In the early nineteenth century Catholicism in Baltimore still evidenced a very patrician quality reminiscent of the era of Archbishop John Carroll. St. Vincent parish was a good example of this. Some of the city's more prominent citizens were members of the board of trustees. At the first auction of pews the mayor of Baltimore purchased the most expensive pew in the church for $610; numerous others of the mercantile elite class also paid similar sizable sums for choice seats in the church. The music of Mozart and Haydn enhanced the celebration of Sunday Mass, and parishioners came to church on Sunday afternoons to listen to oratorios performed by the church choir. The architectural design of the church was very much in tune with contemporary American taste. Neoclassical, it was a combination of Georgian and Greek Revival styles. This same architectural style was found in many of the city's churches, most notably the Catholic cathedral.

The next key period in the parish's history was the 1870's and '80's. This was the age of devotional Catholicism, and numerous parish societies were established in these years. Major renovations altered the neoclassical design of the church interior. "Robust ornamentation," as the authors put it, replaced the restrained Federal-period style. Such ornamentation mirrored the Baroque, European style of architecture that was becoming more common as Catholicism took on a more European, immigrant quality. The contrast between the Baroque interior and the restrained classical exterior was dramatic.

As the city expanded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the central business district expanded into the parish neighborhood; the number of parishioners declined, and the very future of the parish was in doubt. …

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