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History of the Parish


The Parish of St. Mary of the Assumption has a history that is long and rich and tied to the history of Baltimore City. The church is often referred to as "The Mother Church of North Baltimore" for good reason. When St. Mary's Church was dedicated on September 23, 1850, Govans was a tiny village in Baltimore County. St. Mary's was the only church in all of North Baltimore and the surrounding countryside. The cornerstone of Old St. Mary's was laid in 1849. At that time Zachary Taylor was inaugurated as President, and the population of the United States was 23,191,876. Immigrants were arriving in Fells Point, many fleeing the miseries of Ireland. A kind and generous priest, Father James Dolan, greeted these new arrivals to Baltimore at St. Patrick's Church in Fells Point. He was instrumental in purchasing a tract of land near Govanstown where he opened the "Orphans' Home" for many of the young boys who had lost their families.

The Orphans' Home and The First Church

The Orphans' Home was located on the southwest corner of what is now Charles Street and Wyndhurst Avenue and was staffed by the Brothers of St. Patrick. The Catholic people in the "neighborhood" attended Mass in the chapel of the Home, thus began the Parish of St. Mary of the Assumption. In 1849, Father Dolan started construction of a little wooden church on the grounds of the Home. It was built on a hill east of the present Knights of Columbus Hall on Homeland Avenue. The present Notre Dame Lane formed the driveway to the church from what was then York Turnpike. Neither Charles Street nor Homeland Avenue had yet been built. This is an excerpt from the Catholic Mirror of August 10, 1850:

The new Church and Clergyman's house which we have erected during the last year
cost $2,222.01; of which sum there remains unpaid $616.72
That first church was opened informally for Mass and administration of the Sacraments in Spring 1850. The formal opening occurred on September 23, 1850. More than five hundred people arrived for the ceremony by omnibus, hacks, private carriages, on horseback and on foot. When the Orphans' Home eventually moved to a new location, The School Sisters of Notre Dame purchased part of the property in order to establish an educational institution for girls and women. In 1857, the little wooden frame church was completely destroyed in a fire, but immediate steps were taken to rebuild the church in brick. On September 6, 1857, the Catholic Mirror reported,
We congratulate the worthy pastor,
Reverend Mr. Courney and his flock, on the
completion of their neat brick edifice - and
that now they have a place to worship God
..."where there is a will there is a way"

The Early Years

During the first ten years of St. Mary's existence the parish had four pastors, all with relatively short tenures. Then on October 10, 1860, Father Dwight E. Lyman became pastor and a new era of growth commenced at St. Mary's. He inherited a small brick church which stood on a plot of land 80 by 123 feet with a right of way to the York Turnpike. When he died thirty years later he left behind an enlarged church with a beautifully frescoed interior, complete with organ, vestments and statues. A tower and bell were added. The rectory had been enlarged twice and the school had been built. There were eight acres of land that included the cemetery. Outbuildings and a stable were also on site. In addition there was a boardwalk to York Road. Little was changed until the enlargement of the school in 1929. Father Lyman passed away at St. Mary's at the age of seventy-five on December 29, 1893.

The Mother Church of North Baltimore

Through the years, St. Mary's became the seat of five missions throughout north Baltimore and northern Baltimore County. These missions eventually evolved into independent parishes. On one hand, the spawning of these missions was an enormous accomplishment, but not without some cost to St. Mary's. When the last mission became an established parish (now Immaculate Conception Parish in Towson), St. Mary's numbered only 340 parishioners. By 1915 there were approximately six hundred parishioners. Many more of Baltimore's parishes had been opened by then.

The 1900s

The Govans community changed considerably during the 1900's. In 1918, Govanstowne became a part of Baltimore when the city boundary was moved from North Avenue to its present location at Walker Avenue. After World War I the area saw rapid growth. Homeland was developed on the Perine estate and developments to the east and north grew rapidly. The parish was quickly outgrowing the little church, but the move to its new site on York Road was not to take place until 1942. At the time of its dedication in September, 1942, the new church could comfortably accommodate 850, practically doubling the seating capacity of the old church. However, with the "baby boomers" arriving on the scene in the 1950s, seating at Mass again became cramped. Masses found the parishioners standing, sometimes outside the church itself.

Recent Years

For many years after the opening of the new church, Baltimore City continued to grow, and the Archdiocese established new parishes to handle the increasing need for more churches and schools. The next twenty-five years saw the opening of St. Matthew's in 1949, St. Pius X in 1957 and Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in 1959, all being established as churches with attendant schools. Overcrowded classrooms and Masses at St. Mary's became a thing of the past. By the early 1980s the combination of a decrease in the population of Baltimore City and migration to the surrounding counties shrank St. Mary's parish to a fraction of its former size. At its 150th Anniversary in 1999, the parish had about 500 families, many who live far beyond the Govans area. Parish boundaries are no longer enforced and as a result manparishionersrs travel quire some distance and pass several other churches to attend St. Mary's.

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Special thanks to St. Mary's History Committee
and the St. Mary of the Assumption Sesquicentennial Anniversary Book
Published by FATA Inc., 1999.


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