St Wenceslaus Catholic Church in Baltimore, Maryland will celebrate its 150th anniversary on Sunday, September 25th, the culmination of months of preparation and a storied history of multicultural developments.
The Mass, to be celebrated by Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, will take place at 9am ET, ahead of the parish’s feast day on September 28th.
Established as part of the massive wave of European immigrants to the United States in the 19th century, St. Wenceslaus was originally founded as a Bohemian/Czech parish in 1872 under the leadership of the Redemptorists, an Italian religious congregation founded by St. Alphonsus Liguori.
At one point, the church was one of the most well-attended in the archdiocese, and became associated with other European immigrant communities and their contributions. The parish’s neighboring property, formerly the Oktavec Grocery, was the site of the city’s first “painted screen”, a tradition now seen around the city as one of its cultural landmarks.
The church itself, a towering display of Italianate architecture, was constructed in 1914—roughly half a century before most of the city’s White population left the inner city.
Located in what is now known as “Middle East”, the parish steadily became more and more African American.
The Franciscan TORs took over administration of the parish after the Redemptorists departed near the turn of the millennium, followed by the Conventual Franciscans. The parish has been served since 2018 by the Josephites, a congregation that serves African Americans.
Today the church is part of a tri-parish cluster, including nearby St Ann’s and historic St Francis Xavier—arguably the oldest Black parish in the United States. The three communities are pastored by Fr Xavier Edet, SSJ, who will celebrate one combined Mass this weekend for the anniversary.
Like many African-American parishes around the country, the St. Wenceslaus congregation features many parishioners who no longer live in the neighborhood but have continued to come back to their roots on Sundays for Mass.
“People drive seven miles or more to be here because of their loyalty to the church,” Edet told The Catholic Review earlier this summer.
“Their faith is rooted in word and sacrament, but also in action.”
Parish activities include an active food pantry, a neighboring AIDS hospice run by the Missionaries of Charity, as well as other social services benefiting the local community. Their tradition of service will also be celebrated this weekend, with a community event scheduled for Saturday featuring health screenings, food, and giveaways.
“We believe the church is the community, and we’re meant to be there for one another,” parishioner James Conway said in his comments to the Review.
The community event on Saturday will begin at 11am ET, and Sunday’s Gospel Mass will feature the combined choirs of the pastorate’s three parishes. Local seminarians and priests from the Josephites will also be in attendance.
Following the liturgy, a reception will be held across the street at the Henderson-Hopkins Partnership School.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).