Historic East Baltimore church celebrates anniversary of 1863 founding

On Sunday, the eve of the celebration of the birth of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, some 300 communicants and friends packed East Baltimore's historic St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church in the 1500 block of East Oliver St.

They gathered for a special Mass to kick off the yearlong celebration of the church's founding 150 years ago as the nation's first Roman Catholic church officially, and specifically, for African-Americans.

The service was conducted by Archbishop William E. Lori of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and the Rev. James E. McLinden, pastor of St. Francis Xavier. They were joined by co-celebrant retired Auxiliary Archbishop Guy A. Sansaricq of Brooklyn, N.Y.

At the conclusion of the service, the congregation spilled outside to the nearby corner of Oliver and East Caroline streets for an unveiling of a sign renaming the street in the block the church calls home.

"For the next year, that block will be known as St. Francis Xavier Way," said Beryl Graham of Laurel, a member of the congregation. Afterward, parishioners gathered at the nearby Dr. Bernard Harris Elementary School for a celebratory luncheon.

According to the church's records of its history, founders of St. Francis Xavier were black San Domingo refugees who had settled in Baltimore, and Sulpician Fathers, who had fled the French Revolution and settled in the city.

Masses were initially conducted in the basement at St. Mary's Seminary and St. Ignatius on North Calvert Street, but then a building on the southeast corner of Calvert and Pleasant streets was purchased in 1863 and, the next year, was dedicated. In 1932, the church moved to Eager and Caroline streets, and since 1968 has been in its present building at Caroline and Oliver streets.


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