St. Alphonsus Church
Saint Alphonsus Church, a landmark at Saratoga Street and Park Avenue in downtown Baltimore since 1845, designed by the eminent architect Robert Cary Long in Southern German neo-Gothic Style, was once dubbed "the German cathedral." It is included by Dr. Phoebe Stanton in her book, The Gothic Revival and American Architecture (Johns Hopkins Press), as a notable example of that style in America.
About a decade after the founding of the episcopal see of Baltimore in 1789 a small band of Catholic Germans appeared in Baltimore and was ministered to by Father F. Caesar Reuter of St. Peter’s. Father Reuter, against Bishop Carroll’s wishes, urged his compatriots to erect a separate German church. The bishop protested. Reuter carried the matter to Rome, accusing Carroll of trying to Americanize the Germans and requesting a German church, German catechism and even a German bishop. An unfavorable reply was received from Rome. Meanwhile, Reuter returned to Baltimore and with his fellow-Germans established, October 11, 1799, the first Catholic German church in Baltimore at Park Avenue and Saratoga Street, dedicated to St. John the Evangelist. Father Reuter was replaced by Reverend F.X. Brosius.
It was first a frame church that measured sixty by forty feet. The original structure was erected in 1800. For seventy-two years, the church served a German community, while the attached rectory functioned as provincial headquarters for the Redemptorist Fathers and Brothers. St. Alphonsus was the center of the order in the U.S. The Redemptorists are a missionary society established for home missions. They were chartered in Maryland and other states, under the title of ‘The Redemptorists’. Very Rev. Bernard Hafkenscheid was appointed the first provincial and he resided at St. Alphonsus.
No less than eleven parishes were established by the Redemptorists from Saint Alphonsus, as well as missions as distant as Strassburg, Pennsylvania and Martinsburg, West Virginia.
With the building of the new church in 1842, a parochial school was established and in 1847 a new building was erected opposite the church. The new building was destroyed in the Great Baltimore fire in 1873. The school was rebuilt and was taught by the School Sisters of Notre Dame and the Christian Brothers. At one time there were 800 students in the school. Funds for the new church building were raised by voluntary contributions. Several large contributions were received from diverse missions, including aid societies in Austria, Bavaria and France.
In 1917, with the German community dispersed and the Redemptorist provincialate moved to New York, Saint Alphonsus was acquired by the Roman Catholic Lithuanian Parish of Saint John the Baptist, which then assumed the name of the church and reopened the school, functioning across the street since l847.
For generations, Saint Alphonsus Church served by archdiocesan priests, has also served downtown workers, shoppers, and visitors to the city with conveniently scheduled services, especially the Novena to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. It is the rare Catholic who has lived in Baltimore during this era who has not prayed in Saint Alphonsus Church. Even first-time visitors remark about the prayerful atmosphere of the church.
Saint John Neumann lived in the present rectory as rector, master of novices, and vice-provincial. Another rector, Father Francis X. Seelos, C.SS.R., is a candidate for beatification. If he is beatified and canonized, Saint Alphonsus will be the only parish church in this country, and perhaps in the world, to boast of two former pastors as canonized saints.
Moreover, Blessed George Matulaitis once visited Saint Alphonsus, as did Archbishop Teofilius Matulionis, a possible candidate for beatification as a martyr. St Alphonsus Parish: where saints have prayed! This makes St Alphonsus one of the great "treasures" of the Catholic faith in our country......a shrine, a place of pilgrimage, a sign of hope, a powerhouse of prayer!
Today, Saint Alphonsus has less than five hundred registered parishioners scattered throughout the State of Maryland, only about one-tenth of whom frequent Saint Alphonsus. In 1994, the church was designated as an Archdiocesan Shrine. The departure of many businesses from downtown in the past two decades has greatly diminished weekday attendance. Sunday and weekday attendance is no more than 400 at all services (and there are many!). Because of these weak number, it has been difficult for St. Alphonsus Church to operate on a balanced budget. Only with God's help have we been able to survive.
Saint Alphonsus School, which in 1998 marked 150 years at its present location, had been merged with the Basilica School and served 210 pupils, almost entirely African Americans from all over the city and surrounding counties. Besides, providing the building rent-free, Saint Alphonsus Shrine also subsidized the school at the level of $5,000 annually, although not a single pupil was from the parish. Unfortunately, the school closed its doors in June, 2002.
The mission of Saint Alphonsus is to minister to a Lithuanian community and to those who feel the need for more traditional services (Saint Alphonsus is the designated home to the Tridentine Mass, every Sunday and Holy Day), while reaching out to a new generation downtown, a link between old and new Baltimore.
114 West Saratoga Street
Baltimore MD 21201
Priests serving St. Alphonus:
Rev. F. Reuter 1800-1806
Rev. F. Brosius 1806-1820
Rev. J.W. Beschter 1820-1828
Rev. L. Barth 1828-1838
Rev. B. Bayer 1838-1840
Rev. Joseph Prost 1840-1841
Rev. Alexander Czvitkovicz 1841-1845
Rev. Peter Czackert 1845-1847
Rev. John N. Neumann 1847-1849
Rev. Gabriel Rumpler 1849-1851
Rev. John N. Neumann 1851-1851
Rev. George Ruland 1852-1854
Rev. Francis X. Seelos 1854-1857
Rev. Maxim Leimgruber 1857-1860
Rev. George Ruland 1860-1861
Rev. Leopold Petsch 1861-1862
Rev. Robert Kleineidam 1863-1865
Rev. Michael Miller 1865-1868
Rev. Joseph Wissel 1868-1871
Rev. Nicholas Jaeckel 1871-1872
Rev. Leopold Petsch 1872-1873
Rev. M. Leimgruber 1873-1874
Rev. George Roesch 1874-1877
Rev. Andrew Ziegler 1877
 It would appear that the earliest German Catholic congregation began in 1792. References in the Maryland Journal on February 17, 1792 state that the German Catholics will meet for the first time for a Divine Service in their own language at the home of John Brown, near the Centre Market.