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Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Baltimore (1863-- )

Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church was the first African American Catholic Church in the United States.  The building, located on the corner of Calvert and Pleasant Street in Baltimore, Maryland, was originally constructed in 1836 for the congregation of the First Universalist Church.  By 1837, the church held services, but soon after the structure sustained damages from a heavy flood, and by 1839 the church filed bankruptcy.  The building was then transformed into a public place and used as an assembly hall.  It housed the 1844 Whig Convention that nominated Henry Clay for President; later the Democratic Convention held its 1848 meeting there and nominated General Cass.  The edifice also held the Maryland convention to discuss leaving the Union in 1861.  Soon after this event, the German Lutheran Church acquired the building, and it returned to being a place of worship.

On October 10, 1863, Father Michael O’Connor, S.J., who resigned as Bishop of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, bought the church after collecting money throughout Baltimore for an African American Catholic Church.  The majority of the black Catholics in this city hailed from the arrival of six ships in 1791 that docked at Fell’s Point and held both free and enslaved peoples who spoke French and practiced the Catholic faith.  The Sulpician Fathers—who themselves had recently arrived in Baltimore to escape the French Revolution—also spoke French, and invited these refugees to celebrate mass in the basement of St. Mary’s Seminary.  In 1857, the Jesuit Fathers of Loyola College invited this growing congregation to use the basement of St. Ignatius Church, and named it the “Chapel of Blessed Peter Claver.”  The newly-purchased St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church received some renovations, and was blessed on February 21, 1864 by Archbishop Martin J. Spalding.  It became the first Catholic Church in Baltimore (and the United States) for African Americans to worship beyond the basement or at the back of an existing church.

In 1865, Father Peter Louis

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