MHT File Photo
St. Vincent de Paul Church
120, Front St., N., Baltimore, Baltimore City
The chief distinctive feature of St. Vincent de Paul Church is its slender Georgian-style tower which rises to a height of 150 feet above the narthex and contrasts sharply with its surroundings. This unique brick tower, painted gleaming white as is the entire building, rests on an octagonal base and supports three successive indented tiers (one octagonal and two cylindrical), capped by a copper-sheathed dome and twelve-foot cross. In style, the building relates to the classical revival churches built in London and Paris in the 1820s and, although no architect can be ascribed, the restrained exterior pilasters and moldings of Georgian influence are very much in the tradition of the carpenter-draftsman as practiced by John Hall of Baltimore during the early 19th century. The front façade is divided into three bays by double engaged pilasters. Each bay contains a doorway---the central one topped by a triangular stone pediment and each of the flanking doors by flat stone lintels. Over the doorways are arched windows at the second story level, except that the central bay contains a niche with a statue of St. Vincent. There is a similar arched window in the pediment above. A steep flight of stairs leading from the street crosses the entire front façade. The side elevation contains six bays each with a large arched window similar to those in front and separated by single engaged pilasters. Just below the roof cornice is a frieze of gilded swags placed at regular intervals around the entire building above each pilaster.
The church is located on the east side of the Jones Falls in a section known as Old Town. It presents an interesting contrast with the aging brick industrial and commercial structures nearby, especially the Shot Tower immediately to the south. The congregation was established in 1840 under Father John Baptist Gildea, who is himself credited with designing the building. St. Vincent de Paul Church was the fifth Roman Catholic church constructed in Baltimore, and was built to serve the ever increasing, wealthy, English-speaking Catholics in the Gay and Pratt Street area. In 1875, the church was consecrated by Archbishop James Gibbons, one of four churches so recognized in America. This placed it under the direct protection of the Holy See. During the years that followed, the church became known for its "Printers’ Mass," which was held at midnight and attended regularly by newsmen from the two newspaper offices nearby. There was, in addition, a male orphanage adjoining and parochial schools operated by the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Charity. The parish’s most famous son was James Cardinal Gibbons (1834-1921). The founder, Father Gildea, was interred beneath the main altar at his death on February 14, 1845.