St. Wenceslaus Church
As the 19th century came to close, Baltimore experienced a rush of immigration and a rapidly growing Czech population. As the population swelled, community leaders sought a Bohemian born priest to minister to the people. In 1871, Reverend Wendel in Vacula arrived from Bohemia and began organizing what would later become the St. Wenceslaus congregation. The church was intended primarily for people of Czech descent but included Poles and Lithuanians. Despite a growing congregation, the church experienced significant cultural tensions.
In 1882, James Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, appealed to the Provincial of the Redemptorist priests in America to send a priest to assume charge of the Bohemian Church in Baltimore. Archbishop Gibbons wrote, "We will never have permanent peace until your fathers have control of the parish." That same year, Reverend Jan Jenc arrived from Bohemia and assumed leadership of the St. Wenceslaus church, now nearly five thousand members. St. Wenceslaus became the epicenter for cultural and religious activities for a thriving community well into the 20th century. As the Bohemian population continued to swell, the community established itself in northeastern Baltimore; adding a new church and covenant for the School Sisters of Notre Dame to the property.
In 1902, plans were drafted to construct a new church at 814 N. Collington Street. The new St Wenceslaus church was known as the National Czech and English Parish. Church services and classes taught in the adjoining school were conducted in both English and Czech. As the community continued to grow local bakeries, grocery and food stores conducted business in Czech as well as English. By 1905 the school staffed by only eight School Sisters of Notre Dame, had grown to nearly 850 students. In 1914 the cornerstone was laid. Italianiate in style, the new church seats seven hundred and became the spiritual home to more than 7,000 Bohemian Catholics. By 1920, St. Wenceslaus was the fourth largest parish in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. In 1925, the Lyceum was added to the property. The Lyceum,houses a basketball court, bowling alleys, meeting spaces and a roof top dance floor- still used today for parish celebrations.
The church continued to prosper until 1960's, when the church began a significant decline. A rapidly changing Baltimore saw a great exodus from the city to suburbs in the late 20th century. Today, most of the descendants of the original Bohemian parishioners have moved away from East Baltimore, few still attending Sunday services. The convent has been converted to a hospice staffed by Mother Teresa's Missionary Sisters of Charity. The church continues to stand as symbol for those who have struggled against adversity.
In recent years a resurgence in renovation and construction has occurred in the neighborhood. Nearby Johns Hopkins seeks to expand further into the arew with a proposal for a high-tech research center. The East Baltimore Development Initiative is active and revitalizing local neighborhoods and the community. With a flurry of activity in the surrounding community St. Wenceslaus and MICA PLACE will become part of the new, more diverse East Baltimore.
All historical information was sourced from the St. Wenceslaus website and the Catholic Encyclopedia.