“On this land we consecrate a great new cathedral, in the name of the Blessed Trinity, for the glory of God and the perpetuation of the mystical body of Jesus Christ, to the honor of his mother Mary Immaculate, assumed into heaven and Queen forever.”
- Most Reverend Francis P. Keough, Archbishop of Baltimore, October 10, 1954.
First Catholics in Maryland
The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen is a spiritual center for a place that has served a very important role in America’s Catholic heritage. On the gallery wall in the nave of the Cathedral are two plaques carved into the stone depicting the Ark and the Dove. It was on these two ships that the first Catholic settlers came to the New World in 1634. Onboard with them was Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, who sought to establish a financially successful colony that would also provide religious liberty. Two Jesuit priests on these ships celebrated the first Mass in America on Saint Clement’s Island in the Chesapeake Bay on March 25, 1634.
How the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen Came to Be
The Cathedral is the gift of one man, a circumstance which most likely is unique in the history of cathedral building. The donor, Mr. Thomas J. O’Neill (1849-1919), owned a successful dry goods store at Charles and Lexington Streets, with nearly 500 employees. On February 7, 1904, the infamous Baltimore fire, which wiped out 1,343 buildings in a 75-block arc, was crawling towards O’Neill’s store. Just as the flames reached the south wall, the wind shifted and sent the holocaust eastward, and his store escaped destruction.
This gave rise to a number of colorful stories about how O’Neill refused to allow his building to be destroyed as the fire broke, and how he raced off to a Carmelite convent to enlist the prayers of the Sisters. Whether or not this legend is true, the existence of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen almost certainly is connected to the salvation of Thomas O’Neill’s livelihood. In his will, he specified that upon his wife’s death (in 1936; they had no children) and the payment of a grant to Loyola College, two thirds of his estate were to become available for the building of a new cathedral in Baltimore, while the remainder was to be devoted to the construction of a hospital.
Origin of the Cathedral’s Name
In October 1954, ground was broken for the Cathedral. Dedicated in 1959, the contemporary Gothic structure was made possible through the generous bequest by Mr. O’Neill. The day after the Cathedral’s groundbreaking ceremony, His Holiness, Pope Pius XII, issued a world letter instituting May 31 as the feast of Mary as Queen to be celebrated throughout the entire world. The pope’s decree honoring Mary led to a decision to name the new cathedral after Our Lady’s Heavenly Coronation as Queen.
Consecration of the Cathedral
On the morning of October 13, 1959, a few days past the fifth anniversary of the groundbreaking ceremony, the Cathedral was solemnly consecrated. In an elaborate ritual that dates back, in part, to primitive Christianity and flavored richly by the Old Testament, Baltimore’s Auxiliary Bishop, Jerome D. Sebastian, consecrated the regal building to divine worship.
The official dedication occurred on Nov. 15.
Visit by The Pope
In 1995, the Cathedral was honored by a visit from His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. A plaque outside the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and photos in the Narthex commemorate the visit. The Pope celebrated Mass in the Archdiocese at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and visited both the Cathedral and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption. This was the second visit by the pontiff. The first was in 1976 when, as Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow, he visited the United States for the Eucharistic Congress in 1976.
His predecessor, Giovanni Montini, then Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, also visited the Cathedral in 1960 before becoming Pope Paul VI.
The Cathedral Today
The focal point for our parish family, the Cathedral facilities enable us to minister to our parish family and function as a spiritual and temporal center for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The Cathedral is the cathedral church of the Primary See, the first archdiocese, in the United States.The Cathedral is the center for numerous out-reach programs for the family, for young people, and for the needy and the homeless, and a community and ecumenical center for the Baltimore metropolitan area.The Cathedral is an educational center with an outstanding parochial school. It offers programs for Catholic students attending non-Catholic schools, religious and support programs, and programs for those interested in joining the Catholic faith. It is an important part of the spiritual and temporal life of each of us who worships here.
One of the outstanding religious structures in the United States, the Cathedral is a unique house of worship that attracts hundreds of visitors of all faiths every year.