Archbishop Martin J. Spalding of Baltimore invited the Passionists to the Archdiocese in 1865, thereby establishing the fourth foundation of the Passionist Order in the United States. The Passionists were initially given charge of St. Agnes Parish in Catonsville. The grounds were not large enough for a monastery however, and shortly after their arrival, the Passionists relocated to a tract of land opposite Loudon Park in the Irvington area of Baltimore. Realizing the neighborhood was in need of a worship space, the Passionists built a small wooden church in the grove on the property. The “Church of the Passion”, as it was called, faithfully served the community for years, and marked the beginning of what would eventually become St. Joseph’s Monastery Parish.
Registration within the parish developed quickly, and the church was soon in need of a larger worship space. In 1881, the cornerstone for a new church was laid by His Eminence, Cardinal Gibbons. The plan was to adjoin the church to the original monastery. About two years into the construction, however, the monastery was destroyed in a fire. Miraculously, the construction site escaped any serious damage, and by 1883 the new church was consecrated and dedicated to St. Joseph. It was built of blue granite donated by the trustees of St. Mary’s Industrial School (one of the Passionists earliest missions in Baltimore), and adorned with statues of St. Anne, St. Joachim, and our patron, St. Joseph. Its beauty so impressed the Cardinal that he described it as “the gem of the Diocese”.
The parish grew in other areas as well. By 1886, a new monastery had been constructed, and in 1889 it was decided that a school was needed to accommodate the influx of families. At that time there was a cottage on the grounds known as Cedar Lawn. It was outfitted with two classrooms and opened with an enrollment of forty students that first year. The following year the school was staffed by the Sisters of Notre Dame. The school grew so rapidly that it became necessary to move classes to the basement of the church, keeping Cedar Lawn exclusively as a convent for the sisters. A generous donation by Mrs. Celinda Whiteford made possible the construction of a proper school building in 1893. The school was named Whiteford Hall in her honor and was located up the street on Whiteford Avenue (present day Morley Street). In 1913, a second school was constructed across from Whiteford which included a school hall. Ten years later a new convent was built adjacent to the school grounds.
The greatest expansion, however, was yet to come. For a second time the parish had outgrown its church, and plans for a new, still larger one were courageously begun. The cornerstone was laid by Archbishop Curley on November 6, 1931. During the ceremony, the Archbishop had these words to say: “There is no more loyal band of priests in all the Archdiocese than the good men who wear the insignia of Jesus Christ upon their cassocks.” I could say much in praise of the Passionist Fathers, but in the end, all the praise could be summed up simply by saying, ‘They have done their work well’.” On October 2, 1932, less than one year after construction began, the new church was dedicated.
The enormous interior space would require many more years to complete. While the shrine altars and stained glass windows were added gradually over time, the inside walls remained bare. Anxious to see the church finally painted, the parish entered into a contract with the Church Company of Baltimore and their affiliate, the John Winterich Company of Cleveland, to complete the task. It was decided that the oil paintings adorning the walls should be executed in the studio and applied later. The work began on January 2, 1952 and was completed in time for Easter that year. The following year witnessed the construction of a new altar, altar rail, pulpit, and canopy in the sanctuary. Many crated tons of marble were shipped over from a marble yard in Carrara, Italy, and then carried into the church by parishioners. The dedication and perseverance required to complete these monumental projects is truly inspiring, and has resulted in one of the most magnificent churches in the diocese.
Our parish has experienced a variety of developments in the decades since the new church was completed. In 1955, a large addition was built for the school, while the interior of the church continued to receive minor upgrades. In 1966, the Passionists built and dedicated yet another complex: Saint Joseph’s Spiritual Center. Located next to the old church, the spiritual center served as a retreat house for the Passionist community. The monastery and spiritual center remained active until the mid-1980s when they were sold to the city of Baltimore for use as a drug rehabilitation center. The old convent on Morley Street was converted into the rectory and parish offices. Worship activities are centralized in the main church, which continues to be the pride and joy of our parish. As of June of 2014, St. Joseph’s Monastery is staffed by clergy of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.