A GRACIOUS GIFT
In 1882, Dr. Austin Piggott and his wife, Harriet, joined a small group of Catonsville Catholics and for the sum of one dollar, deeded to the Diocese of Baltimore a one acre wooded lot called "Woodlawn" as the site for a new church. Catonsville's farmers, shipyard workers, and railroad laborers gave of themselves by clearing the land. Mrs. Somerville of Catonsville made a substantial financial contribution, and her zeal in raising more was extraordinary. Thus, she was given the honor or selecting the new church's name. As her daughter was named Agnes, she suggested the new parish be placed under the protection of St. Agnes. This fourth century virgin martyr was beheaded after refusing to deny her faith.
Adjacent to the site was the Academy of the Visitation at Mount de Sales, a finishing school for young ladies. The cloistered Visitation nuns and their chaplain played a major role in establishing the new church by furnishing the first sanctuary with vessels, altar linens, and furniture. Their chaplain, Rev. Edward Caton, was appointed as pastor of St. Agnes. Until the church was completed, the nuns welcomed the new parishioners to the academy's Chapel of St. Francis de Sales for Mass and the conferral of the Sacraments.
The original St. Agnes Church was built in the Gothic design by a local carpenter and mason. Its beauty dominated the landscape, its steeple topped with a gilded cross. The cornerstone was laid by Archbishop Kendrick on October 28, 1852. and on July 21, 1853, the completed church was dedicated.
THE FIRST PARISH PRIEST
For over 150 years, St. Agnes Church has been blessed with dedicated priests. Crucial to the early years was Reverend Edward Caton. For ten years, Father Caton dedicated himself to the parish. There were hardships, such as the expense of a school teacher ($31.50) and a horse ($45.90), but there were profits, as well: $75.00 presented by Mrs. Somerville for the new cemetery and $12.50 subscribed by the congregation for its fence. Father Caton died in 1862 and was buried in the cemetery. Later, when the cemetery was moved, his resting place became New Cathedral Cemetery.
THE DEDICATION CONTINUES
As more families moved to Catonsville, St. Agnes grew and became the mother church to the establishment of St. Mark Church in Catonsville, St. Joseph Monastery in Irvington, St. Edward and St. Cecilia Parishes in Baltimore, and the missions of St. William of York in Baltimore and St. Lawrence in Woodlawn.
In 1912, for the future St. Lawrence Church, St. Agnes's pastor, Reverend John M. Barry, obtained permission from James Lawrence Kernan to use one-half of Kernan's old hay barn on Forest Park Avenue in Hillsdale, near Dickeyville and Woodlawn, for Masses.
Father Barry's successor, Reverend Ignatius Fealy, had been a U. S Army Chaplain in World War I. Upon discharge, he persuaded the Army to let him keep his horse, Nick. For many years, Father auctioned off good ole Nick to the highest bidder for a worthy cause. Inevitably, the highest bidder would pay for the horse, then lead it back to its owner, Father Fealy.
Father Fealy's skill in administration lead to the establishment of St. Agnes's school and convent. Built on land donated by a non-Catholic neighbor, the school was administered by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. By the time the school was dedicated in 1927, it was administered by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
In June 1942, after Father Fealy's death, Right Reverend Monsignor Maurice W. Roche was appointed pastor. Monsignor Roche immediately noted the tremendous growth to the parish community and, with the approval of the Archbishop, assembled a committee to plan a new church. Ground for the new church was broken January 8, 1950. By July 15th, the cornerstone was laid. Six months later, on Christmas Eve, the first Mass was offered in the lower church, filled to the capacity of 650 seats.
On Sunday, April 8, 1951, the new church, built at a cost of $325,000 was dedicated by Archbishop Francis Keough. By September 1951, the new rectory was complete and a new school begun on the site of the old church. Two years later, in 1953, St. Agnes celebrated its 100th anniversary.
A YOUTHFUL INSPIRATION
Monsignor Roche was pastor of St. Agnes until 1973 and remained in residence, while Monsignor Francis W. Fortenbaugh was appointed his successor. Monsignor Fortenbaugh was a strong positive influence with the parish youth, leading the parish's baseball, softball, and basketball teams to great success. Monsignor Fortenbaugh's most illustrious endeavor was a social highlight of the year: the parish carnival. Amusement rides and over 50 booths, featuring food, games and entertainment, became an annual source of income for the parish and a welcome festivity for Catonsville. As the parish's spiritual leader, Monsignor Fortenbaugh ensured a priest or seminarian visited each classroom once a week, a practice long-abandoned by most parishes. Until his last days at St. Agnes, Monsignor continued to visit the children and talk with them about the saints and the sacraments.
In June 1996, Monsignor Victor B. Galeone succeeded Monsignor Fortenbaugh as pastor. When he first came to St. Agnes, Father Vic undertook many projects, including the establishing successful partnerships with St. Cecelia and Immaculate Conception parishes in Baltimore. Most of all, however, he quickly won the hearts of his parishioners with his love for Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Although he was appointed Bishop of St. Augustine, Florida by Pope John Paul II on June 26, 2001, Father Vic keeps St. Agnes in his heart: "There is one cherished memory that I take with me: the love for the Lord in the Eucharist that I encountered here... The Forty Hours devotion and those quiet Holy Hours on Saturday mornings spoke volumes of your true priorities."
Reverend Carl F. Cummings was appointed pastor on May 2, 2002, after having served from 1984-2001 as a chaplain for the Navy and the Marine Corps. Father Carl immediately undertook the project of establishing a master plan for the parish and school, which included determining the feasibility of constructing a multi-purpose center for the parish. After several years of exhaustive study, planning and building, the new Activity Center was dedicated on November 23, 2008 by Bishop Denis Madden. This new building included a high school regulation gymnasium, a meeting room, stage and full commercial kitchen. It is being used by both school children and parishioners for a wide variety of activities, including CYO basketball, school gym classes, the annual parish crab feast, bi-annual school auction, youth group and men's club activities, badminton and Senior Bingo. Father Carl also oversaw the parish's celebration of its 150th Anniversay in 2002.
A NEW COURSE
Father Carl was reassigned as pastor to St. Jane Frances parish in August 2009. Reverend Timothy Fell was made Temporary Administrator for the parish, providing spiritual and administrative guidance for the parish as it awaits the naming of its new pastor. Father Tim's love of the Lord and inspiring homilies have provided stability during this transition year.