Our History

The Beginning

On January 1, 1891, Corpus Christi Church was consecrated. The magnificent church building was built for the wealthy community of Bolton Hill, then known as Bolton Depot. Its consecration was a major social and liturgical event that began at 6:30 a.m. and lasted more than 14 hours. Baltimore’s Cardinal James Gibbons presided, along with six bishops from across the country and all the clergy of Baltimore. The carriages of the wealthy wound in long lines up the hill.

Work on the church began in 1885. The parish had been founded in 1880, with the congregation meeting on the top floor of a school building across the street (near where the rectory is now). The rectory, across Lafayette Street, was built in 1894. The church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. This was the first church in the United States to be named Corpus Christi, and it was the first church in Baltimore to be built entirely of granite. Corpus Christi was originally called the Jenkins Memorial Church, and was one of very few “memorial” Catholic churches in the United States dedicated to an individual or family. The Jenkins family was one of Maryland’s oldest families, prominent in business, philanthropy, church affairs, and the arts. The building’s origin began in 1882, when Louisa Carrell Jenkins, a few days before her death, called her five children together and asked them to erect a church in memory of their father, Thomas Courtney Jenkins, who had died the previous Christmas Eve. The children decided to make the church the most magnificent in Baltimore, and to dedicate it to both their parents. Thomas and Louisa are buried in a crypt below the St. Joseph chapel and several of their children are buried below the St. Thomas Aquinas chapel.

The style of the church is decorated Gothic, a style dating back to the 13th century. As with the original Gothic cathedrals of Europe, the ornate decoration is meant to both instruct and inspire. In the case of Corpus Christi, which means “Body of Christ” in Latin, the recurring themes throughout the church are wheat and wine. One can see these themes played out on the marble floor, the mosaics, the stained-glass windows, and the altars. Many of the mosaics and stained glass windows at Corpus Christi are considered some of the finest examples in the world. The Apse, for instance, contains five Florentine mosaics on glass depicting the life of Christ. The only other places where mosaics of this style and quality are found are at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice and at the Vatican. You are welcome to tour the church to learn more about its rich history and its fine works of art.

Pastoral Leadership at Corpus Christi

  • Rev. William Starr 1880-1909
  • Rev. James Nolan 1909-1943
  • Rev. William Neligan 1944-1951
  • Rev. Leo Barley 1951-1956
  • Rev. Francis Flanagan 1956-1965
  • Rev. John Ballard 1965-1967
  • Rev. Francis Fortenbaugh 1967-1968
  • Rev. William Graham, S.J. 1968
  • Rev. Francis Dougherty, S.J. 1968-1976
  • Rev. Francis Callahan & Rev. John Sewell 1976-1980
  • Rev. Francis Callahan 1980-1986
  • Sr. Jane Coyle, M.M.S. 1986-2000
  • Rev. Richard Bozzelli 2000-2010
  • Rev. Martin Demek 2010-

Patrick Keely, Corpus Christi’s Architect

It seems remarkable that in 1884, when Patrick Charles Keely received the “Laetare Medal” for “Outstanding Service to the Catholic Church and Society” from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, the New York Times reported that “Mr. Keely has already constructed 700 ecclesiastical structures!”

Patrick Charles Keely was born in Thurles, Ireland, in 1816, and immigrated to America in 1842. His father William Sr. and brother William Jr. worked on the building of St. Patrick’s College in Thurles. While not allowed to work as an architect under the Penal Laws imposed by England, the hired architect had been dismissed and William Sr. acted as superintendent of the construction of the college. Thus the Keely men gained great insight into a profession of architecture that would make them notable in Ireland, and great craftsmen in America.

The experience garnered by Patrick, from the work of his father and brother, would aid Patrick when he immigrated to America in 1842. Working on the enlargement of St. James Pro-Cathedral, in Brooklyn, NY, his work experience caught the eye of Fr. Sylvester Malone, who hired Keely to build his first church in America, Sts. Peter & Paul Church in Brooklyn. With the Catholic population of immigrants flooding the Atlantic coast, clergy of fledgling flocks would call upon Keely to design Catholic structures. Spreading construction into New Jersey, New York City, and Philadelphia would create demand for the services of this talented architect. Although Patrick had no formal architectural training, he was soon asked to erect cathedrals in Cleveland and Albany, which would eventually lead to the construction of more than 20 cathedrals, most still in use today.

Patrick Keely’s designs spread through America, flooding designs in New England, the South (St. Joseph in New Orleans), Canada (Church of the Gesu in Montreal), and the Midwest (St. Bernard, in Watertown, WI). When the St. Joseph Passionist Monastery Chapel opened and was dedicated, the Archbishop of New York called it “a gem of architecture.” More than likely, all this praise for the architectural work of Patrick Keely caught the eye of the Jenkins family when they wished to honor their father, which led to Patrick C. Keely designing “The Treasured Gem of Bolton Hill!”

Ted Furey, President of the Patrick Kelly Society

History of Corpus Christi

  • 1880s

    The Archdiocese of Baltimore decided that it wanted a presence in Bolton Depot (later Bolton Hill), an area of charm and wealth, the best of city living at the time, but one which was not Catholic in 19th-century Baltimore. This presence was to be at the corner of what is..Read More

  • 1890s

    The church was consecrated on January 1, 1891 by Cardinal Gibbons, in an all-day celebration, attended by many ecclesial and civic leaders. The rectory was built in 1894, giving the clergy a place to live. In addition to Rev. Starr, the parish now had an associate pastor, Rev. James Nolan,..Read More

  • 1900s

    Rev. Starr stepped down as pastor in 1909; he remained as pastor emeritus until his death in 1921. Rev. James Nolan became Corpus Christi’s second pastor. He brought to his pastorate his skills in finance and education. Inheriting a debt of $24,000, he worked to pay it off.

  • 1910s

    Rev. Nolan and his Corpus Christi parishioners were faced with some of the 20th century’s most trying times in this decade – World War I and the great influenza epidemic in 1917-18. During the epidemic, the number of funerals sharply rose, while baptisms fell – in part, at least, because..Read More

  • 1920s

    The pastorate of Rev. Nolan continued. Bolton Hill saw some famous people take up (at least temporary) residence, such as Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and the famous Cone sisters, Claribel and Etta. Although in the 1920s Bolton Hill was still a grand place to live, the neighborhood..Read More

  • 1930s

    As additional urban renewal squeezed parish boundaries even further, the Great Depression caused even greater restriction of funds available for the parish. Numbers of parishioners and children in the school continued to dwindle. Yet, Rev. Nolan did not incur any new debt, and he continued to pay off existing debt...Read More

  • 1940s

    By the year of his death (1943), Rev. Nolan had paid off the $75,000 debt for the new school. When he died, after 34 years as pastor, the parish – although struggling in terms of membership – had no debt. The first 63 years of Corpus Christi parish were led..Read More

  • 1950s

    In 1951, Rev. Leo Barley (formerly pastor of St. Andrew’s Church) was appointed as Corpus Christi’s fourth pastor. A musician, Rev. Barley seemingly had little interest in finances; collections continued to decrease, and by the end of his term, the budget had fallen by a third. Although parishioner numbers remained..Read More

  • 1960s

    Rev. Flanagan died in 1965. Corpus Christi’s sixth pastor was Rev. John Ballard, no stranger to the parish, having served at Corpus Christi from 1953 to 1964. Although he was overjoyed with this, his first pastorate, he was realistic enough to know that social forces – in the city and..Read More

  • 1970s

    Problems remained, as did impressions that the parish was insular. In 1971, the school closed its doors because of lack of enrollment. In 1976, Fr. Dougherty asked to be relieved of his pastoral duties. After a team of Jesuits met with parishioners, they sent recommendations to the Archdiocese about Corpus..Read More

  • 1980s

    With Rev. Sewell’s departure in 1980, the parish hired its first pastoral associate, Sister Jane Desmond. Joining her was Sister Jane Coyle, a Medical Mission sister, who assisted where needed. When Sister Desmond left in 1983, Sister Jane became pastoral associate and assumed responsibility for social outreach, adult education, and..Read More

  • 1990s

    Sister Jane continued to oversee many repairs and renovations of parish property, especially the church. She sold the convent to raise money. She approved a survey of parishioner impressions about liturgy and a parish census. She encouraged the establishment of small Christian communities of about 8-10 individuals each, which met..Read More

  • 2000s

    The priest shortage was an even greater reality in the 21st century than when Sister Jane retired. Parishioners were fairly certain that a priest would not be assigned because the parish was now accustomed to not having a priest pastor. But a priest was assigned, one who had applied for..Read More

  • 2010s

    In 2010, the Archdiocese decided that Rev. Bozzelli was needed to lead three parishes in Glen Burnie. His replacement was Rev. Martin Demek, from St. William of York parish. Since Father Marty’s arrival the parish has seen a few more changes, primarily due to fiscal constraints. After much discernment, the..Read More

The Jenkins Family

Although Corpus Christi Church was erected primarily as a memorial to Thomas Courtney Jenkins and his wife Louisa Carrell Jenkins, the church in a larger sense is a memorial to the Jenkins family in Maryland, who can trace their history back to the State’s beginnings. The association of the Jenkins family with the Catholic history of the State is symbolized in the mosaic over the door leading to the Lafayette Avenue exit of the church. This mosaic, which was put in place in 1896, shows Father Andrew White offering the first mass at St. Clement’s Island in St. Mary’s County on March 25, 1634.

Thomas Jenkins (abt. 1642-1727) & Ann Spalding (abt. 1647-1729)

Thomas Courtney Jenkins is one of the great-great grandsons of Thomas Jenkins, who, in 1669 or 1670, came to Maryland as a young man with his wife Ann Spalding. They lived in Charles County for nearly sixty years and their children married into the leading Catholic families of the province.

William Jenkins (ca. 1683-1757) & Mary Courtney (1696-1755)

Thomas Jenkins’ youngest son, William, married Mary Courtney in 1718. William owned land in Charles, St. Mary’s, and Baltimore counties. They had six sons and two daughters. Three of his sons moved to Baltimore County, which was then still largely a wilderness. Among them was the second but youngest child, Michael Courtney Jenkins.

Michael Courtney Jenkins (1736-1802) & Charity Ann Wheeler (1743-1820)

Michael settled at Long Green in 1757 on a 900-acre plantation bequeathed to him by his older brother Thomas who had died that year. He married Charity Ann Wheeler in 1861. Michael and Charity had ten children. The third child, William Jenkins, moved to Baltimore City in 1780 as an apprentice to a tanner.

William Jenkins (1767-1843) & Ellen Willcox (1780-1816)

It was with William Jenkins that the family fortune began to develop. After finishing his apprenticeship, he established his own successful leather business on Water Street. William’s first marriage was to Anne Hillen, who died soon after their first child was born in 1799. He re-married on June 2, 1801 to Ellen Willcox of Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Exactly nine months later their first son, Thomas Courtney Jenkins, was born.

Thomas Courtney Jenkins & Louisa Carrell Jenkins

Thomas Courtney Jenkins was born on March 19, 1802, the feast of St. Joseph. Upon completing his studies at Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland, he joined his father in the leather business in Baltimore. In 1822, he was given an interest in the firm, but six years later he left to establish the “Poland and Jenkins” firm with Mr. Poland Adams and soon became a very successful business man and financier. In 1832, he became the director of the Mechanic’s Bank, a position he held for 49 years. For many years, he was also the director of the Savings Bank of Baltimore. He was one of the original organizers of the Parkersburg and Central Ohio Railroad, the Northern Central Railway, and the Atlantic Coast Line, and also organized the Merchants and Miners Transportation Company. In 1829, he married Louisa Carrell from Philadelphia.

Of Irish descent, Louisa Carrell was the youngest daughter of John Carrell (1758-1830) and Mary Judith Moore (1766-1817). She was the sister of George Aloysius Carrell (1803-1868), who later became the first bishop of Covington, Kentucky. Louisa probably met her future husband in Emmitsburg through her brother, who was also a student at Mount St. Mary’s College. Louisa attended Mother Seton’s School in the same town.

The couple resided for many years at 608 North Calvert Street, in what was then called Waterloo Row. In 1851, they moved to 721 St. Paul Street. Thomas and Louisa Jenkins were prominent and active members of the Catholic Church in Baltimore and its various causes. Thomas Jenkins was one of the first pew holders and oldest member of the Board of Trustees of the Baltimore Cathedral (The Basilica). He was an incorporator of St. Mary’s Orphan Asylum and St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. His house frequently hosted many of the prelates of the church, especially during their attendance at the councils held in Baltimore. He was an intimate friend of James Gibbons, archbishop of Baltimore and later Cardinal. In 1865, Thomas retired from business. He passed away on Christmas Eve in 1881. His wife died a year later.

Thomas and Louisa were both buried in the family vault in Bonnie Brae cemetery, but on December 12 their remains were transferred to the crypt in the St. Joseph Chapel in Corpus Christi-Jenkins Memorial Church, the church that was built by their five adult children.

The children of Thomas Courtney Jenkins and Louisa Carrell.

In all, the couple had 10 children, but three girls did not live until adulthood, and one boy died during the Civil War.

  1. Mary Ann Jenkins was born on March 19, 1832. She died before her 18th birthday at Concord Township, Delaware County, Pennsylvania.
  2. John Carrell Jenkins was born on June 14, 1834. He died while serving in the Confederate Army, at Front Royal, Virginia, on October 11, 1861. In 1883, his siblings erected a church in his honor at this site, the church of St. John the Baptist.
  3. Adam Poland Jenkins was born on August 19, 1835. During the Civil War, he enlisted in Company C, Maryland 1st Cavalry Battalion. He died on September 13, 1883 at Old Sweet Springs resort in West Virginia after a short illness.
  4. George Carrell Jenkins was born on October 15, 1836. As a young man, Jenkins served in the 52nd Regiment of the Maryland National Guard and in 1862, he left his father’s business to serve as a private in the Confederate Army, in the same unit as his older brother. Like his father and brothers, George was a successful businessman and financier. On November 17, 1868, he married Mary Catherine “Kate” Key (1844-1927), daughter of Philip Barton Key and Maria Sewell Key, descendants of some of Maryland’s oldest Catholic families. Her father was a first cousin on Francis Scott Key. Born in Thibodaux, Louisiana on a plantation, she came to Maryland when young. Both George and Kate took a deep interest in charity. They founded Bon Secours Hospital and donated generously to Loyola College. George died at the age of 93 on June 5, 1930. Stevenson’s Greenspring Valley campus is located on Seven Oaks, the former estate of George Carrell Jenkins.
  5. Eliza Lucas Jenkins was born on February 10, 1838. She was educated in the private schools of the city and resided in Baltimore all her life. She and her younger sister Ellen never married and divided their time between the Jenkins’ city home on St. Paul Street and their country villa, Edgewood, near Lake Roland, near the homes of their brothers Joseph and Michael. One of her chief philanthropies was assisting the work of the Little Sisters of the Poor. She died March 29, 1916. Her body was laid to rest in a crypt underneath the altar of St. Thomas of Aquinas in Corpus Christi Church. The Edgewood estate on Lake Avenue is now a home for retired Josephite priests.
  6. Joseph Willcox Jenkins was born on July 24, 1840 in Baltimore. Joseph was a railroad and investment executive. He married Mary Ellen Rogers (1846-1939) on October 9, 1867. In the late 1880s, he moved his large family to a beautiful estate, called Windy Gates, which stretched the length of Lake Avenue between Falls Road and Roland Avenue and featured gardens designed by the famed Olmsted Brothers. Joseph and Ellen had many children, but only four survived to maturity. He died at his home on June 6, 1921. The estate was remodeled into the Devon Hill Condominiums in the 1980s.
  7. Ellen M. Jenkins was born October 10, 1841. According to a memorial written to her, she was almost a saint-like person. Her delicate health prevented her from entering the convent of the Sisters of Charity. She lived with her older sister Ellen and, with her sister, devoted most of her life and wealth to charity, in particular the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the sick at St. Joseph’s Hospital. She died August 11, 1908 in Baltimore and is also buried beneath the altar of St. Thomas of Aquinas at Corpus Christi Church.
  8. Michael A. Jenkins was born December 27, 1842. Along with his brothers, he was actively involved in Baltimore’s business and financial world. He had large investments in railroad enterprises and was president of several companies. On October 2, 1866, he married his cousin Mary Isabella Plowder Jenkins (1844-1911), the daughter of Austin Jenkins and Margaret Agnes Brent. Around 1900, Michael bought an old farmhouse on Lake Avenue, not far from Windy Gates, and named it Llewellyn. The home is now the main building of the Boy’s Latin School. Michael and Mary Isabelle never had children. Devout Catholics, they were important benefactors to many charitable institutions, and Michael was a very close friend of Cardinal Gibbons. When Michael Jenkins died on September 7, 1915, the Cardinal expressed “with dramatic force” an “especially intense note of intimate, personal grief.” Michael Jenkins and his wife Mary are also buried in the St. Thomas Chapel of Corpus Christi Church.
  9. Louisa I. Jenkins was born on March 10, 1844, but only lived a few months. She died on September 12, 1844.
  10. Louisa Jenkins was born 20 September 1845. She died at age 19 on December 24, 1864.

Author: Kristine Smets, April 2013.