A fire erupted on the morning of February 7, 1904, in the dry goods firm of John E. Hurst & Co., on what is now Redwood Street. The blaze spread wildly out of control, consuming central Baltimore. In a panic and with few options, city engineers recommended demolishing buildings in the path of the fire to create an artificial firebreak.
One building on the fire's path was Thomas O'Neill's department store at Lexington and Charles Streets. The Baltimore Sun reported how O'Neill, a devout Catholic, went to a Carmelite Convent on Biddle Street to pray for the safety of his building. He then rushed back to his store to stop the firefighters from setting the charges. Fortunately, the wind shifted so the fire and firefighters spared O'Neill's store from destruction.
Thomas O'Neill was convinced that God had answered his prayers. When he died in 1919, he left two-thirds of his estate to the construction of a new cathedral in Baltimore. The Archdiocese of Baltimore selected the prominent architecture firm Maginnis, Walsh, and Kennedy to design the cathedral on a twenty-five acre lot in Homewood. The firm specialized in architecture for the Catholic Church. Their work in Baltimore included the main administration building for Saint Mary's Seminary and University, which is in the Beaux-Arts style. In 1948, Charles Donagh Maginnis, an Irish immigrant, received the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal for outstanding service to the profession, the institute's highest award. The architects were asked to come up with three designs: traditional, modified and modern. The Archdiocese chose the modified design which combined the traditional Gothic style with modern Art Deco elements.
Workers broke ground in 1954, and completed the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in 1959. The massive cathedral is 163 feet tall and can seat up to 1,900 people. The cathedral is outfitted with two organs created by the M.P. Moeller Company of Hagerstown, Maryland.
Today, the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen serves as the cathedral church of the Primary See, the first archdiocese of the United States and, together with the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, serves as one of two main centers of Catholic liturgical life in Baltimore. It is the third largest cathedral in the U.S. and has hosted several dignitaries over the years, including Pope John Paul II.