St. Thomas Aquinas Church
In the mid-nineteenth century, Catholic residents of Hampden belonged to the St. Mary of the Assumption parish in Govans, a distant walk from the burgeoning neighborhood. Since the industrial mill village had been built by the owners of the mills for their predominantly white Protestant workers, they had made no accommodations for Catholics to worship in the area. At least until an Irish-Catholic immigrant named Martin Kelly started a small Catholic community. Kelly erected the first non-company housing along Falls Road east of the mills, which grew into the Hampden we know today.
Kelly’s extended family occupied many of the sixteen homes Kelly erected in the 1850s. Others were likely owned by mill employees who could afford to leave the mill villages or by shopkeepers selling goods to other residents in the mill villages. Kelly built a large home for himself on Hickory Avenue, known colloquially as the Kelly Mansion. Fellow Catholics likely knew the house well. Seeking a place to worship closer to home, Kelly persuaded a priest to hold services in his home's parlor, using the piano as an altar. After Kelly's death, his son John donated the land and funds for a new Catholic church in Hampden called St. Thomas Aquinas.
Rev. Thomas Foley laid the cornerstone of St. Thomas Aquinas Church on May 12, 1867. The building, designed by famed local architect George Frederick and constructed at the cost of $20,000, was completed on June 18, 1871. Archbishop Martin John Spalding attended the dedication.
Today, the church complex consists of the church, rectory, school, and convent. The school was founded in 1873 and the current building went up in 1937. At the time, the school had 320 pupils and a staff of eight, hired from the School Sisters of Notre Dame. In 1973, St. Thomas Aquinas clustered with nearby parishes. Grades one to five attended St. Thomas Aquinas, while middle school students attended St. Bernard's in Waverly. Middle schoolers returned to St. Thomas Aquinas in 1996, seven years after St. Bernard's had become a Korean National Parish (which closed just a year later in 1997).
The school reached a crisis point in 2010 when the archdiocese closed thirteen of sixty-four parochial schools in Baltimore. St. Thomas Aquinas avoided closure due to the leadership of its principal, Sister Marie Rose Gusatus. The school took in students from surrounding parishes. However, the school only remained open for another six years.
In 2016, the Archdiocese closed St. Thomas Aquinas School along with Seton Keough High School in Southwest Baltimore and John Paul Regional School in Woodlawn. While the archdiocese claimed enrollment in Catholic schools had begun to stabilize after decades of declining enrollment, funding remained low as enrollment costs were kept low to make the schools more affordable. Also, in response to the need for costly improvements, the archdiocese decided it would be best to consolidate the schools.