Life at St. Mary’s Seminary & University was dictated by the tolling of the seminary’s bell. Originally, the seminary was located at 600 N. Paca Street in downtown Baltimore, where it was established as the first Roman Catholic Seminary in the United States in 1791. The bell rang to begin the day and for all forms of a seminarian’s sustenance—spiritual sustenance as it called him to Mass, prayers, and vespers; intellectual growth as it defined his daily class schedule; and physical nourishment as it called him to his meals.
The bell fell silent upon the closure of the Paca Street campus in 1969, when all seminary classes and administration transferred to the Roland Park campus. Within six years of the move, the Grand Seminary Building itself was no more, razed by Baltimore City. In 1974, the grounds had been given to the city by the U.S. Sulpician Fathers to create today’s St. Mary’s Park, which was dedicated in 1977. It sits around the historic core site kept by the Sulpicians.
This silence, however, was joyously broken in June 2021, when the bell, which had been stored at the top of the vestments’ closet in the preserved 1808 Seminary Chapel sacristy, was taken down, removed from its temporary wooden cradle, and placed upon the remnant of the original seminary’s foundation wall—symbolically above the Auspice Maria logo of the Sulpicians—where it rang out to the Seton Hill neighborhood of Baltimore City this summer for the first time in more than half a century.
A new wrought-iron cradle was fabricated in the form of chapel arches by G. Krug & Sons Ironworks. The ironworks itself was in operation at the same location down the street from the historic Paca Street site at 415 W. Saratoga Street since 1810, making their company only two years younger than the seminary chapel and the Federal-style Mother Seton House.
The bell now calls the groups who visit the historic site to Mass and lunch, echoing its original function to the many thousands of seminarians who fulfilled their spiritual vocations during their time at St. Mary’s on Paca Street.