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Saint Mary Mother of God Catholic Church

Saint Mary Mother of God
727 5th Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20001

(Judiciary Square or Gallery Place Metro Stations) | E. F. Baldwin, 1890

St. Mary’s Mother of God Catholic ChurchSaint Mary Mother of God, Washington, D.C.
Photo: Ann Slattery, 2019

This parish was organized in 1845 in the basement of St. Matthew’s Catholic Church at 15th and H Streets, N.W., in the City of Washington. Founder and beloved first pastor was Swiss-born Reverend Mathias Alig. The first church was erected on this site in 1846.

The present Potomac bluestone Gothic church is the second Saint Mary to occupy the site, which lies within walking distance of both Judiciary Square and Gallery Place Metro stations. The land for its construction was originally donated by John P. Van Ness, a mayor of Washington, and his wife, Marcia Burns Van Ness. They were Washingtonians who put their resources to public use. A Protestant, Van Ness, showed generosity to local Catholics when he deeded them this lot on 5th Street, N.W., as the site for a future church. There was but one condition: construction had to be finished and services begun within one year, to continue regularly from then on. If not, ownership would revert to his heirs. Saint Mary Mother of God Catholic Church was the happy result of that condition.

Until World War I, Saint Mary served German-speaking Catholics, who, much earlier, had so ardently desired German liturgies that a German-speaking priest journeyed from Baltimore each month to preach to them at St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill. But public anti-German sentiment, coupled with displacement of many parishioners during the war, ended the German influence on Saint Mary. The clergy naturally wanted to draw new people. The innovation? Novenas. (For the non-Catholic, novenas are prayers said for nine consecutive days, or, by extension, once a week for nine weeks.) Since 1934 weekly novenas to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal have been so popular that the church is called the “Novena Church of Washington.”

For several years, the church has served the area’s Chinese community with Mass on Sundays and various holidays. Another fairly recent innovation is a weekly Traditional Latin Mass, celebrated each Sunday morning at 9. There is also a Traditional Latin Mass on Friday mornings at 8 and on First Saturdays at 9 am. This liturgy attracts a huge following.

St. Mary’s Mother of God Catholic ChurchSaint Mary Mother of God
Photo: Ann Slattery, 2019

Inside of St. Mary's ChurchInterior of Saint Mary Mother of God, altar and ceiling
Photo: Ann Slattery, 2019

Life of the Virgin PaintingsView of the first two scenes from the life of the Virgin
Artist: Henry Wingate | Photo: Ann Slattery, 2019

Interior of St. Mary’sThe scenes in the life of the Virgin Mary were painted by Virginia artist Henry Wingate. The final image was installed on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 2019 (this photo was taken before the painting was installed in the far-right niche).
Mr. Wingate’s website is
Photo: Ann Slattery, 2019

Miraculous Medal AltarMiraculous Medal Altar, Saint Mary Mother of God
Photo: Ann Slattery, 2019

Blessed Karl ShrineBlessed Karl Shrine inside Saint Mary Mother of God – one of many Blessed Karl shrines worldwide | Photo: Ann Slattery, 2019

Blessed Karl of the House of Austria was born in Persenbeug in 1887. In 1916, in the midst of the First World War, he became Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. Despite his efforts to promote peace, equity, and justice, in 1919, he was banished. He died on April 1, 1922, on the island of Madeira, while calling upon the name of Jesus. Blessed Karl was a man of faith, a Christian family man, a Catholic monarch, and a resolute peacemaker. To learn more about Blessed Karl, please visit