St. Timothy’s Hall

By Mary Klein, Diocesan Archivist

The first official mention of a new Episcopal congregation being formed in Catonsville appeared in the Convention Journal of 1844. The Rev. George F. Worthington submitted a report detailing the organization of a new congregation which was meeting in his home, saying that there were “about a dozen communicants and more than forty Sunday scholars.” At the same convention on Wednesday, May 29, 1844, the fledgling congregation was admitted into union with the diocese. On May 8, Worthington had written to Bishop William Whittingham saying, “We expect to commence hauling stone for the church very soon and hope to have the building erected before cold weather.” Later that year, in the autumn, Worthington had to step away from shepherding his new congregation because his “health and spirits” had deteriorated, and in December, he asked the bishop to find a replacement for him as rector of St. Timothy’s Church. Throughout the coming years, Worthington’s mental and physical health deteriorated, and, in the short term, both St. Timothy’s Church and school suffered from problems with leadership.

George Worthington had not only begun the church in Catonsville, he had also invested his own money to establish a school for boys. Apparently, the curriculum was aimed at eventually preparing boys for ministry, although the school had a farm attached to it, which supplied much of the food for the students. In a November 28, 1844, letter to the bishop, Worthington’s replacement, the Rev. Norris Jones, expressed the opinion that the school was in “a very precarious situation, in case Mr. Worthington’s derangement continues.” Mr. Jones was displeased with the overall state of the school, and described the reasons for the conditions this way, “I found a very different state of things existing from what ought to have existed. This was owing chiefly to three causes – 1st, the not establishing strict Rules at the opening of the institution; 2nd from not putting rigidly in execution the Rules which were established; 3rd from the want of efficient servants – those they have are worse than useless; they have to be fed, & do not earn their food. No blame is to be attached to the ladies of the institution, but all praise. They have done what they could & more than was to be expected of them.” He immediately put strict rules into place, but by February of the following year, he had been dismissed by the bishop as both rector of the church and head of the school. The Rev. Adolphus Frost, who helped run the farm and taught German at the school, took over the reins from February to May, when the Rev. Libertus Van Bokkelen became rector and head of the school.

Appendix from the Convention Journal, May, 1844

Libertus Van Bokkelen was born in New York City on July 22, 1815, the second child in a family of 13 children, and from the age of 9 was educated at boarding schools on Long Island.  Under the influence of the famed educator the Rev. Augustus Muhlenberg, Van Bokkelen founded St. Paul’s School at College Point, Long Island, and dedicated his life to reforming the educational system in the country. At the invitation of Bishop Whittingham, a great proponent of Muhlenberg’s educational theories, Van Bokkelen arrived in Catonsville to become rector of St. Timothy’s Church and principal at St. Timothy’s Hall, which shortly became an official diocesan school, following its purchase by Van Bokkelen. (In several biographical sketches of Van Bokkelen, it is stated that he founded St. Timothy’s Hall, but we know from our records that it had been begun in 1844 by the Rev. Mr. Worthington and run briefly by the Rev. Mr. Norris.)

Van Bokkelen’s first parochial report for St. Timothy’s Church dated May 27, 1846, listed 73 communicants, and 38 Sunday School scholars. He stated that, “The attendance upon public worship has increased, and …the blessed spirit has visited us with his awakening power.” The energetic Van Bokkelen also reorganized St. Timothy’s Hall along three departments: Moral, Intellectual and Physical. The Physical Department was described this way: “The students are organized as a Company and instructed in Infantry Tactics. The remarkable health of all young men trained under this system, is the best evidence of its value.”. His disciplinary methods differed from Jones’ strict system. Van Bokkelen wrote, “There is no severity, no corporal punishment – yet strictness and system is everything, even to the most minute particular. Boys can be governed and instructed and made courteous young gentlemen without the usual expedients of ill-tempered or impatient teachers. The discipline is based upon confidence and respect.”

As the parish grew in numbers, the church was expanded in 1850, and consecrated in 1851 by Bishop Whittingham. Again in 1855 and 1857, further enlargements took place, and a tower was added in 1858. The school was successful as well, with most of the students coming to Catonsville from Southern states. In the 1852 accounting by Van Bokkelen, St. Timothy’s Hall had 119 students, only 10 of whom did not come from the South. As Civil War inched closer, tensions became apparent at the school and the church because Van Bokkelen was an oddity in Maryland: an abolitionist. In his own words, Van Bokkelen wrote, “The incidents of my life upon which I look back with sincerest satisfaction are those which in early youth connected me with the anti-slavery cause.”

A story about St. Timothy’s Hall at the beginning of the Civil War, says that when Union troops being moved by rail from New York, through Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., were in Baltimore, they had to transfer from President Street station to Camden Street station on April 19, 1861. A city ordinance had made it illegal to construct steam rail lines through the city, so the troops were marched from one station to another. What became known as the Pratt Street riot ensued, with Southern sympathizers attacking the Union soldiers with stones, bricks and an occasional pistol shot, according to first-hand accounts. But the tale of Secessionists stealing the cannon from St. Timothy’s Hall in order to defend the city persists. According to the tale, when the cannon were in place, it was discovered that they had been “spiked” – temporarily disabled. Dr. Van Bokkelen got the credit for that deed.

According to the Baltimore Sun of April 22, 1861, what really happened was that “a party of young men” broke into the armory at St. Timothy’s Hall and carried off 70 muskets following a plea from city authorities for arms to be used by volunteer militiamen against the Secessionist rioters. They tried to move the field pieces (cannon) but found a wheel had been removed from each gun carriage. Later the same day, the Union Frederick Volunteers, on orders from Baltimore’s Mayor, arrived at the school and took the remaining muskets and the 6 iron field pieces, depositing them at police headquarters on Holliday Street to defend the city. Ironically the cannon ended up in the hands of a Confederate Baltimore militia company and were recaptured by Federal troops when the city was placed under military control.

Map of Catonsville. Click on the image to view the full map

The Rev. Libertus Van Bokkelen

St. Timothy’s Student Reports, November, 1845

Of course, several infamous men had been students at St. Timothy’s Hall, including two Booth brothers – John and Joseph, as well as two of Booth’s co-conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Michael O’Loughlin and Samel Arnold. Other Civil War participants had been students there also – General Fitshugh Lee of Virginia, General Steven Ellicott of South Carolina, and General Charls Phelps of Maryland. In fact, the parish register of St. Timothy’s Church shows that John Wilkes Booth and his brother Joseph Adrian Booth were baptized there on January 20, 1853. He and several others were sponsored for baptism by two teachers at the school, the Rev. James Stevenson and Henry Onderdonk.

In June of 1864, Van Bokkelen wrote to the bishop saying he would probably be leaving St. Timothy’s. “The wicked temper of some of my congregation has rendered this a most uncomfortable home for myself & family.” And, in fact, he resigned in July. In November of that year, he was appointed the first Superintendent of Public Education for the State of Maryland, a post he held for three years. He also rented the school to Professor E. Parsons, who carried on the institution under the name Catonsville Military Academy, although with the loss of most of the students because of their Southern leanings, it never prospered again, and burned to the ground in 1872.

By the end of 1865, Van Bokkelen wrote the vestry of St. Timothy’s Church saying, “I am drawn towards St. Timothy’s the more strongly because of the large number of young persons who attend services, believing that I can be useful to them and find comfort in my ministry among them.” He returned as rector until 1871, when a dispute along partisan beliefs, held over from the War, induced several men in the congregation to form an “alternative” vestry which called for his resignation. Although advised by the bishop that this sham vestry had no authority, Van Bokkelen resigned, perhaps tired of years of strife with bad-tempered parishioners. He went to a western New York parish, St. John’s, Mt. Morris, then to Trinnity Church, Buffalo, where he died in 1889.

The Rev. Claudius Hains succeeded Libertus Van Bokkelen as rector of St. Timothy’s at the end of December 1871, while the country was still navigating Civil War tensions and dealing with economic depression. Hains had come to Maryland from Virginia in 1861, telling Bishop Whittingham he had been cut off from his Virginia parishes by the War. He served at a small church in Owensville in Anne Arundel County, then in Hagerstown, but he kept very close ties with the bishops of Virginnia, often asking for permission to have them come to Hagerstown to confirm. In a December 11, 1871, letter to Bishop Whittingham, Hains wrote from Hagerstown, “You have no doubt seen an account of the great calamity that has befallen our church, which is now in ashes. But we are raising money to build a new church…I have accepted the call to Catonsville & will leave here the latter part of Christmas week.” But only a little over three years later, on February 20, 1875, Hains informed the bishop that he had accepted a call to Petersburg, Virginia, saying that “Nothing but a sense of duty takes me away from Maryland & I shall cherish the hope of some day returning to it. I leave after Easter.”

To replace Mr. Hains, the vestry chose the Rev. Thomas W. Punnett of New York as their rector. In his Letter Dimissory, the bishop of New York, Horatio Potter, told Bishop Whittingham, “It nearly breaks my heart to transfer him to Maryland.” (Punnett had been rector of St. Paul’s Memorial church on Statin Island, which he resigned on February 8, 1875.)  But life in Catonsville seemed to please Punnett, as he told his new bishop in January of 1876, “We are moving along harmoniously and pleasantly in our country home – and find both the air and water of Catonsville as you represented them – pure. The services in church are refreshing in their simplicity and heartiness. The congregation is devout & reverent.” Indeed, Punnett’s eighteen-year tenure in Catonsville was one of growth and peace, with improvements in the church and grounds, and an enlarging congregation. He resigned as of Easter, 1894, and went to Tarrytown, NY.

Register of St. Timothy’s Church