St. Joseph's Society of the Sacred Heart was one of many Roman Catholic institutions and organizations that established their presence in the Brookland area in the late-19th century and into the 20th century, when the area was still largely rural and separate from the urban core of Washington. This was due to the founding of The Catholic University of America in 1887. These numerous institutions and organizations locating near Catholic University led to the area's nickname, "Little Rome." Thus, St. Joseph's Seminary is significant in this respect.
Additionally, the seminary building, constructed in 1929-30, is a masterpiece of Georgian/Colonial Revival architecture. The building — with its copper cupola, limestone masonry entrance, and U-shaped design, which provides for a courtyard space — was designed by the architectural firm of Maginnis & Walsh, which was based in Boston and specialized in Catholic and college campus architecture. Their designs were influential in the early 20th century popularity of Collegiate Gothic architecture, which was often accompanied by imposing towers on university and college campuses. In addition to St. Joseph's Seminary, Maginnis & Walsh designed other buildings in Little Rome. In 1958, the western portion of the seminary building was expanded (giving the building its present U-shaped design), and a semicircular chapel was also added. The building sits north of Varnum Street NE in a large, park-like landscape.
The Saint Joseph's Society for Foreign Missions dates to its founding by Father Herbert Vaughan in London in 1866. By the 1870s, its missionaries had a presence across the Atlantic in Baltimore, and were proselytizing to formerly enslaved African Americans. Over time, as the Civil War and emancipation became more distant, the Josephites (as they are often referred to) became an important Catholic organization in the larger African American community. In 1893, the American mission became independent of its British counterpart, and was established as St. Joseph's Society of the Sacred Heart. Father Charles Uncles played a role in the new organization, and was the United States' "first African-American priest both trained and ordained in this country." Thus, the St. Joseph's Society has a long history of racial integration. The St. Joseph's Society opened this seminary in 1930.
Other designated historic landmarks in the Little Rome area include the Franciscan Monastery & Memorial Church of the Holy Land, Holy Redeemer College, and Saint Paul's College. There is a pending landmark nomination for the former Holy Name College.
DC Inventory: May 26, 2022
National Register: September 28, 2022