Organized in 1845 in the basement of St. Matthew's Church, St. Mary's parish was formed to serve the influx of German Catholic immigrants settling in Washington at the time. Initially located at 15th and H Streets NW, the German Catholic community wanted to erect their own building where they could hear mass in their own language. Through the generosity of General John Van Ness, that desire was fulfilled through his donation of the site on 5th Street between G and H Streets, NW to the immigrants in 1846.
The first church was constructed according to the dictates of Van Ness's deed, which required the parish to build, within one year, a brick or stone church in which divine services must be held regularly or possession of the site and building would revert to the heirs of the original owners. The present church structure, the second on the site, was built in 1891. In designing the church, the architect E. F. Baldwin was influenced by the German Gothic style of architecture. The building material is a rough ashlar blue stone and granite. The central tower and spire especially reflect the vertical lineage typical of Gothic architecture.
DC Inventory: July 24, 1968 (Joint Committee on Landmarks)