The roots of St. Augustine's were planted in 1858 when African American congregants of the segregated St. Matthew's Church left to form a free day school in the old Smothers School – recently vacated by John Cook's Union Seminary -- at 14th and H streets, NW. Two years later the school moved to the 1200 block of L Street, NW.
In need of a building of their own, the group purchased land on 15th Street north of L and sought pledges and contributions from black Catholics throughout the city to pay for construction. They kicked off the fundraising campaign with a strawberry festival on the White House grounds on July 4, 1864, after President Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln agreed.
Work on a combined school and chapel began that fall and was completed in February 1866. Congregants named it for Blessed Martin de Porres, a Dominican lay brother of African and Spanish descent who had been beatified about three decades earlier.
One of the earliest schools in the city for African Americans, Blessed Martin de Porres was staffed by the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the oldest religious order of black women in the United States.
In 1867 the separate, black St. Augustine's parish was founded, with Blessed Martin as its anchor.
In 1928 the growing parish purchased a site at 1715 15th Street, NW, near S Street, to build St. Augustine Parochial School, and eventually a new church. Most parish activities moved to this location, but the old church was used until 1946 when the Washington Archdiocese sold it. It was razed two years later.
In 1961 Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle united St. Augustine's parish with a neighboring parish, the largely white St. Paul's at 15th and V, whose membership had dwindled over the years. The result was Saints Paul and Augustine Church in the former St. Paul's. Archbishop James Hickey renamed the church St. Augustine's in 1982. Fr. Russell L. Dillard was the church's first black pastor in 1991.