Old­est U.S. Catholic parish cel­e­brates 375 years

St. Ig­natius in Port To­bacco wo­ven into fab­ric of Mary­land his­tory

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

The old­est con­tin­u­ously op­er­at­ing Catholic parish in the United States will be cel­e­brat­ing its 375th an­niver­sary this year with a host of com­mu­nity events.

“For the 375th an­niver­sary year, we’re try­ing to cel­e­brate our his­tory over the course of the year, through so­cial, spir­i­tual, com­mu­nity-ori­ented events. We want it to be a parish ori­ented event, but we also want the com­mu­nity to be aware of our his­tory,” said Brenda Mudd, chair­woman of the an­niver­sary com­mit­tee for St. Ig­natius Church/ St. Thomas Manor in Port To­bacco.

The parish’s found­ing dates back to the mis­sion set­tle­ment of Chapel Point in 1641, by Fa­ther An­drew White, a mis­sion­ary of the So­ci­ety of Je­sus, or Je­suit, an or­der within the Catholic Church.

White wished to min­is­ter to the lo­cal Pis­cat­away and Po­to­bago Na­tive Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties, but at that time, the gov­ern­ment of Great Bri­tain sup­pressed Catholics, said the Rev. Thomas Clif­ford, pas­tor of St. Ig­natius and Je­suit.

Leonard Calvert, gover­nor of the prov­ince of Mar yland, welcomed re­li­gious dis­si­dents — par­tic­u­larly

Catholics — and al­lowed the Je­suits to set­tle in Mary­land not as church men but as gentlemen, but with the un­der­stand­ing that they would min­is­ter, Clif­ford said.

“He was Catholic-lean­ing although he didn’t pub­licly es­pouse Catholi­cism,” Clif­ford said.

The Je­suits filed claim for 4,000 acres of land, but their ef­fort was dis­rupted in 1645 when White and fel­low Je­suit Thomas Co­p­ley were seized by Vir­ginian colonists and sent to Lon­don in chains for trial.

At the time, the English Par­lia­ment was at war with King Charles I, who was seen as sym­pa­thetic to Catholics. As a re­sult, the par­lia­men­tary forces stirred anti-Catholic sen­ti­ment.

White and Co­p­ley were even­tu­ally ac­quit­ted, and Co­p­ley re­turned to Mary­land. The land claim was com­pleted in the name of a gen­tle­man, Thomas Matthews, who trans­ferred the prop­erty to the Je­suits in 1662, the year the English monar­chy was re­stored. Since then, the site has been con­tin­u­ally in use by the Catholic Church, Clif­ford said.

“Thomas Matthews was the name of the at­tor­ney in whose name we claimed the prop­erty. We couldn’t claim it in 1649, the year Charles [I] was be­headed, so we claimed it in the name of a third party,” Clif­ford said. “Once we got clear ti­tle, in 1662, af­ter the restora­tion of the monar­chy, we claimed it in the name of the Je­suits, we’ve been here ever since ... serv­ing the peo­ple of Charles County and South­ern Mary­land.”

A manor house was added to the site in 1741, and it was there that John Car­roll was in­vested as the first Catholic bishop of the United States of Amer­ica in 1794.

“The manor house, which was where the Je­suits lived, served all of Charles County and for a while Prince Ge­orge’s, all the way down to Vir­ginia and up into Penn­syl­va­nia oc­ca­sion­ally, and op­er­ated from here,” Clif­ford said.

A church was added to the site in 1798. In 1866, a fire gut­ted most of the church and manor house. The church and manor were re­built and reded­i­cated in 1868, and the cur­rent build­ings date from that time, Clif­ford said.

The year-long cel­e­bra­tion kicks off July 30 with a 5 p.m. Mass, fol­lowed by an ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram in which members of the Pis­cat­away In­dian Tribe will be­gin the process of build­ing a tra­di­tional dwelling — a “long house” or tra­di­tional house — on the grounds.

“The Pis­cat­away and St. Ig­natius have a long his­tory to­gether,” Clif­ford said.

Be­gin­ning at 1 p.m. Sept. 24, the church will host a lec­ture se­ries on the role of Catholi­cism and re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion and tol­er­ance in the early his­tory of Mary­land, with R. Em­mett Cur­ran, emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity and au­thor of “Papist Devils: Catholics in Bri­tish Amer­ica, 15741783” and Beatriz Hardy, dean of li­braries and in­struc­tional re­sources at Sal­is­bury Univer­sity and au­thor of “Papists in a Protes­tant Age: The Catholic Gen­try and Com­mu­nity in Mary­land, 16891776.”

Ad­di­tional events are planned for the fol­low­ing year, with the ex­act sched­ule yet to be de­ter­mined.

“I think peo­ple will learn a lot,” Clif­ford said. “I’m hop­ing, as a pas­tor, that peo­ple will be­come in­ter­ested in this church, but as an his­to­rian, I’m also in­ter­ested in peo­ple hav­ing an ac­cu­rate un­der­stand­ing of our his­tory.”

STAFF PHO­TOS BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Above, St. Ig­natius Catholic Church, built in 1798, sits on a site first claimed by the Catholic So­ci­ety of Je­sus in 1641 as part of their mis­sion work with lo­cal Amer­i­can In­dian tribes. Be­low, the ceme­tery be­hind St. Ig­natius Church looks out over the Port To­bacco River. It was re­lo­cated up­hill fol­low­ing the U.S. Civil War.

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

The Rev. Thomas Clif­ford, pas­tor of St. Ig­natius Church, looks at the in­scrip­tion on the cor­ner­stone of the church, dat­ing its con­struc­tion to 1798.

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