Cardinal Wuerl Celebrates 75th Anniversary of Archdiocese of Washington with Masses at Historic Sites in Southern Maryland

June 29, 2014

Cardinal Wuerl Celebrates 75th Anniversary of Archdiocese of Washington with Masses at Historic Sites in Southern Maryland

Honors area’s legacy as the birthplace of religious freedom in the United States          

WASHINGTON – In observation of the 75th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, celebrated two special Masses at historic sites in Southern Maryland that serve as powerful reminders of the area’s legacy as the birthplace of religious freedom in the United States.

“Throughout these 75 years, our Catholic family of faith has made a significant  impact on our community, manifesting Christ’s kingdom of truth and life, justice, love and peace,” said Cardinal Wuerl. “The people of our archdiocese come from many different countries and speak many different languages, but we are united in one faith. In this our diamond anniversary year, we know that the most precious jewel we have is our Catholic faith, made beautiful by the radiance of the Gospel story we are called to live and share. It all began here, with a small but resolute group of women and men who came to Saint Clement’s Island and then to Saint Mary’s City to do their part in building up the kingdom.”

On Saturday, June 28, Cardinal Wuerl celebrated Mass at the reconstructed Brick Chapel in St. Mary’s City. In 1667, the Jesuit missionaries built a brick chapel in Maryland’s first capital. The chapel, the grandest building in Maryland at the time, stood as a sign of the religious freedom in the colony, as inscribed in Maryland’s original charter and codified in the Maryland Toleration Act in 1649. However, in 1704, by order of the royal governor, the sheriff of St. Mary’s County locked the doors of the Brick Chapel, which was later dismantled. Catholics at the time could no longer worship in public in a colony that had been founded on the principle of religious freedom.

The chapel land remained in private ownership until 1981 when it was purchased by the State of Maryland for the Historic St. Mary’s City museum. In 1997 the Historic St. Mary’s City Foundation initiated the Chapel Campaign with a goal of raising funds to rebuild the 1667 Brick Chapel. Scholars used historic detective work in designing the rebuilt chapel on the original foundation, based on archaeological evidence uncovered at the site and on what Jesuit mission churches looked like in the 17th century.

“When the 150 English settlers disembarked in 1634 from the Ark and the Dove following their journey across the Atlantic Ocean, they did more than build a brick chapel. They initiated something far more significant than the beginning of a new colony. Those brave women and men established the first settlement, in what would later become the United States, to guarantee religious liberty to all of the inhabitants,” said Cardinal Wuerl in his homily. “Over the centuries since that decision to lock the Brick Chapel, our struggle for liberty, the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution, we have all recognized the importance of religious faith in a free and democratic society. Even today in the context of a secular world, the quiet, soft and gentle voice of the Spirit has not been stilled. It continues to speak to human hearts. Not by bread alone do we live.”

On Sunday, June 29, Cardinal Wuerl celebrated Mass on St. Clement’s Island where the first Catholic Mass in the English-speaking colonies was celebrated. When the Ark and the Dove landed in Maryland in 1634, the colonists held a ceremony to take possession of the land and read Lord Baltimore’s instructions aloud, which included the first policy of religious tolerance in America. On March 25, 1634, the first Catholic Mass in the English-speaking colonies was celebrated by Fr. Andrew White, S.J. Afterward the settlers erected a large cross. Today a 40-foot white cross stands at the southern end of the island, honoring the establishment of religious tolerance in America.

“It was right here, on Saint Clement’s Island on the Solemnity of the Annunciation 1634, that the first Catholic settlers arrived on the Ark and the Dove. Some of those who came over on the Ark and the Dove were Protestants, and the Catholic founders of the Maryland colony wanted their new home to be one where all could live together in harmony, each being free to live their faith without restraint,” said Cardinal Wuerl in his homily. “All of us, as spiritual descendants of those intrepid women and men, can rejoice and take pride in their vision and courage.”

“Our celebration today also comes in the midst of a Fortnight for Freedom, in which the Church throughout our nation lifts up for us our first freedom – the fundamental and inalienable religious freedom to live our faith, to worship God freely and to express that faith publicly, serving others in truth and charity to build up the kingdom of God and advance the common good,” the cardinal continued. “This Fortnight also tells us of the need to be vigilant in protection of religious liberty. From the beginning of our nation the founders recognized our equality and liberty, and that those rights were bestowed on us not by the king or by the founders themselves or by any man, but by God.”


The Archdiocese of Washington is home to over 620,000 Catholics, 139 parishes and 96 Catholic schools, located in Washington, D.C., and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.

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