Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Washington Celebrates 150 Years

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

WASHINGTON – Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Northwest Washington will celebrate 150 years of the parish serving the local community and spreading the Gospel message in the nation’s capital with a special Mass and reception at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 19. Bishop Barry Knestout, auxiliary bishop of Washington, will celebrate the Mass at Immaculate Conception, which is located at 1315 8th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20001.

Immaculate Conception was founded in 1864 due to the rapid growth of the first Catholic Church in Washington, St. Patrick’s, and the migration of residents into the area north of Massachusetts Avenue and up the 7th Street corridor. Father J. Walter, pastor of St. Patrick’s, began the project in the summer of 1864. On July 2, 1865, Archbishop of Baltimore Martin J. Spalding dedicated the new church, which was constructed to serve as both a church and a school.

As the number of parishioners rapidly increased, the church structure soon became too small. Under the guidance of Father P. F. McCarthy, who became Immaculate Conception’s first pastor in 1866, the cornerstone of the new church was laid on Nov. 13, 1870, and construction began the following spring. Upon the new church’s dedication in 1874, the original church building officially became the school/parish hall. Because the building of churches was a “pay-as-you-go” affair with each parish being responsible for raising funds for its own construction projects, the complete construction of the Immaculate Conception church would eventually take another 66 years. The church’s bell was consecrated in 1885. The tower was completed in 1900 and the exterior surface features were completed in 1936.

Over its first four decades, Father McCarthy and his successor, Father Stanislaus Ryan, established Immaculate Conception as Washington’s premiere Catholic parish. Its central location and its proximity to the corridors of political and economic power brought to its membership many of the most prominent Catholics of the day. Father Francis J. Hurney, who served as pastor from 1930 to 1933, began a series of radio broadcasts in 1930 that became known as the “Washington Catholic Radio Hour,” a nationally-recognized series that continued into the 1950s. In December 1930, Father Hurney dedicated the church’s replica of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes and launched a series of special prayer services and novenas for the sick that gained international attention, bringing thousands of pilgrims to the church.

Immaculate Conception has a long history of mission and outreach to the District of Columbia’s Shaw neighborhood. Monsignor J. Joshua Mundell, who served as pastor of Immaculate Conception from 1964 to 2001, was widely known and praised by his peers, parishioners and other District residents for his devotion to the poor and needy. His commitment to the parish school, which he reopened in 1964, and the building of Immaculate Conception Apartments won him the title of the “Shepherd of Shaw.”

Today Monsignor James D. Watkins, who succeeded Monsignor Mundell as pastor of Immaculate Conception in 2001, continues this outreach to the poor and needy and leads an active and vibrant parish community in the revitalized Shaw neighborhood.

The church, school, rectory and convent were placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior in September 2003.

For more detailed information about the history of Immaculate Conception parish, please visit

The Archdiocese of Washington is home to over 620,000 Catholics, 139 parishes and 95 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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