on the Holy Hill!"
in the Mother Mary Lange Chapel
at St. Peter Claver
Monday - Friday
8:00 a.m. at St. Cecilia Church
On the 1st Sunday of the Month
During Lent and Advent
Immediately after Mass
HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE FOUNDING OF ST. PETER CLAVER CHURCH: ONE CHURCH DIVIDED
The history of St. Peter Claver Catholic Church is inextricably tied to the history of the State of Maryland, the Catholic Church’s presence in the Mother County of Maryland (St. Mary’s), and even the existence of the Catholic Church in the United States! Its history is a significant part of the larger St. Inigoes Mission that started in the State with the landing of its first settlers.
Specifically, on March 25, 1634, the Ark and the Dove landed on St. Clements Island with Father Andrew White, S.J. and Father John Altham, S.J. aboard it; they said the first Catholic mass in the United States. On March 27, 1634, the site of St. Mary’s City was purchased by Governor Leonard Calvert from the Native Americans; Father Andrew White and Father Altham S.J. obtained a hut or wigwam from the Native Americans and used it as “the first chapel in Maryland.”
Between 1636 and 1638, a new chapel was built, perhaps one made of wood. By the 1660’s, a brick chapel named St. Maries Chapel had been erected with a cemetery attached to it. Currently, in St. Mary’s City, a replica or reconstruction of the first settlement inclusive of the first chapel in Maryland has been built and dedicated. (Visit Historic St. Mary’s City to see it.)
In the meantime, by the 1640’s, the Jesuit Fathers had moved their residence to their farm, St. Inigoes Manor, about three miles south of St. Mary’s City. The Jesuits had slaves who lived on their farm. The Jesuits, according to research, didn’t refer to them as slaves in their documents; they were referred to as “servants” and “household.” They were taught the faith, baptized and allowed to attend mass with everyone else. (The Jesuits sold off their slaves in 1838.)
In 1704, St. Maries Chapel and three others in St. Mary’s County were closed when Maryland penal laws were enacted that forbade Roman Catholic churches. In 1788, St. Ignatius Church on the Manor was dedicated, three years after its cornerstone was laid. This church was built by Father James Walton as part of the re-establishment of the parishes after the American Revolution. On January 25, 1872, Father Francis Gubitosi, S.J. started a fire to warm himself and, due to a defective flue, the manor caught on fire and burned to the ground. The manor residence was rebuilt immediately.
The first St. Michael’s Church was erected in 1881 in Scotland, MD. Because of low lands in Scotland, the church was moved to Ridge, MD in 1888. Around 1900, Father Tynan, S. J. organized two sodalities in the parish, one for blacks and one for whites. They were both Sodalities of the Immaculate Conception, distinguished only by their secondary patrons. The black sodality had St. Peter Claver as its patron; the white sodality had St. Michael as its patron.
The St. Peter Claver Sodality met and organized in the home of Benjamin and Maria Biscoe. It was so successful that, within a year, it had outgrown the Biscoe homestead. Consequently, the Sodality erected a hall during 1901. The deed, dated January 25, 1902, invested the title to the property of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. At that time, it was called Hilly Road. The foundations for this Sodality Hall are still in the wooded area some two hundred feet to the north of the present parish church. The hall came to be called St. Peter Claver Sodality Hall. The prefect of the sodality was Mr. William Webster Biscoe, the son of the Biscoe’s. Although there were two Sodalities, separated primarily along racial lines, there was only one place of worship for the Blacks and Whites in the Parish, and that was at St. Michael’s Church. Each Sodality had its choir and organist, but the white choir and organist played at the Sunday Mass at St. Michael’s, although both black and white received communion as a body each month.
THE FOUNDING OF ST. PETER CLAVER CATHOLIC CHURCH: BEAUTY OUT OF ASHES!
Father Tynan suggested that the St. Peter Claver Choir sing at a Mass at St. Michael’s; the organist who played for the all-white choir objected based on her feelings that it was unhygienic to play the same instrument that a black person had used. On Christmas day in 1902, to avoid further conflict, Father Tynan asked the white choir to sing at the midnight mass and the black choir to sing at the 5:00 a.m. mass. During the 5:00 a.m. mass, Ben Biscoe’s daughter in law sang the hymn “Glory Lit the Midnight Air” so beautifully that people began to talk about it as they were coming from church. Some white parishioners complained about how it was unbecoming to give the black choir such prominence. An ugly dispute among the parishioners erupted which resulted in Father Tynan closing the church, suspending all services and hanging a black crepe of mourning over the front door for a month! This feud resulted in a three-way split in the Parish: whites stayed at St. Michael’s; a few blacks remained at St. Michael’s; and most blacks left St. Michael’s.
To continue to minister to the souls of the blacks who had left St. Michael’s, Father Tynan began to celebrate Mass in the St. Peter Claver Sodality Hall on Sunday, January 18, 1903. Mass was said for black parishioners twice a month at the Sodality Hall. Because Father Emerick was eager to supply a more permanent and dignified place for the celebration of the liturgy, he led the effort to purchase from the Biscoe family on August 11, 1913 three acres to the south of the hall to construct a church. Father Emerick laid the cornerstone for the first Saint Peter Claver Catholic Church on May 7, 1914. On December 1, 1918, the first St. Peter Claver Church was dedicated. The ceremony was attended by “a large and enthusiastic congregation.” Constructed of wood with a tin roof, the church could seat 300. The interior contained three stained glass windows above the main altar; the center one portrayed the crucifixion and was a gift of the Knights of St. Jerome. On December 8, 1918, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Mass was said for the first time at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church.
Monday, January 21- MLK Prayer Breakfast (6:30-9:30am) and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Nu Zeta Omega Chapter Day of Service (9:30am-12 Noon) @ St. Mary's College of Maryland featuring Maureen Bunyan, international journalist, activist and philanthropist, St. Peter Claver Gospel Choir and St. Peter Claver Dance Ministry, along with College Preparation Workshop and Harlem Renaissance Essay Contest Winners along with collections of shoes, eyeglasses, and nonperishable food items.
February (TBA) - Black History & Cultural Program
March 9 -13, Parish Lenten Mission with Father Larry Swink
Friday, April 19 - Women of the Word Watch Night
Easter Sunday, April 21
Sunday, May 5 - Mother's Day Brunch
Sunday, June 9 - Father's Day Brunch
Monday-Friday - June 24-28, Vacation Bible School
Sunday, June 30 - Community Family Day
Sunday, September 1- Annual Labor Day Festival
Sunday, September 8 - Pre-St. Peter Claver Feast Day Celebration
October (TBA) Project WARM
November (TBA) Black Catholics Month Celebration
Sunday, December 15 - Christmas Parties for Youth and Seniors
For any inquiries or questions, please call:
(301) 872-5460 or fill out the following form:
16922 Saint Peter Claver Rd
St Inigoes, MD 20684, USA
St. Peter Claver Catholic Church
P.O. Box 240
St. Inigoes, MD 20684
Tel: (301) 872-5460