A 200th Parish Anniversary In Rockville

0908132254   On Mary’s Birthday, Sept. 8th, I was invited back to the parish of my first assignment as a priest (1988-1991), which was St. Mary’s in Rockville Md..  The occasion was their 200th parish anniversary.  Cardinal Wuerl presided over the Mass, and a social followed afterward.   In his homily, His Eminence noted that the original diocese of the colonies (and the U.S. Church) was Baltimore, and it had begun just a handful years early, when in 1813 they looked to begin a parish in Rockville, and it was Bishop John Carroll who assigned a 1-year -ordained priest there to be its pastor. By 1817 the congregation had built a chapel, and it has remained since then on that spot (now being the intersection of Rt. 355 and Rt. 28/Veirs Mill Rd.).  The chapel is now a historical building of Maryland, though in great shape and still in daily use for Masses for parish daily liturgies and week-end ones for weddings and for a Chinese Mass.   (A restoration project in the 1980’s preserved it so.)

Cardinal Wuerl was reminiscing of the kind of dedication and evangelism that it took in the early 1800’s for such a new parish to become launched. He also applied the lesson of those first parishioners to be an inspiration for the present parishioners of a New Millenium to keep serving Jesus Christ and His mission there.   He spoke of the large numbers now going to Mass at St. Mary’s Rockville (they have a large modern church on the property, too) and its reputation for assisting the poor and needy, in cooperative efforts with the local, county and state governments.   In the early 1800’s, the parish started out with an outreach to the needs of many immigrant workers who were building the C & O canal.

Archbishop Carroll himself had been the priest for 13 years who solely pastored Catholics in Montgomery County, up to 1787, when he moved to Baltimore, and then 26 years passed before the county received its first official pastor in one Fr. James Redmond in 1813 at the new St. Mary’s parish of Rockville.  Inbetween, they had a Jesuit priest named Fr. Robert Plunkett, who rode horseback up and down the deep country roads of Montgomery County, from Forest Glen to Rockville to Olney, for ministry. (He was the same Fr. Plunkett who, after arriving from England, assisted the founding of Port Tobacco Carmelite Monastery, south of here in LaPlata–which still remains operating.)

When Fr. Redmond began ministry at St. Mary’s, he also was responsible to go around the county to offer the Sacraments and other priestly ministry.  His rectory home was in the chapel, above the sacristy, at St. Mary’s.  Yet he often also stayed in homes out and about in the county, such as when up to Clopper Road (Gaithersburg, now, off Rt. 270) to serve 100 or so Catholics there, and up to Barnesville to serve 160 persons (they built a church in 1808 to successfully attract a pastoral stop), and the priest also covered Brookeville/Olney to serve a few dozen Catholics there, and then traveled down to Forest Glen (now Silver Spring at the Beltway) to serve another 70 to 80 persons. It was the start of Catholicism in the country places of Maryland, called Montgomery County.  After Fr. Redmond served his time, St. Mary’s parish in Rockville would always have young energetic pastors assigned there to meet the demands of so much work and movement.  Today, in 2013, it has two priests assigned there under the ‘new’ (19498-on) Archdiocese of Washington and its archbishop, and the priests only have a section of Rockville to cover (no more cross-county travel–though the clergy now have cars!).  Rockville is a busy place, though, with a very large population.  Five other parishes serve Rockville today:  St. Raphael’s, Holy Cross, St. Elizabeth, St. Jude’s and St. Patrick’s.

All clergy of the parish history of St. Mary’s Rockville were invited back for this historic day.  It turns out, I am the second-to-oldest priest that dates backward.  Fr. Mark Hughes served as the associate pastor before me, in the 1980’s, and then I came in the Summer of 1988.   All the clergy before that, and a few after us, are deceased or have left ministry.   That was a little surprising for me!   Normally there are a few monsignors and/or retired priests that one can find that has served a parish back some earlier time than yourself.  Yet priests like Msgr.Kostack, Msgr. Hahn, Msgr. Gatta (yes, same one as St. Ed’s founding pastor), Msgr. Reddy, Fr. Silk, Fr. Powderly, and others had all passed.  I–just going back to 25 years ago–am paired with Fr. Mark (1980’s associate pastor) as the two senior, ‘furthest back’ priests of the parish.   Yet the list is quite a long one, as clergy names for St. Mary’s go back for two centuries.

In comparison to our own St. Edward’s parish here in Bowie, we go back 40 years to our founding, with just five priests in our history, and we have about the same population in numbers as at our start, due to much transition in South Bowie. St. Mary’s Rockville started with 70-80 persons trying to found a parish 200 years ago, and now they have many thousands there.  They once seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, now Rockville is a bustling place, with a MARC, Amtrak, and Metro train station next to St. Mary’s parish property, a Metrobus center, and one of the busiest vehicle traffic arteries of the DC area out front in the merging of three main roads (the mixing bowl, as they call it).

St. Edward’s has seen the busyness of South Bowie pick up quite a bit, too, over the four decades.  Yet, we are glad it still in suburban, and not urban in nature.  Our parish church remains with much of the small-sized and personal charm it had when it started.  Our work is to keep developing it with the dedication of our own founding members.

We Need to Respond Versus the Violence

We Need to Respond Versus the Violence                 Thurs. Sept. 5

Each day we hear how our world around us is in a crisis of violence.

You would think that Peace might be in the world by this modern man age of Two Thousand Thirteen—alas, it is not.

I think of Jesus’ words:  In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.

He is our Peace.

Yet not too many in the world seem to know Jesus and His Peace.  Even Christians have been not so great a witness.    We were asked to be “Peacemakers” by Jesus–it is in His basic recipe for living in the Beatitudes of the Sermon On The Mount’s beginning.

Violence needs to be met by the Jesus in us.   Jesus can be the calm to the storm, if we let His life reign in our hearts.   Only He has the answer. Man on his own does not have it.

A line from Paul the apostle to the Church urges us:  “Let Christ’ Peace reign in your hearts.”

In response to the international crisis of violence in Syria, Pope Francis has asked us to pray this weekend for the Lord’s peace and justice to come into willing hearts.   I suggest your joining the rosary at 4:50 p.m. on Saturday afternoon in the church.  If you have any lack of peace in your soul, then also take advantage of our Confession time from that 4’oclock hour (up to 4:50) in church.  I will be the confessor.

We are nearing the 9-11 anniversary.   From many commentators on the effect of 9-11 in the Church (in the USA)–we have all not been changed much by that humbling event.   That’s not good, as it was a big spiritual opportunity for us.   We have some time, but not a lot of it– to awaken to a time for the Lord to find wide open hearts and minds to His Plans and His Ways.

Our ways haven’t succeeded.  Oh–we HAVE changed the security proceedures in airports and at large public events and in postal deliveries and other means, all with screening for danger.   Yet I am talking about hearts and minds.  That is–GOD is talking about it (using voices in the Church)–He is prophetically saying:  Your spiritual security system is still pretty weak and vulnerable.   Shore up big time in the spiritual life, says The Lord.    (*See the Pope Francis Youth Day quote on the next blog; the Holy Father’s own sizing up the spiritual situation.)

Last weekend I gave a homily about the absolute need for humility in the believer.   We can choose to be humble.   God is looking for the bowed-down invitation to work in us and shape us and use us.  We have always had  the Virgin Mary’s example.   Remember her humility, such as in this prayer of response to God (and His angel messenger)?  She said: “I am a handmaid of the Lord, let it be done according to Thy Word.”

My homily on humility was not to a full church.   For a 700-800 household community of registered households, we didn’t show it by our numbers that last weekend or in August (or was half of our folks on a month’s vacation?).   So, the message was missed by some of our flock.    A 9 or 10 yr. old boy was asking me–true story this week–of “why the church is more full at Christmas but not much of the rest of the year?”   I thought to myself– well, it takes humility and faith to be a constant follower of Christ and for His Church.  It costs us some pride and self-attention to gather at Mass and be with the Living Lord Jesus amidst His other believers in this Bowie-area community of faith.   We humble ourselves before Him and reverently to one another…. I thought a quick answer for the child’s question:  “Next Sunday we will hear Jesus say in the Gospel that there is a cost in following Him.  Listen to the gospel at Mass and notice it.  Maybe people don’t like the cost of their time and surrender of themselves to Him.”    Yes– I thought a little longer about it later—maybe some people don’t come to Mass much because they think God in Christ Jesus (Who is Present There) might be asking something of them of which they don’t want to deal with.   God does ask us for actions of love and faith, right?  By going to Mass we are putting ourself in a place of dealing straight with God.   And we know there is a sending forth from Mass for us to be loving and saying and doing things Jesus wants.    Like sowing peace instead of violence or division or non-care of others.

Violence and lack of peace….. a daily occurrence. There were break-ins on Mitchellville Road this week.   The police blog was in the paper.   There is some violence in a break-in.  People are coming by force for something to take that is not theirs.  Taking away the security of others is something a criminal does–and they don’t even care about it.    Ever since our break-in at the office this year, I have been a little more on edge.  Just this past week I noticed people behind the church in the late night/early morn of darkness.  What were they doing there?   I secretly investigated (holding my cell phone in hand) but they left the area and I couldn’t identify what was going on.   (I don’t think they were praying.)

I have had two episodes in the past three weeks of being involved in someone’s road rage or violent actions behind the wheel.   What’s the matter with these people?   There are some angry folks driving around out there (many more than I have seen before).

This is all related to violence.

Finally, in the 50th anniversary gathering of the March for Jobs and Freedom in late August, I was disappointed at what was ignored.  In and around remarks that seemed to stoke racism (rather than promote what the Reverend MLK Jr. was dreaming and praying for at the original march), there was nothing said about the continued problem of violence going on in the black community that needs our concern and help.  As we look for equality for all in a brotherhood/sisterhood of one people, how is it that the various organizations and movements (and churches) are not having hardly any impact on helping our black youth and young adults away from the trouble that so plagues them?   A high percentage have gone to drugs and crime and then prison (for ones who get caught).  A high percentage have routine abortions to end pregnancies.  There is a lot of violence going on, especially black on black (?!) that needs address.  It hardly gets a mention.  At the march’s anniversary events, at least, it didn’t.   Not from what I heard reported.

I couldn’t go to the live events, but I went and walked the area of the Lincoln memorial and tidal basin and up to the Capitol too, petitioning the Lord.   I prayed for the kind of things I saw as quotes by Lincoln, on display in the little museum section on the ground floor.   Our 16th president was an avid Bible reader and a great respecter of the Creator and His plan–you could tell that by Lincoln’s words that He saw that liberty and justice are found and lived as With God, Who authored them for humanity.    As he saw a civil war (of a land in violent disturbance) going on in our nation, he prayed he could be used for unity and peace.

We need to pray the same.   The world needs men and women and children of God to be fully who we are supposed to be.   The nation needs it.  Now is that time for following Christ and not counting the cost.

The Day Gets Underway

The Day Gets Underway with Cardinal O Boyle’s invocation   Aug. 28, 1963

0815132220 Aug. 25th, 2013



Civil Rights March 50 years ago

Our current Catholic newspaper has memories and photos of the Civil Rights March and gathering at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.   It took place in late August.  Thus, people are remembering it now.   Plans are being made to pray and remember the 50th anniversary, and to see where we are before the Lord and our neighbor in racial equality.  0815132138

I visited the Lincoln Memorial last night.   There were many people there, even at 10 to 11 p.m.   The inside welcome center had a film and some photos that recalled the event that gathered so many with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.    We watched it, taking in the significance of that protest.  I thought how our Catholic Archbishop was there (he did the invocation to start it, as someone very involved in hosting travelers and planners of the March) and I know how Catholics were involved in this protest for social change in America.   It was a social justice issue that we had many Catholics on board to bring to the nation’s attention.   (O’Boyle went on to do many more things for racial justice.  The Black Catholic Office he established to work with the chancery office is still in operation, led by Deacon Al Turner, and he is working with the 50th Anniversary.)

Back to my tour of the Lincoln Memorial….   I was reading the walls of the lower Memorial of all that Lincoln wrote for racial equality.  In letters and speeches and Presidential positions on the matter, he campaigned for a better America.   He emphasized to Americans how our Declaration of Independence and Constitution recognizes how we are “all created equal in God’s sight.”   Lincoln called us to see the divine plan and to honor it.    He said that the unity of the nation had been disrupted by the slavery issue, and he wanted unity again: E  Pluribus Unum.

0815132218a     Nearby the Washington Monument, I also noticed in my evening stroll on the Mall that the construction is begun on the Smithsonian to African American history. Good.   And, with a president in the nearby White House who has African-American Black heritage, I noted that some of King’s dream speech is finding realization here in Washington.