First published on TheBaynet.com by Marty Madden
A small island in the Potomac River that had been the site of the birth of America’s religious freedom served as the venue for observing the diamond jubilee anniversary of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC. The Sunday Mass celebration on St. Clement’s Island June 29 was presided over by Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington.
“It all began here,” said Wuerl during his homily. His reference was not specifically to the 1939 establishment of the archdiocese, but to something much more universal.
“We recognize this spot as the birthplace of religious freedom,” said Wuerl. “The story of our Catholic heritage on these shores is one which we need to hear again today.”
Wuerl said those who traveled for four months on the Ark and Dove from England to Colonial America during the early 1600s were both Catholic and Protestant seeking freedom from all religious persecution “to live in harmony. Even today in the context of the secular world we live in, that soft voice can be heard—‘you’re free.’ We have a bond, not of chains but of faith.”
“We are part of a continuity,” said Wuerl, adding that the settlers were “brave, intrepid, faith-fueled. It’s our turn to take on that challenge.”
In March of 1634, a Jesuit priest who was part of the voyage, Father Andrew White, celebrated the first Roman Catholic Mass in the English-speaking colonies. Wuerl told the congregation about an “enormous cross” the Catholic settlers crafted out of a large tree. A 40-foot white cross now serves as a marker on the island where the tenet and tradition of America’s toleration of all creeds of religion started.
Wuerl, who like other attendees and prelates, arrived on the island prior to the 11 a.m. mass by way of fishing boat, thanked the St. Mary’s County Dean, Rev. David W. Beaubien, the pastor of St. Aloysius Church of Leonardtown, for his introductory remarks.
“We picked this time when we knew we could gather a large group to recognize and pay tribute to our roots,” said Wuerl of the day’s celebration of the action taken 75 years ago by Pope Pius XII, separating Washington, DC and its adjacent Maryland jurisdictions from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The Mass celebrated was the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles.
Several local organizations, fraternal groups and individuals were recognized towards the conclusion of the service. They included the Solality Union, The Knights of St. Jerome Council One, The Knights of St. John, The Knights of Columbus Father Andrew White Assembly #377, The Seventh District Optimist Club and the St. Clement’s Island Museum. St. Mary’s County Commissioners’ President Jack Russell accepted the cardinal’s proclamation on behalf of the museum