Maryland Catholic History

Though known in the New World as a colony founded on religious tolerance, Catholics who immigrated to Maryland from Europe didn’t find the refuge they hoped for when they finally reached these shores.

The religious persecution that drove Charles Carroll the Settler from his native Ireland followed him to Maryland. Within a few short years of his arrival, Carroll soon found himself stripped of his governmental authority and facing broad restrictions on the practice of his Catholic faith. Catholics in colonial Maryland were not allowed to practice their faith publicly. They were also not allowed to send their children to church-run schools. As Oliver Cromwell came to power in England, Catholics in the colonies were no longer allowed to vote, were barred from several professions including law, and were unable to hold office unless they swore allegiance to the Church of England.

The Catholic Church went underground, and the faithful found various ways to preserve and persevere in the Faith. Jesuit priests based in White Marsh frequented Annapolis, celebrating Mass and other sacraments in chapels housed in private homes. The Carroll family maintained such a private chapel that they opened to the small Catholic community in Annapolis.

Historical records make it difficult to determine the exact location of the Carroll family chapel. Some evidence points to it being situated in the Settler’s frame house that was connected to the larger brick house by a small passageway. Regardless of its location, an inventory of the chapel showed it was well-equipped for Mass and other church ceremonies, a testament to the family’s wealth in a time when itinerant priests had to carry all their supplies with them.

After Independence, the restrictions on Catholics eased, but they still faced discrimination and prejudice as a distinct religious minority in Anne Arundel County. Upon retiring from public life, Charles Carroll of Carrollton turned his attention to his other great loves – his family’s legacy and his Catholic faith. One of Carroll’s dreams – that of having a permanent Catholic chapel built on his property – was realized by his granddaughters who succeeded in raising the money to build a small brick chapel at the intersection of Duke of Gloucester Street and Green Street in 1822. The Jesuits established a monthly schedule of Masses at the chapel, and the Catholic community continued to grow.

When Charles Carroll died in 1832, his granddaughters inherited his Annapolis home and lands. They were unsuccessful in selling the property, and a trustee also failed to find a suitable buyer. Carroll’s granddaughter, Emily Caton MacTavish, who had nursed her grandfather in his old age and through his final days, shared Carroll’s deep devotion to the Catholic faith, and had a Baltimore-based priest as her regular confessor. Father Gabriel Rumpler was a priest of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (the Redemptorists).

At the time, the Redemptorists were looking for a quieter location for their novices to study and pray in preparation to take their first vows with the order. The existing location at St. Alphonsus Church in downtown Baltimore was far from ideal, and when Rumpler heard the Caton sisters were seeking to dispose of several acres of land and an old house in the comparatively sleepy town of Annapolis, it appeared to be a match made in heaven.

The Caton sisters deeded their family’s Annapolis properties to the Redemptorists in 1852. Fathers Rumpler, Bernard Hafkenscheid (the Redemptorist vice provincial of the American Provinces) and John Neumann, rector of St. Alphonsus Church later to become the fourth bishop of Philadelphia and the first male American saint, all signed the deed. A separate covenant established between the family and the Redemptorists dictated that the property should be used for religious purposes.

Within months, the Redemptorists moved their novice students into the Carroll House. For much of the next 55 years (with an interruption between 1862 and 1866 due to the Civil War when the novices were relocated to Cumberland, MD) the Redemptorists used the Carroll House as a place of prayer, study, and formation for generations of mission preachers.

In addition to signing the deed, John Neumann visited the Carroll House on at least two occasions, including his visit as bishop to bless the bell and cornerstone of the new church in 1858.

For two separate terms, the Carroll House was also home to another saintly Redemptorist, Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos. As novice master and later as rector of the Redemptorist community, Seelos oversaw the education of the Redemptorist students and was instrumental in starting St. Mary’s School. His cause for sainthood continues to progress in Rome.

In 1907, the novices were moved to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ilchester, MD, but the Redemptorists continued to use the Carroll House as the location of the second novitiate — roughly a year’s worth of studies completed by Redemptorist priests after ordination and before beginning their first mission assignment. The Carroll House continued to operate as the second novitiate and a general residence for the priests assigned to St. Mary’s Church until 1968.

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