Today we celebrate a special moment in our history. On this day 75 years ago, July 22, 1939, the Archdiocese of Washington was born.
When Pope Pius XII issued his papal bull establishing the archdiocese at the request of my predecessor, Archbishop Michael J. Curley, it only included the District of Columbia. Eight years later, upon the death of our founding shepherd, the archdiocese was expanded to include the Maryland counties of Saint Mary’s, Charles, Calvert, Prince George’s and Montgomery. Today, the archdiocese includes more than 620,000 Catholics and each weekend, Masses are celebrated in more than 20 languages in our churches and chapels.
While the archdiocese had its beginning 75 years ago, the story of our Church goes back much further, with roots in the colonial era, when Maryland’s first settlers landed on Saint Clement’s Island and celebrated the first Mass in the English colonies in 1634. Those pioneer Catholic colonists established Maryland as the birthplace of religious freedom in the United States.
From the beginning, the lives of the Catholic community in what is now the Archdiocese of Washington have been rooted in prayer. People who live along city streets, in suburban neighborhoods and in the rural countryside find a spiritual home in the archdiocese’s 139 parishes and nine missions. Where priests once ministered to their flocks in Maryland and Washington on horseback and by boat, the Church of Washington now connects with its flock in the digital age, through the pulpit and via social media.
In an enduring way, the people of this local Church have participated in the mission of manifesting God’s kingdom in the world. The crucible of the Great Depression shaped the faith of the first members of the newly formed archdiocese in 1939. Soon they would demonstrate a spirit of generosity and sacrifice in serving their country overseas and at home during World War II. In the post-war years, many new churches and schools were built throughout the archdiocese to serve the growing Catholic population. The churches where our Catholics now pray and the schools where our children now learn stand as living reminders of the faith and generosity of earlier generations of Catholics in the archdiocese.
Our Catholic schools in this area began when our country did. For generations, Catholic schools in the archdiocese have educated leaders for our Church, our community and our nation. Partnerships among parish, school and community groups have helped develop innovative programs at local Catholic schools, like the bilingual Spanish immersion program at Sacred Heart School in Washington, the work study program at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, the global learning curriculum at Saint Francis International School in Silver Spring, the classics curriculum at Saint Jerome School in Hyattsville, and of course Archbishop Carroll High School, which continues to provide an excellent academic and faith-based education to a student population that includes a majority of financially distressed students who come from some of the most difficult neighborhoods in the city.
Catholic Charities founded in Washington in 1929 helped people during the Depression, and now in a new millennium, Catholic Charities is the largest private social services provider in this metropolitan area, bringing help and hope to 116,000 people annually in more than 65 programs at 48 locations.
The Daughters of Charity started Providence Hospital in Washington during the Civil War years, and today it continues as one of four Catholic hospitals in the area providing state-of-the-art health care and millions of dollars in care to the poor each year.
The theme of this 75th anniversary year is “Manifesting the Kingdom.” This reflects the faith and service of generations of Catholics who have brought Christ’s love and hope to our community and our world.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus taught, served the poor and healed the sick, and for 75 years this archdiocese has continued to carry out that work of faith. Thankful for the legacy left us by earlier generations of Catholics, now we look forward to the future. Now it is our turn. As witnesses to Christ, his Gospel, his kingdom, each and every one of us can make a difference.