Tracing the History of the Church of Washington


If you have been following our celebration of the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Archdiocese of Washington, you may have found yourself wondering things like: Which parish is the oldest? Which parish was the last to be built?  Has Saint Matthew’s always been the Cathedral? Does the archdiocese have any special treasures that help tell the story of our faith?

An important part of any birthday or anniversary celebration is telling the wonderful stories that make the person or place or event so exceptional. You can discover in a special way the answers to these questions and learn what makes our archdiocese so extraordinary by participating in our Faith Quest pilgrimage this summer.

Beginning on June 7 and running through Labor Day Weekend (September 1), more than 20 sites throughout the archdiocese that are important to our history have been identified as pilgrimage sites. These locations and parishes will be open for you and your friends and family to visit and explore. At each site there will be an activity guide to help you discover the history of that sacred place and the historical and spiritual treasures it contains. You will see that every part of a church building, as well as the whole of the Church herself, is rich in meaning and mystery, theology and history.

Everything we see in a Catholic church or chapel is there for a single purpose: to tell a love story. It is a story as old as the world and it involves the whole of creation, the vast expanse of history, and every human being who ever lived. It involves Almighty God and it involves you. Every furnishing and ornament in these holy places reveals some important detail of the story of our salvation.

In our local Church, through almost four hundred years, Catholics have preserved and developed a tradition of building and decoration. In some of our church buildings you will discover special items that may be hundreds of years old and were preserved and brought to the “new world” by our first missionaries.

At our Faith Quest parishes, you will be most welcome to stay for Mass and/or confession. It is prayer, Reconciliation and Eucharist that make a pilgrimage different from a sightseeing tour. The grace of a pilgrimage is not just the realization that you are walking in the footsteps of generations of faithful people, but that you are walking with Our Lord and the saints as well. It is the Risen Lord who is waiting for you to encounter him and the People of God in communion with him.

Faith Quest is also an opportunity to learn how to read a church. Many of us have prayer books that we open in order to pray. We find the words of the saints that inspire us to raise our minds and hearts to heaven and ask good things of God—but to do so in our words, or perhaps no words at all.

In a similar way, visiting the sites on our Faith Quest pilgrimage, you will encounter chapels and churches, statues, works of arts, and objects that do not just help tell the story of our faith, but will inspire you to pray. The more adept we become at “reading” and understanding this visual vocabulary of church objects and art, the better we will be able to “pray” our churches.

This can be the most satisfying way to experience churches. For these are not museums or merely tourist attractions. They are temples of the living God who wills and wishes to meet us there.

For more information about Faith Quest visit: