Historical Landmark of the Month (March): St. Patrick's Catholic Church

In light of March 17th, I wanted to share some information about a local DC landmark, St. Patrick's Catholic Church. St. Patrick's, located at 10th Street between F and G Streets NW, was founded in 1794. It's known as the "Mother Church of Washington" since it was the first church of any denomination founded within the boundaries of the city.

The cornerstone of this Gothic church building was laid in 1872. The initial structure on the present property was a simple frame chapel.
Services began in 1794 to minister to the needs of the stonemasons building the White House and the U.S. Capitol (this was six years before the government moved to the Capital in 1800), and continue to this day.

St. Patrick's

The first American to be ordained a Catholic priest in the United States, Father William Matthews, was named pastor in 1804. In addition to being the pastor of St. Patrick's for fifty years, he was also President of Georgetown University and co-founder of the D.C. Public Library (the man knew how to multi-task!).

Like many other things in DC, it will be forever linked to the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln. After Lincoln's assasination in 1845, one of the alleged conspirators, Mary Surratt, turned to St. Patrick's pastor, Father Jacob A. Walter, for guidance and spiritual comfort following her arrest and conviction. Father Walker was a staunch defender of Surratt's innocence and he walked with her to the gallows on July 7, 1865 (as she became the first woman executed by the federal government.)

Newspaper drawing of Mary Surratt in the death cell with her priest; July 1865

It was under Father Walter's direction that the present gothic church was begun in 1872 and finally dedicated in 1884. It's been there every since, and seen many Presidents, diplomats and heads of state as they passed through DC. I think I'll head down on Tuesday to take in the festivities.

No comments: