A Brief History of St. John's
The history of St. John's Catholic Church in Frederick is truly
the history of Catholicism in Central Maryland. It is a history
which had its beginnings with Charles Carroll of Carrollton,
who, in 1750 introduced a few English, German, and Irish to
settle in this region. Apparently, he had been charmed on
previous visits with the scenery and had been informed of the
fertility of the soil two factors responsible for the influx on
immigrants during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Also,
many people wished to escape the persecution of the their in
post-reformation England and came to this area of America.
The Catholics who settled here received the services of the
Jesuit Fathers from Port Tobacco, in Southern Maryland, and from
Conewago Chapel near Hanover, PA., from 1750 until 1763, when
the first place of worship was erected here by Father John
Williams, S.J. This first St. John's Church, a modest facility
with the second floor used as a chapel, was more of the
character of a Mission Chapel and it served the people of
Frederick for nearly forty years. The names of many Jesuits
appear in the chronicles of this period of the Church's history.
Father John DuBois, S.S.(1800-1811) was a especially significant
person in the early days of St. John's Church. He was a refugee
from the French Revolution, who later became a Sulpician priest.
In 1800 he began the construction of the first brick church on
the North side of Second Street and named his church after St.
John the Evangelist. The cornerstone of that structure was laid
on May 15, 1800 and can be seen now in front of the present
church. Father DuBois, S.S., later spent nearly eleven (11)
years as pastor of St. John's and twenty (20) more in Emmitsburg,
where he founded Mount St. Mary's College before being called to
be bishop of the Catholic Diocese of New York.
In 1811, a Jesuit, Father Francis Maleve, a native of Russia and
a former Franciscan, replaced Father DuBois as pastor at St.
John's. Although he had great difficulty with the English
language, he was quite successful with his work among the
Catholics of Frederick.
The community continued to grow and the three (3) most important
things which Father Maleve did were to finish the church on
Second Street started by Father DuBois, to build one on the
Carrollton Manor in Buckeystown, and to start one in
Libertytown. When he arrived in Frederick, at the age of 41,
Father Maleve's untiring efforts and constant travel weakened
him physically, and fever plus failing health caused his death
in 1822 in Frederick. His remains rest in St. John's Cemetery.
1822 saw the arrival of Father John McElroy, S.J., as pastor.
One of his first acts was to found St. John's Literary Institute
which in its early years rivaled Georgetown University. Father
McElroy's greatest challenge in Frederick though was facing the
growing Catholic population and a church building that was
inadequate and falling down. Acting on the advice of builders
and parishioners, Father McElroy decided to abandon the site on
the North side of Second Street in favor of constructing a newer
and larger facility on the South side of Second Street. Father
DuBois engaged John Tehan, a local architect, to design the
church, to be in the form of a Latin cross and similar to one of
the Society's churches in Dublin, Ireland. Thus began the
building of what was then the largest parish church to be built
in the United States. This is our current church building. The
cornerstone, for this building was laid on March 19, 1833. The
funds, totaling $36,964.96 was needed to construct and finish
the building. These funds were raised by parishioners, people in
the region and even workers in the B&O Railroad and C&O Canal.
The church was consecrated on April 26, 1837. It was the first
major church to be consecrated in the Eastern United States. The
style of the church is Grecian ionic. Above the doorway is a
pediment boasting an eleven (11) foot likeness of St. John the
Evangelist. The bell tower, a square tower approximately five
stories high, was completed in 1857. The gilding of the gold
dome and cross at the top were finally completed October 26,
1954. The tower makes St. John's the tallest building in the
City of Frederick.
Father McElroy went on to build
Boston College and, in his later years returned to Frederick
where he died in September, 1877. He is interred in St. John's
After serving long and well in the community of Frederick, the
Society of Jesus (Jesuits) completed plans to move to their new
facility in New York State. On the first Sunday in July 1902,
Father William Kane became the first non-Jesuit pastor of St.
John's. He was much loved by the parish and those residing in
Frederick. It is to Father Kane that we owe a debt of gratitude
for the beautiful painting of the Ascension in the center of the
high ceiling in the church.
A long line of distinguished men from the Archdiocese of
Baltimore have served the role of pastor since Father Kane. Each
has left his mark on the parish church and the parish. Since the
time of Father DuBois we have seen the building of a school, a
convent (now the Parish Center, a rectory, now the Faith
Formation Center) and several additions to the facilities.
Under the pastoral leadership of venerable past pastor,
Monsignor Edward V. Echle, the parish celebrated its
Sesquicentennial Anniversary and underwent the last major
renovation of the church.
Currently, our pastor, Father Wayne G. Funk is again working to
refurbish and restore the church so that it will be here long
into the next millennium.
The "Crucifixion" Painting
This painting was done by the famous Italian artist, Pietro
Gagliardi and was put into place 1843.
The Tabernacle forms a miniature temple and dome, supported by
eight (8) beautiful agate columns. It is understood that an
Italian firm brought this to America on speculation, along with
some other alabaster ornaments, incorporating a statue of
Benjamin Franklin inside the small temple, by replacing the
statue with the image of our crucified Savior, St. John's
obtained a very handsome Tabernacle.