St. Patrick's Catholic Church - Washington, D.C.
N 38° 53.863 W 077° 01.562
18S E 324302 N 4307377
Quick Description: In 1794, St. Patrick's Parish in Washington, D.C. was established to meet the needs of Irish immigrants.
Location: District of Columbia, United States
Date Posted: 2/15/2008 12:53:51 PM
Waymark Code: WM35W0
The following history of St. Patrick's Church is posted on the church's website (visit link)
St. Patrick's Parish was established in 1794, primarily to meet the needs of Irish immigrants at work on the White House and the Capitol building. Bishop John Carroll appointed an Irish Dominican, Fr. Anthony Caffry, as its first pastor. The initial structure on the present property was a simple frame chapel/residence, one of the first church buildings in the new Federal City. This was six years before the government moved to the Capital in 1800. The pioneer period of St. Patrick's Parish and the City of Washington was marked by struggles on the part of both to be viable.
The first American to be ordained a priest in the United States, Fr. William Matthews, was named pastor in 1804. This multi-talented clergyman occupied the post for fifty years, during which time he was also President of Georgetown University, Administrator of the Philadelphia Diocese, co-founder of the D.C. Public Library, long-time member of the D.C. Public School Board, as well as founder or promoter of innumerable institutions (e.g. Gonzaga College, Visitation Convent, and St. Vincent's Orphan Asylum). As the "Catholic Patriarch of Washington," Father Matthews was on close terms with Washington notables such as Henry Clay and Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney; Presidents Zachery Taylor and John Quincy Adams attended parish events. Fr. Matthews' passing in 1854 marked a long era of Catholic involvement in the Federal City's civic life.
The second church in brick, dedicated in 1809, was reputedly after a design by a parishioner, James Hoban, the architect of the White House. Soon after, the church was the scene in 1814 of British soldiers attending Sunday mass when they invaded the Capital and burned its public buildings. Eventually the brick church was embellished with the city's first pipe organ, a gift pulpit from Emperor Dom Pedro I of Brazil and a painting from Charles X of France.
The 1850's brought waves of new Catholic immigrants; the Civil War caused Washington to swell with burgeoning numbers of troops, some 50,000 wounded soldiers and new government employees. The parish under Father Jacob Walter, its fourth pastor, undertook its new challenges with vigor. Father Walter was especially outspoken in the defense of Mary Surratt, a parish member who was convicted of complicity in Lincoln's assassination. The pastor stood beside her on the gallows at her execution. The post-war period with its fiscal depression gave Fr. Walter reason to enlarge St. Joseph's Orphanage for Boys, to found St. Rose's Industrial School and St. Joseph's Home for the Aged severed by the Little Sisters of the Poor.
It was under Father Walter's direction that the present gothic church was begun in 1872 and finally dedicated in 1884. The grand church quickly became the venue for national and international events, most notably the First National Eucharistic Congress in 1895.