We celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25, marking the occasion when the Archangel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to Jesus, the Son of God. Mary was just a teenager at the time, and her willingness to say, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) serves as a model for all of us in how we can say “yes” to what God wants us to do in our own lives.

This feast day has extra significance for Catholics in the state of Maryland, and in the United States as a whole, because it is also the anniversary of the first Catholic Mass celebrated in the English-speaking colonies. Though the state of Maryland was named after Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of England’s King Charles I, the state’s name is also appropriate since it was on the Feast of the Annunciation, a day when Catholics celebrate Mary, that colonists first landed on St. Clement’s Island, located in what is now St. Mary’s County in Southern Maryland.

On March 25, 1634, Maryland’s first settlers arrived on ships from England called the Ark and the Dove. Jesuit Father Andrew White celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving for their new home and roughly 150 new settlers raised a wooden cross on St. Clement’s Island to mark their arrival.

Maryland is considered to be the birthplace of religious freedom in the United States, because Cecil Calvert, also known as “Lord Baltimore,” established the colony with the intent of allowing everyone to practice his or her own religion there. This was not the case in other colonies, where the settlers had established a religion, meaning that the colony’s leaders had chosen one religion that everyone had to practice.

Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Puritans, Quakers and other religions all worshipped their own faiths and lived alongside each other in Maryland. When the United States of America became an independent country, this right to freely practice any religion became an important part of our country’s Bill of Rights in the Constitution.

Our right to religious freedom means that we have a right to practice our Catholic faith and do not have to hide our public expressions of that faith, such as going to Mass on Sunday, praying the rosary while riding the bus, or walking around on Ash Wednesday with ashes on our foreheads. As our country has grown, more and more religious groups have settled here, and the right to religious freedom also allows them to practice their faiths.

Maryland residents still celebrate the historic occasion when the state’s first settlers arrived on the Ark and the Dove ships. Every year, on March 25, people throughout the state celebrate “Maryland Day.” On that day, many people gather in Historic St. Mary’s City and on St. Clement’s Island to walk through the historic sites there and celebrate the state.

In addition, many sites in Annapolis and surrounding Anne Arundel County offer free or discounted admission so people can learn about Maryland by doing things like visiting historic homes, watching reenactments of historic events, hiking through some if its beautiful outdoor areas, or enjoying the “Art Fest” in Maryland Hall. This year, the activities are taking place March 29-31.

Since Maryland Day coincides with the Feast of the Annunciation, we can also pray a “Hail Mary” or a rosary in thanksgiving for our state. Because religious freedom still does not exist in many countries around the world, and people are sometimes hurt or killed because of the faith that they practice, we can also pray that everyone may some day have the same right to worship that we have in the United States.  

Catholics in Maryland can be proud to know that the state they live in played an important part in allowing not just Catholics, but people of all faiths to be able to practice their religion. Because of the religious freedom that began in Maryland on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1634, we do not have to be afraid to say “yes” to what God is asking us to do, just as Mary did.