When Jesuit Father Andrew White and Maryland’s first colonists disembarked from their boats the Ark and the Dove and landed on St. Clement’s Island in 1634, the first thing that they did was set up an altar and celebrate Mass. On Oct. 9, St. Ignatius Parish in Chapel Point commemorated its 375th anniversary with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Wuerl, who said, “Today we come together so we might celebrate the Eucharist as was done on that very first day.”

The concelebrants at the Mass included Jesuit Father Thomas Clifford, the current pastor of St. Ignatius, and Msgr. John Brady, a retired priest of the archdiocese who served for many years in Southern Maryland.

When Father White came to the New World, he settled among the Native Americans in the area, learned to speak their language, and shared the Gospel with the community. He founded St. Ignatius Parish in Chapel Point in 1641, and he eventually baptized the chief of the Piscataway Indians, some of whose tribe members are still involved in the parish today.

Father White, who is known as “the apostle of Maryland,” also translated the Hail Mary soon after arriving at Chapel Point. To commemorate this, a tribal elder of the Piscataway Conoy tribe said the prayer in their native language at the beginning of the Oct. 9 Mass.

In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl pointed out that the celebration was commemorating the very beginning of the Catholic faith in what is now the United States.

“We are here today as a part of the living continuity of the faith in the New World,” he said.

The cardinal also said the parish is tied to the beginnings of religious freedom in the country. The Maryland colony was established on the principle of religious toleration.

“We have to be able to live in peace and harmony together,” he said. “We have to be able to live in freedom together.”

As Cardinal Wuerl noted, Catholics are also tied to more than just the history of one parish or one country. “We are a part of something even greater,” he said, because Scripture and the Eucharist have been celebrated around the world for 2,000 years.

“We are a part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that goes all the way back to the apostles,” Cardinal Wuerl said.

Cardinal Wuerl also encouraged everyone present to not only dwell on history, but to remember their identity as members of God’s family and to look forward to what is to come.

“You and I today can look around and celebrate who we are and remind ourselves the future is ours as well,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “It is our turn simply to do what we’ve done for 375 years: live our faith, proclaim our faith, and celebrate our faith.”

Perhaps 375 years from now, Cardinal Wuerl suggested, someone would be standing in the church saying, “Weren’t they extraordinary people who lived the faith and passed on the faith?”

At the conclusion of the Mass, Del. Edith Patterson (D-District 28, Charles County) presented a resolution from the Maryland House of Delegates, and State Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-District 28, Charles County) and State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-District 27, Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s counties) presented a resolution from Maryland’s State Senate. Both resolutions offered congratulations for St. Ignatius Parish’s 375 years of service. Cardinal Wuerl then presented them with medals from the papal visit as tokens of appreciation for their presence at the celebration.

Cardinal Wuerl read a letter from Pope Francis, in which the pontiff said he hopes “this occasion will inspire renewed commitment to the missionary spirit that compelled Father White, S.J. to lay the foundations of the Church in the United States.” The cardinal presented a medallion from the pope’s visit to Father Clifford, pointing out that Pope Francis is also a Jesuit.

“We are grateful that the faith came here 375 years ago thanks to a Jesuit , and we are well served today also by a Jesuit,” Cardinal Wuerl said while thanking Father Clifford.

St. Ignatius Parish is celebrating its 375th anniversary throughout the year, with a mix of spiritual and social events that began on July 31 for the feast of St. Ignatius. 

Brenda Mudd, the chairman of the 375th anniversary celebration, described the anniversary as “a big milestone in the history of our community and the history of our state.”

Mudd said the goal of the series of anniversary events is to be able to do something that will reach out to a variety of different people, with the history of the Catholic Church front and center. She said she didn’t recognize a lot of the people who were gathered at the Mass and the luncheon, which fits in with their hope “to make our faith and our Church more accessible and interesting” so “people want to ask more and learn more.”

“The 375th anniversary has a lot of significance for a lot of us who are longtime residents of the community and the parish,” said Mudd, who has been a parishioner of St. Ignatius for 25 years and has lived in Charles County her whole life.

While there were many longtime parishioners present at the celebration, none have been there as long as George Thompson, who on Oct. 29 will have been a parishioner of St. Ignatius for 100 years. As he sat in the parish hall eating his lunch, Thompson recalled that his Baptism, his First Holy Communion, and his Confirmation all took place at the church.

Sharon Harley, a member of the Piscataway Conoy tribe, has been a parishioner of St. Ignatius for 28 years. She said she lives closer to another parish, but enjoys going to St. Ignatius because the parishioners are so friendly, and the parish is a part of her heritage, since the Piscataway Indians were the first to welcome Father White when he arrived. She attended the Mass and luncheon with her sister, Sarita Proctor-Smith, who is a parishioner at St. Ignatius in Oxon Hill. Both sisters agreed that it is important to know one’s heritage.

“That is the way we were raised,” said Proctor-Smith.

“We continue our Catholic faith and our heritage,” Harley said.