Parish History

Original Holy Angels Church building.

The following description of Holy Angels Church Parish was written in 2006 for the Holy Angels Centennial Directory.

A Comparative History of Holy Angels Church

In Context With The Nation And The World

The year of 2006 has George Bush as President over 50 states.  Robert Ehlich is Maryland’s Governor.  The Internet, cell phones, and satellite communications are abounding.  Cancer is a major medical dilemma.  Global terrorism is a menace with large U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Our country is in a growth boom.  The Patuxent Naval Air Station keeps building, but growth is elsewhere – not so much in our community of the Seventh District.  The U.S. has been discussing matters such as immigration and national security.  What of the year 1906?  Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States and a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his settling role in the Russo-Japanese War.  He was also our first sitting president to make an official trip away from the United States to inspect the progress in the making of the Panama Canal.  Edwin Warfield was the Governor of Maryland.  Annapolis had become Maryland’s first capital in the decade prior to 1906.  The San Francisco earthquake has occurred in April.  Fessenden’s first radio broadcast happened in December.  Mark Twain wrote “What is Man?”.  Pneumonia was a major medical problem.  The fishing industry and tobacco farming were thriving in St. Mary’s County.  The hardened dirt road to Avenue led to our new parish.

Holy Angels’ Start: Leadership, Churches, Schools, Halls, Rectory and Properties

It is The Year of Our Lord 2006.  We have begun the Third Millennium of the Church.  Jesus is Lord!  The Pope is Benedict XVI, the German-born priest, and he is in his second year of his pontificate.  He is in succession to Pope John Paul II (a pope many think was a modern saint).  New Pope Benedict has written an encyclical on “Love” and is working on renewals to The Holy Mass and a faith revival in Europe.  In 1906, people were still excited about the new “20th Century” and Pope Pius X lead the Church, directing much attention to the worthy and frequent reception of The Eucharist.  By 1910, he had asked Catholics world-wide to let children receive Holy Communion “at the age of discretion” — a major change in the Mass.  Pope Pius X would later be chosen as a saint of his time.

In 2006, there are 14 parishes in St. Mary’s County.  One is military and all others are under the Archdiocese of Washington led by Archbishop Donald Wuerl – the sixth bishop of the “new” Archdiocese of Washington (five Maryland Counties and the District of Columbia since 1939).  His Excellency succeeded Archbishop and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick on June 22nd of this year.  Most of the county parishes have one active priest, Lexington Park’s parish also has a parochial vicar, and in St. Mary’s City the pastor shepherds two parishes and a college ministry.  In 1906, this entire territory of parishes was served by Jesuit priests of “The Maryland Province.”  The Jesuits all lived in shared community residences but kept rooms in churches too.  The Southern Maryland Jesuit missions (parishes) were all part of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, under James Cardinal Gibbons.  In 2006, our Archdiocese is beginning its 141st parish in Clarksburg, Maryland, St. Theodore’s, and another is getting ready to be established in Lexington Park, Maryland, to be named after Mother Theresa.  Meanwhile, Holy Angels Parish here in Avenue is celebrating her Centennial Anniversary with Rev. John Barry as its newest pastor since July of 2005.

In 1906, Holy Angels was canonically erected as an independent parish, separating itself as a “mission” spot of Sacred Heart Parish in Bushwood.  The founding day was October 2nd, 1906, The Feast of the Guardian Angels.  Fr. Lenahan became first of many rotating Jesuit pastors to follow here.  Fr. Davis, in his brief pastorate that ended in death, began an era of Washington Archdiocese pastors.

The Parish Officially Gets Started

It was the year of 1906, Rev. Francis J. Lenahan, S.J., was pastor of our congregation.  As reported in the St. Mary’s Beacon, a festival was held on September 28th in completion of the church building project and on Sunday, October 2nd, 1904, “a large crowd assembled…to attend the first services in the Holy Angels Chapel, Milestown District, when a Solemn Pontifical Mass was celebrated by the Right Reverend Alfred A. Curtis, D.D., with Reverend C.L. Lancaster, S.J., and Reverend F.J. Lenahan, S.J.  Reverend Jeremiah Prendergast, S.J. preached the dedication sermon taking as his text, “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.”…(it) was fervid an eloquent and delighted those who heard it…Bishop Curtis, after the services were over, went to Bushwood for dinner with Mr. John W. Renehan and family and from there he took the steamer to Washington.”  Thus, the records state that Holy Angels Chapel was up and hosting Masses and other Sacramental celebrations in 1904 which were recorded as being done in our Avenue parish, yet our official parish recognition would not come until 1906, and thus be celebrated on the Guardian Angels Feast.  (There is a connection of our parish name with the First Mass of 1634 by Fr. Andrew White, S.J. on St. Clements Island.  That First Mass happened on the Annunciation Feast, of which recalls the angelic visit to Mary to declare Christ’s coming.  Every Maryland Day we celebrate how Christ did come to our area in that original voyage from England to our Potomac shores, and we are glad the Catholic Faith and the Church is still here.)  In 2006, Maryland’s Secretary of State, Mary Kane – a Maryland Catholic, was the featured speaker at the St. Clements Island Potomac River Museum ceremony held on March 25th and she commented with awe of the religious significance of what happened here in that 1634 Mass on St. Clement’s Island.  We who live here hope that our hearts can hold that awe, too, for what God has given us in our in being a community of faith today.

During the time of our own parish’s start in 1906, you can see how successful the Jesuit Mission was throughout our local Potomac/Patuxent region.  The Jesuits had begun the parish churches of Holy Ghost, Issue (1904), St. Francis Xavier, Newtown (1731), Our Lady’s Chapel at Medley’s Neck (1776), St. Aloysius, Leonardtown (1710), St. Joseph Morganza (1700), St. Francis de Sales, Rock Point (1784), Immaculate Conception, Mechanicsville (1876), and Sacred Heart, Bushwood (1770).  These churches were established close by in order to serve Catholics who were coming by foot, boat, car or horse.  Today, the “small” size parishes remain and many are not more than a ten minute drive from one another.  There are now more than a dozen in Southern Maryland.

Holy Angel’s Churches

In 2006, we continue to occupy our second church, which was dedicated on September 9th, 1962, by Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle.  It is inland on St. Clements Bay side of State Highway 242 and is situated on about three-and-one-half acres of land donated by the heirs of Dr. Robert Palmer, who once lived on that property still called “Enfields” located behind and south of the rectory now.  The church is 106′ long and 58′ wide with a seating capacity of 442 downstairs and 100 upstairs.

In 1906, we started officially as a parish in the church already built in 1904 (and land purchased in 1903) for the anticipated split from Sacred Heart.  The church preceded our official start, which was not an uncommon practice, then or now.  The parish church was called Holy Angles Chapel.  It has a seating capacity of 300.  Other area churches were being called by that title of “Chapel” like Our Lady’s Chapel, Medley’s Neck, built a decade after our church.  Prior to 1906, we were a “mission area” of Sacred Heart Parish with Masses having been celebrated in homes known as Mass stations such as Mr. Haverman Mattingly, of Collinswood, and of Misses Mary Jane Beck, Whittie Burch, and Louis Mattingly.  The “mission” was no more in 1906 – now it became known as its own “parish”.

The School

In 2006, we share in the care of a parochial school with our mother parish of Sacred Heart.  Holy Angels School has been here since 1926 and in that same year Sacred Heart in Bushwood also began a school which was led by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky, SCN.  The sisters, back then, had their convent in the old Bushwood Manor House and they served the schools from there.  They would later move in 1935 to a new convent just next to Holy Angels School and continue to supply both schools with teachers.  In 1958-59, the two schools combined to become one institution in the Avenue location.  Thus, it is named Holy Angels Sacred Heart School.

In 1993, the religious sisters’ Avenue convent was taken down, after it was no longer needed.  Our parochial school is now all laity.

The school, however, was closed in 2009.

The Halls

Today, in 2006, Holy Angels Parish Hall is right beside the school which was built in 1978.  It has served as an important social and religious center for our area.  A long time ago, another hall stood on the parish grounds which was built in 1904-1905, which was really a converted one-room schoolhouse.  Another hall was built in 1909.  Our parish has been blessed to have a school basement hall in which we have gathered for many parish dinners, bingo games, and other special occasions over the years.  We are naming this space the Msgr. Brady Room at the centennial celebration.

The Rectory and Houses

Today, the parish has a rectory office/home next to the church.  Diocesan clergy have resided there since the 19602.  The parish has usually been served by one priest, while some associates or retirees have also had residence in the rectory.  Prior to the diocesan years of resident clergy, the Jesuit priests who served the parish did live elsewhere in the county in large common houses, like the one in Chaptico, Compton, and Leonardtown, and in 1906, that’s the way it was.  From there, the Jesuits would have managed several parishes and properties.  Today, parishes work independently.  Our rectory has an office with a part-time bookkeeper and a part-time secretary to assist the pastor daily with the parish business.


In recent times, the only recognized change to the properties has been the new school addition and some improvements to the parish hall and grounds – but much else does look relatively the same.  We have the unique and familiar main window of the church.  The color window shows Our Lady and the Christ Child.  All of the colors of the liturgical year are in the hues of the glass.  Perhaps this is a sign calling people to a year-round faith and one which will shine out.  One event in the 1990s left an unfortunate marring to the beauty of the plexi-glass style stained glass window.  Someone fired shots through the window.  The shot marks still remain in the window, though mildly repaired.  Perhaps the shots through Mary’s figure can remind us of her pierced Immaculate Heart that still pines for people to still tremble and to respect the Holy Wounds of Her Son, Jesus, which offered the sinner his/her salvation from sin and no separation from God at death.  Inside and outside the church, numerous statues and pictures adorn Holy Angels with some warmth, too.  Many are gifts from parishioners.  There are votive candles in the church, providing a setting of light from vigilant, special prayers of our members.  Above the church rings a carillon, playing hourly chimes and many hymns of Christian Faith.  Off in the south-side of the church parking lot rests the old church bell on a memorial stand, which still works if you move its old clapper back and forth.  We have come a long way from the days when you heard that bell while coming down an old dirt road to church to attend a Mass in Latin with persons fasting for long periods before Sunday Mass and women with veils covering their hair and congregants coming to the communion rail for The Eucharist.  Yes, there are things that have not changed at all, as well, and that is good.  We remain one, holy, catholic and apostolic people of God.  We rely on Christ to save us and keep us in His Body with all thankfulness for his Grace!

In Conclusion

As we look back to at least a century ago and remember our anniversary with a spiritual/historical perspective, we examine the photos of our two churches and their sanctuaries, where God has especially visited His people here through the ages.  We also peak at the names of persons in the Sacrament record books of 1906.  We ponder our present Maryland Day and Annual Blessing of the Fleet events that call attention to our place of living here.  There is a cross on St. Clement’s Island to remind us of what God has begun here.  We are called to be a place that celebrates religious freedoms of a land given to us by God for that will.  We are a people who especially exercise this freedom in the Roman Catholic faith in the heritage that was planted here by Catholic missionaries and under the Calvert’ plan from England.  Soon, the beam of a lighthouse will pierce the night from St. Clement’s Island once again.  We pray that Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World.”  Then to us, He said, “You are enlightened!  A light is not meant to be hidden under a bushel basket, you know!”  As we move into our second hundred years as Holy Angels Parish, our 372nd Anniversary of an area of Catholic faith since the first Mass we celebrated here, let us Hope to glow in Christ!

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