I was struck by the beauty of Saint Ignatius from the day I first saw it amidst the fall foliage of 1980. Everything about the buildings, the cemetery, the incredible view overlooking the confluence of the Potomac and Port Tobacco Rivers enraptured me. It still does. Since then, I have become equally fascinated by its rich history. As time has passed, I have come to understand its contribution to the founding of our nation and its legacy as a community of faith during challenging times.
The Saint Ignatius congregation at Chapel Point dates itself from 1641, which makes it the oldest continually operating Catholic parish in the United States. It wasn’t always the scenic church on a hill as it is today. First, it was a simple bent pole and some mats fashioned by Father White. Next it was a simple wooden chapel near the Port Tobacco River shore. A small brick chapel was built on the hilltop site in the 1690s. The grand manor house constructed in 1741 abutted that chapel which now is a hyphen between the church and the manor house.
The church you see in this painting, however, was not built until 1798. For while Maryland achieved some fame when it passed the Religious Toleration Act in 1649, Lord Calvert’s goal of creating a colony open to all Christians soon fell victim to the politics of the mother country. For almost a century prior to the Revolutionary War, Maryland Catholics were prohibited from public worship and educating their children. During this time, the Jesuits resident at Saint Thomas Manor struggled to preserve the Catholic faith and the church’s properties in Maryland in particular, and the colonies in general. In 1866, a disastrous fire gutted the manor house, chapel, and church leaving only the brick walls. The manor house and church we see today were built upon the ashes of that tragic conflagration. Oil on canvas 36x24 inches