History of St. Patrick’s


On a Sunday afternoon in June 1863, Mr. Charles Abert was on his way home from attending church in Mechanicsville (present day Olney) when he was stopped on the Washington-Brookville Turnpike (now Georgia Avenue) by soldiers wearing gray uniforms. It was the 28th, and the soldiers were Confederate troops attached to General J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry corps, which was making its way northward to Pennsylvania The corps' three brigades had with them 400 Union prisoners and 150 wagons that they had just captured in Rockville. Abert, a lawyer and native of New Jersey who had settled in Montgomery County two years earlier, recorded in his diary that he was taken to General Stuart, with whom he had a conversation before being allowed to proceed to his home, which was located on the present site of the Manor Country Club.

Nine months earlier, on the 7th and 8th of September, the right wing of General George B. McClellan's army, under the command of General Ambrose Burnside, had passed the crossroads, coming up from Washington on the turnpike in pursuit of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, then operating in the Frederick area in an earlier unsuccessful attempt to take the war to the north.

Nine months earlier, on the 7th and 8th of September, the right wing of General George B. McClellan's army, under the command of General Ambrose Burnside, had passed the crossroads, coming up from Washington on the turnpike in pursuit of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, then operating in the Frederick area in an earlier unsuccessful attempt to take the war to the north.

Despite the cordialities with General Stuart, when Colonel Charles R. Lowell of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry appeared at Norbeck the next day, Abert provided him with maps of the area to aid in his pursuit of Stuart, who was by now one day closer to a delayed meeting with General Robert E. Lee, who was waiting for him near the little town of Gettysburg. This incursion, too, would be unsuccessful.

A year later another Confederate force, headed by General Jubal Early, passed near the Norbeck area, on Veirs Mill Road, this time on the way to attack Washington itself in an effort to draw Union troops away from Richmond. Because the Union troops did come up from Virginia, the success of this part of the plan caused the failure of the other, the attack itself. Father James B. Sheeran, C.Ss.R., a Catholic chaplain attached to the Confederates, recorded that the retreat from the attack's stopping point, near 7th and G Streets, northwest, took all night, and that Rockville was reached about daylight on July 12,1864.

During the welcome lulls in the fighting, soldiers often worshipped with the local congregations that would meet at St. Mary's Church in Rockville or in private homes around the county. Catholic soldiers in both armies were the beneficiaries of the Catholic heritage of Maryland and Montgomery County. Indeed, Maryland was the home of Catholicism in the United States.

The first Mass celebrated in the colonies was on March 25,1634, on St. Clement's Island, by Father Andrew White. For about 15 years Maryland was a haven for Catholics and others. When Puritans from Virginia took over, Catholics were placed under various legal disabilities, even extending in 1654 to deprivation of civil rights for Catholics and the prohibition of Masses. After the Revolution Catholic Americans found their condition much improved.

Up to the time of the Revolution Catholics in America were subjects of the Vicar Apostolic of London, who was himself either a fugitive in England or an exile in France. Obviously, the needs of the new country required that an hierarchy be established in America. The Reverend John Carroll was appointed Prefect-Apostolic by Pope Pius VI in 1784, and then Bishop of the newly created Diocese of Baltimore in 1789. Bishop Carroll was the bishop of the entire United States as it then existed. In 1808 new dioceses were created, which relieved some of Bishop Carroll's burden, and Baltimore itself was raised to an Archdiocese.

St. Mary's Church in Rockville, was established in 1813 with Father James Redmond, S.J., appointed as the first pastor by Archbishop Carroll. For the next 47 years St. Mary's was the only Catholic church in Montgomery County; the priests who resided there were responsible for a gradually expanding Catholic population spread widely over the county. Eventually mission parishes began to be established; the first St. Peter's church was built at Hawling's River (Mt. Zion), two and a half miles west of present-day Olney. The first church was built in 1860, and a new church was built in Olney 1898. St. Peter's remained a mission of St. Mary's until 1953.

The Archdiocese of Washington, at first encompassing only the District of Columbia, was established as a separate diocese in 1939, though Archbishop Michael J. Curley continued as archbishop of both Baltimore and Washington until 1947, only the second time in the history of the Church that such an arrangement was made. In 1947 the Washington archdiocese received a new archbishop, Patrick Aloysius O'Boyle, and was expanded to include five Maryland counties: Montgomery, Prince George's, St. Mary's, Charles and Calvert.

In the 1950's and 1960's, Montgomery County saw a rapid expansion in population, and this necessitated the establishment of several new large parishes and schools. The farmland around the Hannan property was gradually being developed as suburbia expanded along Georgia Avenue, Veirs Mill Road, and the Rockville Pike.


In July 1865 the Reverend Placide Louis Chapelle became pastor of St. Mary's Church in Rockville. He studied for a doctorate in sacred theology at Mount St. Mary's. It was perhaps this intellectual bent and studiousness that caused his parishioners to petition the Archbishop of Baltimore to send them a replacement for their pastor, who was "invisible during the week and incomprehensible on Sundays." Father Chapelle was moved in 1870, and later became the Archbishop of New Orleans. It was as strange coincidence that a future successor of Archbishop Chapelle, Archbishop Philip M. Hannan, spent part of his youth within St. Mary's parish boundaries, on the property on which St. Patrick's Church is now located.

A map published in 1865 shows that just across the Old Baltimore Road (now Norbeck Road) from Charles Abert's house were properties owned by William Castle, Charles Nichols and Jonathan West; the latter's property was also bounded by the road that led north to Muncaster's Mill and beyond. Another map published in 1879 indicates that a post office, general store and school had been established on the land between Muncaster's Mill Road and the Washington-Brookeville Turnpike. Charles Abert still resided in his wartime home, located on 725 acres. Jonathan West's home did not appear, but that of Charles Nichols remained, as did the home of William Cassell--the William "Castle" of the 1865 map. Also having taken up residence by this time was Robert Abert, whose home was near that of Nichols. The land was conveyed by Albert J. Alder to Henry H. Ward by a deed dated February 24,1899. At some time later the land on the corner of present-day Norbeck Road and Muncaster's Mill Road passed to the Hannan family, which was of old Washington stock. In 1958, at the time of her death, a friend of Mary Hannan Mahoney recalled a visit to the Hannan farm decades before: "None of us will forget luncheon at the Hannan Farm, where Mary picked and fried the chickens, baked the cake and the biscuits, blanched the almonds, made the mints, and prepared the ice cream mix which her brothers froze in the hand freezer."

On June 25,1965, Archbishop O'Boyle wrote to Robert H. Mahoney, the husband of Mary Hannan, thanking him for the donation of property in Washington, the proceeds of the sale of which would be used to benefit "the parish in Norbeck." Some of the money would be used for the altar, while $10,000 would be put toward the expenses connected with the buildings of the parish, "which will certainly include a school and convent." In December, 1966, Robert H. Mahoney wrote a letter to Father George R. Ellis, St. Patrick's first pastor, that is worth quoting at length: "Mary spent much of her time as a young girl on the family farm at Norbeck and she had a great love for the place. I spent a number of summers there when I taught at the Catholic University Summer School, and I spent many pleasant vacations there." Up to the time of her death, Mary Hannan Mahoney was involved in an extraordinary number of projects, many of them of a charitable nature. In his letter Mr. Mahoney described some of these for Father Ellis:

"Since her death, a street in a public housing project [in Hartford, Connecticut], was named for her, and the Mary Hannan Mahoney Village (garden type apartments for the elderly poor) was dedicated in her honor. Genuinely interested in housing and the problem of the elderly, she served many years as a member of the Hartford Housing Authority. A larger reading room at the University of Connecticut was named for her, and there is a Mary Mahoney scholarship for a prospective teacher at the same institution. The Diocesan Council of Catholic Women have set up a memorial lecture to deal with themes in which she was interested. These lectures may be given in the three Connecticut dioceses, since she was president of the Connecticut Council before the sub-division into three dioceses. Perhaps the most important memorial to her will be found in Tanzania where there are now eight Mary Hannan Mahoney Maternity Clinics. I have visited East Africa and I have seen all eight clinics . . . . Surely these clinics bring the compassion of Christ and the love of Our Lady to some of the world's neediest mothers and infants."

According to her husband, Mrs. Mahoney's zeal for the Lord included a desire to give part of the land on which she had spent so many happy days to the Church for a new parish, to be named for her father, Patrick. "It was Mary's hope that I would do something for the church she hoped could be built some day at Norbeck. I discussed the matter with Archbishop Hannan, with his mother, and with other members of the family in 1965. They heartily approved my desire at that time to donate the property or its value to the Archdiocese in memory of Mary." The portion of the Hannan farm that was deeded to Archbishop O'Boyle on September 28, 1966, amounted to approximately ten acres, valued at the time at about one hundred and twenty thousand dollars; it was deeded to Archbishop O'Boyle for the sum of only ten. The new parish was formed from the parishes of St. Mary's, St. Peter's, and St. Jude's.


By a decree of Archbishop O'Boyle, St. Patrick's parish was canonically erected and came into being at 12:00 noon on May 28,1966. The next day, on May29, Trinity Sunday, Masses were offered for the first time in St. Patrick's parish by the newly appointed pastor, Father George R. Ellis, at 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon. The Masses were held in the multi-purpose room of the Earle B. Wood Junior High School on Bauer Drive, just off Norbeck Road. As the parish grew, the Masses had to be moved to the cafeteria, and the schedule had to be revised several times--once because of traffic jams caused by the children's Mass. On May 24, 1967, the Chancery promulgated a decree which slightly amended the parish boundaries.

Father Ellis lived at St. Jude's Rectory, Rockville, from May 28 until June 20,1966. On June20 he moved into St. Patrick's first rectory, located at 4305 Bel Pre Road, Rockville. The family room on the first floor was converted into a small chapel. The bedrooms on the first floor became the Pastor's office and study, while the other room served as a sacristy and catch-all. The living room, dining room and kitchen were upstairs. Of the three bedrooms on the second floor the pastor occupied one with its own bath. The other two bedrooms served as study and bedroom, with its own bath, for the assistant. The rectory chapel was opened for public Mass on July 11,1966, at 8 o'clock a.m.

The day after the new pastor arrived the first transitional deacon, the Rev. Mr. John D. Vail, was assigned to St. Patrick's for the summer. He later returned to St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, for his final year of studies before his ordination to the priesthood in 1967. On September 24 the Reverend Francis J. Schuster became the first assistant at St. Patrick's. A native of Pennsylvania, Father Schuster received his education at Villanova University and the Catholic University of America. He was ordained from St. Vincent Seminary, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, in 1963. He served as assistant at St. Jude's, St. Pius X, and Immaculate Heart of Mary before coming to St. Patrick's. Father Schuster was put in charge of organizing the school of religion.

Masses were started at Rossmoor Leisure World for the residents there on December 11, 1966. The first Mass was at 11:15 at the Clubhouse Library, but because of the crowds it had to be transferred to the Dining Room. Another new project was the first Parish Directory, which had been planned in late February 1967, and which was put together under the leadership of James Marshall. Each family was asked to be a sponsor at a cost of three dollars, and commercial ads were also taken out. The directory was published in June 1967.

The Reverend Paul F. Genovese, S.S., came to live at the rectory in June of 1968. There were now three priests at St. Patrick's. Father Genovese had been a member of the faculty at the Theological College of the Catholic University of America. Though in residence at St. Patrick's, he continued to serve as the seminary's treasurer.

The original plans for the church called for a "celtic type building" containing "an auditorium church and school along with a convent." In September 1966, Archbishop O'Boyle changed these plans in favor of a permanent church and school building. In January 1967 the building commission rejected the proposed drawings and plans of the church as too expensive; $500,000.00 was the limit set for the cost of both church and school, which later came to be called the "center."

New plans proposing a church built "in a T shape" were drawn up ("a very simple structure"), but the Building Commission was still concerned about expenses. Father Ellis wrote, "Bishop Spence is making absolutely certain that the cost is not 1 cent more than the allotted $500,000.00" On Friday, March 31, 1967, Father Ellis met again with the Building Commission, only to run into more delays. If he was frustrated about the planning process, Father Ellis was cheered by the success of the parish's first social affair, held in the evening of the same day. This was the "Kirk Patrick Ball," held at the International Ballroom of the Washington Hilton Hotel. Tickets sold at $15.00 per couple. The Ball was a splendid success, both socially and financially. There were seventy tables of ten people each. Tiny Merker and his orchestra played. "It was a beautiful affair, well done, in excellent taste."

In June the Parish Development Fund Drive came to a successful conclusion. The goal of $200,000.00 was surpassed with $235,000.00 in pledges. Foley Associates, from Rochester, New York, directed the drive; Mr. Harry Rose, assisted by Mr. James Quinn, led some two hundred and thirty men from the parish in running the campaign. Bids were opened on August 22,1967 at the chancery office for building the new church and center. The low bid was for $662,000.00 from Edward M. Crough, Inc.

In September construction on the new church began. The land was cleared and its contour somewhat changed in preparation for the buildings. The pastor decided against a formal ground breaking because of the lack of parking near the church property and the danger of accidents on Norbeck Road.

In the winter and spring of 1968 the construction of the church and center progressed very slowly. In his notebook Father Ellis described discouraging problems with the weather: "Snow and other bad weather brought things to almost a standstill. In early spring the large wooden beams arrived from California. They were installed and finished on a Friday and the following Sunday three of them, on the pulpit side of the church, were blown down by high winds. This will delay the opening of the church by another six weeks."

During the summer of 1968 the buildings slowly began to take shape. The center reached completion first, and in July the chapel in the rectory was moved there. The tile floors were not yet installed and trying to keep the chapel clean was a problem because the workmen used the center as a workshop and storage area. Putting the roof on the church was also a problem because only two carpenters worked on it. The pastor noted that workmen "are very hard to get in the Washington area." The parking lot was scheduled to be put in during the month of August. After the land was cleared, rain prevented the paving from taking place right away. Father Ellis wrote, "[the] First Friday of August was a complete mess. It was pouring rain in the morning. The future parking lot was sass of red mud. People coming to Mass were knee high in mud. Women came to Holy Communion in their bare feet with mud oozing between their toes."

The center was finally finished in the fall of 1968, and classes started in November. The church took shape as the marble altar, the statues, stations, and other appointments, purchased from Doig-Bernardini Studios in New York City, arrived quickly from Italy and were installed. Items that were ordered on September 17 including the wood carvings of the Last Supper ($1,400.00), Christ and John the Baptist ($770.00), the Holy Family ($442.00), the Sacred Heart ($234.00), and the stations of the Cross ($1,587.00). On September 23 the tabernacle ($1,100.00) and other items such as candlesticks ($912.00) were ordered. Purchases on October22 included the altar of sacrifice ($2,945.00), the pulpit ($1,190.00), the baptismal font ($1,382.00), the altar of repose ($924.00), the communion rail ($2,492.00), a mosaic ($3,000.00), three chairs (1,050.00), predella and steps ($6,060.00), and four shrine rails ($1,000.00).

The finishing touches were put on with the installation of the carpet, the pews, and finally the organ. The Southern Desk Company of Hickory, North Carolina, manufactured the pews, kneelers and bookracks for the church from "selected solid Appalachian oak," delivered and installed "on stile-covered concrete floor" ass total cost of $18,940.25. On November 29,1968, a letter was sent from Edward M. Crough, Inc., General Contractor, to Walton and Madden, certifying that all work on the church and school that had been contracted for had been completed at a total cost of $620,303.50, some $42,000.00 below their bid.

On December 6,1968, in keeping with a very ancient tradition of the Catholic Church, Bishop Edward Herrmann, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, in a simple but solemn ceremony, cemented the relics (bones) of two Christian martyrs, St. Jude and St. Sixtus, into the new altar. He then signed the decree that both proclaimed and recorded this holy dedication in the ancient language of the Church:

"Ego, Eduardus J. Herrmann, Episcopus titularis Lamsellensis, consecravi altare hoc, in honorem St. Patricii et reliquias sanctorum Martyrum Ss. Jude and Zixtus in eo inclusi, et singulis Christi fidelibus hodie indulgentiam plenarium, in forma Ecclesiae consueta concessi. Datum Washingtonii Die 6a mensis decembris A.D. 1968. Eduardus J. Herrmann, Vicarius Generalis."

As early as July 1968 Father Ellis had written to Archbishop Philip M. Hannan of New Orleans, a brother of Mary Hannan Mahoney, asking if he would give the sermon at the dedication of the new church building, already set for December 7 or 8. The Archbishop quickly replied that he would be delighted to come, and he thanked Father Ellis for inviting other members of the family to attend. Cardinal O'Boyle likewise agreed to come for the dedication, suggesting that the ceremony be moved from the morning to the afternoon of December 8, since, as chancellor of the Catholic University of America, he was obliged to offer Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception earlier in the day, the University's patronal feast day.

The new church was put to use in accordance with the regular Sunday Mass schedule on Sunday, December 8, 1968, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The pastor offered the first Mass at 7 o'clock. The dedication ceremonies and Mass began at 4:00 p.m. The church was a little over three quarters filled for the ceremony. One ticket had been reserved per family for fear of overcrowding, and this perhaps frightened some people away. Moreover, the day was quite cold, windy, and cloudy, and there were occasional snow showers.

Cardinal O'Boyle dedicated the new center first. Father John Donoghue, the Cardinal's secretary (now the Bishop of Charlotte, North Carolina), acted as his Master of Ceremonies. The late Father Robert Lewis and the late Father Raymond Fanning were chaplains to His Eminence. Father Fanning was late for the ceremony so Father Francis Veith substituted for him until he arrived.

After the blessing of the center the procession made its way to the church. The Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus, in full regalia and with flags, led the way. Then came the parish's altar boys, dressed for the first time in their new cassocks and surplices, followed by the clergy. Cardinal O'Boyle blessed the cornerstone and the outside of the building, but because of the cold that he sent the congregation inside; he remained outside with a few attendants to bless the walls of the church.

The procession into the church was impressive. The choir, "extraordinarily good that day," accompanied by trumpets and organ, sang "Sacerdos at Pontifex." Father John Hogan, then of Our Lady of Mercy, Potomac, was cantor, and did "a superb job" with the Litany of the Saints. The Cardinal then blessed the inside of the church. Father Ellis was the main celebrant for the Mass, with Father Schuster and Father Genovese as the concelebrants. Cardinal O'Boyls presided at the Mass, but was not a concelebrant. The sermon was preached by Archbishop Hannan. The pastor noted that it had been a "perfect day in all respects."

With the church and the school built, Monsignor Ellis' attention (he had been made a Monsignor in 1971) turned to the need of the priests to have a residence on or close to the parish property. Even as the church and school were being built he realized that the rectory on Bel Pre Road was simply too far away. Father Ellis proposed either building a rectory on the property or purchasing a house in a development closer to the parish. The former idea was adopted, and the new rectory was completed in 1973.

In 1976 the country celebrated its 200th anniversary, Monsignor Ellis celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary as a priest, and the parish celebrated its tenth anniversary. With the passage of the years physical changes were made to the church, including the removal of the altar rails, the installation of stained glass windows in the body of the church in 1979, and the movement of a sculpture of St. Patrick from the front of the church to the rear, where it cannot help but be seen by passersby on Norbeck Road.

In 1985 the parish mourned the death of its founding pastor. As a tribute the parish center was named in his honor on the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the parish. The people of St. Patrick's welcomed their second pastor when Monsignor Thomas A. Kane was installed by Archbishop James A. Hickey in December 1985. Monsignor Kane had most recently served as the Directory of Priest Personnel for the Archdiocese, and had wide experience in many assignments, including three pastorates before coming to St. Patrick's. In addition to his new parochial duties, Monsignor Kane continued to be the coordinator for both the annual March for Life and the archdiocesan pilgrimage to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The first few years of Monsignor Kane's pastorate saw the construction of a new seating area for the choir which incorporated space for the organ and a piano, the movement of the baptismal font to the sanctuary, and many other additions and modifications, some of them the product of Monsignor Kane's own personal labor. Among the things made by him for the church in his workshop are the large processional cross, the wooden top of the pulpit, the poor boxes at the entrances to the church, the hymn boards and the rack upon which they hang near the organ, the system of rods and brackets for hanging altar cloths in the sacristy area, the shelf beneath the statue of the Blessed Virgin, a new priedieu for brides, and other minor modifications too numerous to mention. Among recent major changes to the parish were the addition of a new parking lot extending around the CCD center in 1988, and the erection of a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary, almost on the very site of the old Hannan farm house.

The year 1991 brought a mixture of apprehension and celebration to St. Patrick's Church. Even as the parish prepared to celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary, the nation was preparing for war. Special services were held as the deadline approached. Beginning at midnight on Sunday, January 13-14, near the eve of the outbreak of hostilities, a twenty-four hour vigil for peace was held, with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament throughout. At the end of the twenty-four hours Monsignor Kane administered Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. A book was placed on a stand just inside the sanctuary on the left in which the names of friends and loved ones serving overseas were written. By the end of the war hundreds of names had been inscribed. When the ground war began the parish held holy hours with Benediction every evening for a week, by which time the fighting had suddenly come to and end.

In commemoration of the parish anniversary a relic of St. Patrick himself was procured from Rome, and may be seen on display in a beautiful reliquary in the rectory. From May 28 to December 7 the parish celebrated with a variety of activities designed to appeal to the widest range of parishioners. On May28, the exact anniversary of the parish, there was an opening Mass at which Archbishop Hannan spoke, as he had in 1968. After the Mass he led a procession out of the church and broke the ground for a bell tower that is to be built as a permanent commemoration of the anniversary. The year's celebrations also included a youth day and field Mass, a family picnic and tree-planting, a special trip to Mother Seton's Shrine for the Leisure Club, a formal dinner and dance, and a closing Mass celebrated by His Eminence, James Cardinal Hickey, on Saturday, December 7, at 7:30 p.m.

As the priests, staff and parishioners look back on our first twenty-five years as a parish, we feel immense gratitude to those who have gone before us and with us, and for the numberless hours and days of labor, and the selfless love that motivated it, that have gone into making the parish what it is today. We are justly proud of the achievements and contributions made by our parish to the lives of countless people in our area. As we face a future that promises to be interesting at least, we remember the founding pastor's words to his first parishioners: "Christ Himself has presented to us a challenge in the name of St. Patrick. He is waiting for our response."