Catholic Historical Pilgrimages: Maryland

Discover Maryland's Catholic History

Many Catholics are unaware of the rich Catholic heritage here in Southern Maryland: Here are found the site of the first recorded Mass in the English-speaking colonies of America (St. Clement's Island), the oldest Catholic Church in continuous use in the original thirteen colonies (St. Francis Xavier Church), the re-created chapel of the Maryland colonists (the Brick Chapel at St. Mary's City), and the monastery of the first woman to profess her vows as a nun in the United States (Carmel of Port Tobacco).

Our rich history began on November 22, 1633, when Governor Leonard Calvert, Father Andrew White, SJ, Father John Altham, SJ, Brother Thomas Gervase, SJ and over 150 European settlers sailed from the harbor of Cowes, England in the Isle of Wight to establish a colony built upon religious freedom. They departed on two ships named the Ark and the Dove and finally landed on a small island in early March 1634. The settlers named the Island after St. Clement, patron saint of sailors. Even though they suffered many hardships throughout their voyage, they believed his intercession helped them experience their safe journey.

It is here on St. Clement’s Island that Father Andrew White, SJ, celebrated the first recorded Catholic Mass in the English-speaking colonies of America on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1634. Located on the Potomac River, once named St. Gregory’s River, St. Clement’s Island is nestled between the shores of Maryland and Virginia. The Island was approximately 400 acres in size at the time of their arrival, but now only measures to be about 40 acres.

The decision to embark on the Island was a precaution the pilgrims took because Native Americans inhabited the mainland. It was not long, however, before Fr. Andrew White rowed to the mainland and began his task of befriending and converting the natives to the Catholic faith. It is our prayer that the strong and zealous faith of our forefathers and the sacrifices they made for religious freedom will cause the words “One Nation Under God” to echo in the hearts of all those who come here.

The Bread of Life Center for Peace offers a variety of Catholic pilgrimages in Southern Maryland to suit your needs. Contact us today to organize your next inspiring outing.