In honor of church's 250th anniversary, printed history available again

November 17, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN -- Rita Hutzell's personal history with St. Mary's Catholic Church in Hagerstown goes back 81 years -- to her birth. But through long hours of research and discovery, she was able to extend that knowledge to much of the congregation's 250 years of existence.

All that knowledge was compiled into a first book in 1976 and to an updated version in 2000.

This year marks the 250th anniversary of St. Mary's, and the updated version of the book is available for those who want to know more about that history.

"Back in 1976, Father Robert Passarelli asked me to put the church history together," Hutzell said.

The occasion was for the country's July 4 bicentennial celebration, which coincided with the date the church cornerstone was laid.

Hutzell said she began her work from a ledger compiled by a former priest at the church. She progressed to church archives in Baltimore, where she worked closely with the late Vernon Davis.


Hutzell and Davis were in Baltimore doing some research when they stumbled across a major find in their quest for St. Mary's history.

"Vernon found a book and opened right to the page with a picture of the log cabin that was the first building," Hutzell said.

That first effort took about 14 months. The update was completed eight years ago.

In 1758, a parish near Hanover, Pa., sent Jesuit priests to Hagerstown. For the next 28 years, priests celebrated Masses in private homes.

A log chapel was erected on the present site at 224 W. Washington St. in 1794. That same year, land was acquired for a cemetery.

"In our research, we discovered that cemetery was along the railroad tracks behind Moller Organ," Hutzell said.

An interesting chapter in the book tells of the obelisk in front of the church where two priests are buried -- the Rev. Timothy Ryan in 1837 and the Rev. Joseph Maguire, an assistant pastor at St. Mary's.

St. Mary's is known as the "mother church" of Washington County, as it established many mission churches and other parishes in the area, Hutzell said.

The 250th anniversary celebration this year culminated in a September picnic on the church grounds.

"We are privileged to carry on the rich tradition of the Catholic church ... which has its roots in the archdiocese of Baltimore and in Hagerstown," said the Rev. J. Collin Poston, administrator at St. Mary's. "We thank the people of Hagerstown for embracing us and we hope to continue as a contributing member of the community for many years to come."

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