Saturday, November 23, 2013

Photo of the Day: DC’s Oldest Catholic Parish

In Washington, DC, you can’t help but see the most interesting sites when you’re on the way to something else. And so it was several days ago, when, on my way to Ford’s Theatre, I stumbled across St. Patrick’s. The parish is the oldest Roman Catholic one in the “Federal City” (the term used the district before it was renamed for the First President), established in 1794.

The first pastor of the church then—a simple frame chapel-residence—was Fr. Anthony Caffry, an Irish Dominican appointed by the first Catholic Bishop in America, John Carroll. The Carroll connection proved crucial when Fr. Caffry talked to the three commissioners of the planned Federal City about acquiring land in the new area where he could build a house of worship for the new capital's then-small Roman Catholic population, many of whom would be engaged  in construction of these new buildings. Caffry's plea found a receptive ear in one of the commissioners, Daniel Carroll--the bishop's brother--and two lots not far from what was then called "the President's House" were offered for sale.

Caffry was reportedly recruited to come to the U.S. by James Hoban, the architect of the White House. Hoban is also reputed to be the force behind the second St. Patrick’s Church, a brick structure dedicated in 1809 that, five years later, was filled with a hated sight: British soldiers attending Sunday mass while tending to their mission of burning invading the capital and burning its public buildings.

What I’ve photographed here is the present Gothic structure, begun in 1872 and dedicated 12 years later. It was designed by New York architect Laurence O'Connor.

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