(Author’s Note: I dedicate this article to the late Alexander Wyse, OFM, and his incredible and passionate work with the Academy of American Franciscan History, established in 1943 and now celebrating its 80th anniversary.)
This is a story of preparation – preparing for the 350th Anniversary of St. Mary’s Parish, Newport, Maryland, founded by two English Franciscan friars in 1674.
In April 2023, I received a phone call from Fr. Matthew Fish, the diocesan pastor of St. Mary’s, which is part of Charles County, Maryland. We both serve in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. Fr. Fish invited me to concelebrate at the 350th Anniversary Mass of his parish that’s planned for the spring of 2024. Wilton Cardinal Gregory will be the presider and homilist.
Much to my surprise, Fr. Fish informed me that St. Mary’s Parish was founded by two Franciscan friars from the OFM Province in England. They were missionary friars who were asked by their provincial superiors to journey to the English colony in Maryland and minister among Catholics who had little to no clergy at that time.
To be honest, I was completely unaware that Franciscan friars from England were founders of a colonial parish in 1674. During the last chapter of Holy Name Province in early June 2023, I conferred with Dominic Monti, OFM, our eminent Province and Church historian, who was aware of this Franciscan outreach in southern Maryland during colonial times.
Dominic referred me to an article by Alexander Wyse, OFM, The Franciscans in Colonial Maryland, published in HNP’s Provincial Annals, Volume 33, pages 28-47, in 1984. Alexander’s article was well-written, informative and quite insightful.
In preparation for this article, I drove to St. Mary’s Parish in Newport to conduct research about the early Franciscans. There was no viable material to apply this research at the parish office. But I did marvel at the fact that the parish included over 60 acres of property since its founding.
I then traveled to the state capital of Maryland, Annapolis, to examine records in their reference library about this parish and various possibilities. I will share the findings of this research in the last section of this article. But my primary source for this reflection is the article by Alexander, who divided his own writing in these subtitles:
- The Jesuit Mission in Maryland.
- The Friars Accept Service in the Maryland Mission.
- The Seven Friars Who Labored in Maryland.
- The End of the Venture in 1720.
The Jesuit Mission in Maryland. The Society of Jesus sent Jesuit priests to Maryland to minister to Catholics, those interested in becoming Catholic, and to the indigenous people in the early 1600s. Many Jesuits even became fluent in the indigenous languages. The first recorded Catholic Mass in colonial Maryland was celebrated by Fr. Andrew White, SJ, in 1634 in St. Clement’s Island. They gradually expanded to other parts of Maryland. The Jesuits began purchasing land for their own ministries. However, they had no more than four Jesuits at a time in southern Maryland during the 1660s. Since they could not send more Jesuits to Maryland, the Holy See reached out to other religious orders and secular clergy for help. They contacted the English Franciscan provincial to send Franciscan friars to Maryland.
The Friars Accept Service in the Maryland Mission. The English Franciscan provincial council sent two friars to Maryland in early 1672 – Fr. Massaeus Massey, OFM, and Fr. Henry Carew, OFM. Recognition of these friars’ presence was obtained by letters from Lord Calvert in Maryland to Lord Baltimore in London. Calvert was lobbying for more priests and support for the Catholic Church in Maryland.
The Seven Friars Who Labored in Maryland. Most of the research about the Franciscan friars in southern Maryland by St. Mary’s Church, Newport, and the archives for the Archdiocese of Washington, refers to just two friars. There were actually seven Franciscans who served in southern Maryland between 1672 and 1720. I highlight here the importance of two of these Franciscan friars in the Maryland Franciscan Mission: Fr. Richard (Basil) Hobart, OFM, and Fr. James Haddock, OFM. I will also briefly allude to the other five friars who served in colonial Maryland.
They are, in order:
- Fr. Massaeus Massey, OFM, who served from 1672 to 1686 and later returned to England, where he was elected minister provincial from 1692 to 1695.
- Fr. Henry Carew, OFM, who came to Maryland with Fr. Massey in early 1672 and returned to England in 1683, but died at sea before making it home.
- Fr. Polycarp Wickstead, OFM, who was sent to Maryland Mission on May 10, 1674, along with Fr. Hobart. There is not much information about his ministry, so it is assumed that he served in the Maryland Mission for just a short time.
- Fr. Edward Golding, OFM, who was assigned to the Maryland Mission in 1675 at age 50. Prior to this assignment, he was incarcerated for a number of years in an English prison for being a Catholic priest during the Protestant Reformation and the persecution of Catholics led by Oliver Cromwell. Fr. Golding served in Maryland until 1686 before returning to England. During his time in Maryland, there were four Franciscans and only three Jesuits in the Mission – the first time that Franciscan friars outnumbered Jesuit priests in Colonial Maryland! But that didn’t last long, as the Jesuits invited more personnel into Maryland during and after the Revolutionary War.
- Fr. Bruno Taylor, OFM, and Fr. Haddock were the last of the Franciscans from England assigned to the Maryland Mission on August 6, 1699. Talk about opposite personalities and devotion to duty! Fr. Taylor served the Mission until about 1704, leaving on his own and reportedly becoming an apostate against the Catholic faith. He betrayed the friars and the Catholic Church by cooperating with the persecution style of the Protestant Reformation in Maryland. According to the archives of the D.C. Archdiocese, Maryland was “founded as a haven for Catholics and a place for religious toleration. Maryland was the site of the Religious Act of 1649, the first legislation a representative body ever enacted for religious freedom. Sadly, between 1690 and 1776, Catholics in Maryland suffered under oppressive penal laws, but they persevered and the Catholic faith flourished.” Bruno Taylor renounced his faith and the Franciscans and became part of the persecution of Catholics.
TWO COURAGEOUS, DEDICATED FRANCISCAN FRIARS
Richard (Basil) Hobart, OFM, arrived with Polycarp Wickstead, OFM, in 1674. He was the founding pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Newport, Charles County, Maryland, that same year. The parish continues 350 years later and will celebrate its Anniversary Mass next spring.
Fr. Hobart became great friends with a plantation owner and devout Catholic, Major William Boarman, who donated the land for the church and the 60 acres on which the parish sits present day. Fr. Hobart also mastered the indigenous languages of the local Native Americans. He was forced to briefly leave Maryland during the time of the persecution and served in a parish in Stafford, Virginia. He returned to Maryland and built a new St. Mary’s Church in 1697, but the following year, he tragically died from an epidemic – ending 24 years of faithful service to the Maryland Mission. He is presumed to be buried somewhere on the parish grounds, but I have been unsuccessful trying to locate his burial plot.
Fr. Hobart’s last will and testament, dated June 4, 1697, is a precious document that reveals a great deal about him as a person and provides valuable insight into how the friars had to accommodate themselves and adjust their lifestyle to the local circumstances in order to become effective ministers of the Gospel in the colony. There is no evidence in his will, nor in the archives of the seven Franciscan friars, including Bruno Taylor, that they owned slaves.
James Haddock, OFM, arrived in 1699 at the height of the Protestant Reformation persecution of Catholics in the colonies. Despite the betrayal by Bruno Taylor, Fr. Haddock persevered and continued his excellent service to the People of God in Maryland. He was destined to be the last of the English friars to serve in Colonial Maryland.
There seems to be a dispute on whether he was born in England or Maryland (if the latter, he would have been the first Marylander to join the Order of Friars Minor). Nevertheless, he was ordained in 1696 at age 25 and served in England until 1699, when he volunteered to serve as a missionary in Maryland.
I truly empathize with the ordeal of James Haddock. First, he had to cope with the terrible betrayal of his fellow friar, Bruno Taylor. Second, he was forced to be a “clandestine priest” in the Maryland Mission. In 1704, all Catholic churches in Maryland were closed. With nowhere to celebrate the Eucharist, and unable to wear his habit or Roman collar in public, Fr. Haddock was forced to preside at underground Masses. He began these liturgies in the home of his parents in Prince George’s County. He then went to other households to celebrate Mass, communal Baptisms, Confirmations and other sacraments, and hear confessions.
Fr. Haddock was taking great risks, conducting these underground liturgies to keep the faith alive among many Catholics. He could have been arrested and thrown into prison. His courage was amazing, and his faith knew no boundaries! He fit the profile of many other Franciscan friars in England and Ireland during the anti-Catholic bigotry displayed by the British government and military. I recall the stories of the late scholar Eric Doyle, OFM, of the Immaculate Conception Province in England, who wrote about the oppression by the British military in London and Canterbury in the 1600s and 1700s.
Doyle asserted that many English friars dressed in the garb of various professions, such as milkmen and carpenters, so that they could celebrate underground Masses in people’s homes. They were “clandestine priests.” Furthermore, I vividly recall visiting the Irish friars in Immaculate Conception Church in Dublin, where the late Joseph McMahon, OFM, told me about the humble beginnings of that wonderful Church. It was originally built as the Adam and Eve Tavern during the time of Cromwell and his murderous oppression of the Catholic Church.
He told me how the local Franciscan friars dressed as blacksmiths and other tradesmen – and how every Sunday morning, a Franciscan friar would enter the tavern and go into the basement, where he was met by a huge assembly of faithful Catholics. There he prepared for an underground Mass which included the celebration of all the sacraments, excluding ordination to the priesthood. After the long Mass, the people would go upstairs and have lunch and a pint or two before going home. The local patrol of British soldiers had no idea what was going on. The Irish friars were also “clandestine priests.” Even today, local Irish people refer to this house of worship as the “Adam and Eve Church!”
I purposely write this to remind the reader of the risks taken by these “clandestine priests.” James Haddock had to do all he could to protect his cover – even pretend to be a slave owner, which he was not! The very interesting will of Richard Marsham (probably an uncle of Fr. Haddock’s) had this sociological noteworthy item (wills were public documents and often read by members of the British government in Maryland): “I give and bequeath to my grandson Basil Waring one Negro man named Charles, brought and paid for me and by me delivered into the hands (of) my daughter Sarah Waring when a widow, by her to be delivered to the said Basil, which said is now in possession of Mr. James Haddock and to be delivered to the said Basil whenever required or demanded.”
Two points. First, the “James Haddock” in the will is not identified as a priest. Second, possession is not a bequest. The wording of that statement provides cover for Haddock because Charles, the slave, is ultimately given to Basil Waring, who is the grandson of Richard Marsham. It was a clever cover! State records in Annapolis never identify any of the seven Franciscan friars as a slave owner.
Sadly, the life of a “clandestine priest” must have been lonely and painful. Fr. Antony Parkinson, OFM, then the minister provincial of the English province, referred to Fr. Haddock in a provincial address written in 1716:
“Mr. Haddock, our only brother in Maryland, has lived there about 15 years in great spiritual anguish. He begs pressingly for a companion. But I fear we have none who can be spared, though he says the people are numerous and he is sorry to have our mission in those Indies (Maryland) buried with him after it has been by our brothers these 40 years. I offered him his liberty to come over into England if he pleased. But the fathers of the Society of Jesus are importunate for his stay and he replied that he should be glad to breathe his native air and see his best friends. He says he is poor but that he wants for nothing. I took care of him every year to send him what books or other things he desires.”
Fr. Haddock could have returned to England like the other friars did. However, he chose to stay with his underground flock with support from his Jesuit friends. After reading about this Franciscan friar, it confirms my belief that our Province’s emphasis on “fraternity in ministry” is truly real and necessary. We all need each other and God.
The End of the Venture in 1720. After faithfully serving for 21 consecutive years in the Maryland Franciscan Mission, James Haddock, OFM, died in 1720. He is believed to be buried somewhere in Prince George’s County since he was residing there and carrying on his “clandestine priest” ministry. As in my search for Fr. Hobart’s final resting place, I was unsuccessful in finding Fr. Haddock’s burial site. His chalice still exists and is stored in the Georgetown University Library. The inscription from his own hand reads: Ex. Libris F. Jacobi Haddock, Suprm. Permissu Marylandia, Martii 27, 1703.
The Seven Franciscan Friars of Colonial Maryland experienced tremendous challenges. First, they were voluntary missionaries in unchartered territory. Second, they traveled to and ministered in Maryland during the height of the persecution of Catholics during the Protestant Reformation. In addition, there was a lack of available friars to go to the Maryland Franciscan Mission. The betrayal and apostasy of Bruno Taylor and many others severely hurt the promotion of Franciscan vocations. Finally, the oppressive atmosphere against Catholics hurt morale for both the Franciscans and those who they served.
It is interesting to note that the oppression period was from 1690 until 1776. Ironically, it was the beginning of the Revolutionary War that ended the oppression. Most of the upper echelon of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were “deists” who were not members of organized religion, but promoted religious freedom and liberty.
Charles Carroll of Maryland was the only signer of the Declaration of Independence who was born and raised Catholic. He practiced his faith in both word and action by championing Catholic causes in Maryland. Although I could not find the burial plots of Richard Hobart, OFM, and James Haddock, OFM, I have a prayerful recommendation to the new Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe – that our new coast-to-coast friar fraternity provides a plaque commemorating these two outstanding Franciscan friars – and that we seek permission to have it placed in permanent public view on the property of St. Mary’s Church, Newport, Carroll County, Maryland, for the parish’s 350th anniversary next spring.
One final thought – James Haddock, OFM, was the last of the English Franciscan friars to serve in the Maryland Mission. However, 264 years after his death in 1720, the Franciscan friars returned to ministry in Maryland in 1984 when Holy Name Province took over the pastoral care of St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring. Martin Bednar, OFM, the parish’s first Franciscan pastor, was accompanied by Charles Finnegan, OFM, Peter Sheridan, OFM, and Michael McDonnell, OFM. We are celebrating our 40th anniversary of the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province serving at St. Camillus. We hope and pray to serve here for many more years to come!