Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

White Marsh Catholic Church (Sacred Heart)
MSA SC 5496-20400
Church, Prince George's County, Maryland


White Marsh was first called St. Francis Borgia, and was one of the early Catholic Jesuit Missions in the English colonies. The land where Sacred Heart sits are from acres of land bequest from James Carroll, cousin of Charles Carroll of Annapolis, to George Thorold, a Jesuit priest. Upon the death of James Carroll in 1729, George Thorold of Charles County, and his fellow Jesuits took possession of the land and developed a farm, which they called White Marsh Plantation. White Marsh was the center of Catholic life in Prince George’s County. "The Fathers who resided there made missionary trips to various locations in the county and to Annapolis, Baltimore, Doughoregan Manor and areas of the present day District of Columbia." One of the earlier priest at the White Marsh was Rev. John Lewis who was named Superior of the Catholic Church in 1784

During this period, the Jesuit Fathers of White Marsh, with the help of indentured servants and slave labor worked the plantation as private citizens and served the Catholic communities in Prince George’s and nearby counties. The earliest known slaves at the White Marsh were those owned by Rev. John Lewis. In a memoranda, Lewis recorded having "at the Lower Quarters: Nanny, Kate and her child, Fanny born 1762, and Samuel 1764, Ruth, Terry, Regis, (Sampson, Jenny), Frank and children, Lucy, Davi, Nancy, Paul, and Henrietta born May 1763." One priest in particular Father John Ashton, owned a number of slaves during his time at White Marsh. Many the slaves owned by Ashton, as many as twelve at one time,  ran away from his service. Some the slaves in the Queen and Mahoney family petitioned the courts for their freedom against Rev. Ashton

"Following the Revolutionary War the Jesuit Fathers under the leadership of John Carroll, S.J. called several meetings of the clergy for the purpose of organizing the Catholic Church in America. The meetings, called the General Chapters, took place in 1783 and were held at White Marsh Plantation. Deliberations of the General Chapters led to the appointment of John Carroll by the Vatican as Prefect Apostolic, making him superior of the missionary church in the thirteen states, and to the first plans for Georgetown University. Also at White Marsh, the priests of the new nation elected John Carroll as the first American bishop on May 18,1789."

White Marsh became a Novitiate for young men studying for the priesthood, after it was moved from Georgetown in 1814, where it remained for twenty years. A fire at White Marsh occurred May 15, 1853. "The fire destroyed the priest house, the church and the vacant old Novitiate building. The chapel was rebuilt in 1856. By 1874 the priest house was restored and a large addition was added to the front of the building." In 1876, a bell tower was added to the chapel.

Return to the White Marsh Catholic Church Introductory Page

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