St. Patrick’s Shamrock

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A view from the hilltop of Saint Patrick’s Church on the southeast side of the Green Ridge State Forest in the Appalachian Mountains. — Little Orleans, Maryland

On a hill overlooking Fifteen Mile Creek near the C&O Canal in Little Orleans, Maryland, sits historic Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church. Built in 1860 in a simple Gothic style with arches above the doors and windows, Saint Patrick’s is a quaint sight…with a twist. The stained glass window above the main entrance is the shape of a shamrock.

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St. Patrick’s Catholic Church (Little Orleans, MD)

The construction of the C&O canal in the early to mid 1800s brought an influx of Irish immigrants to the area. In fact, the majority of the laborers, ranging from diggers to carpenters to stonemasons, were Irish. In 1860, the Irish built Saint Patrick’s as their house of worship, an effort that was supported by such individuals as Lady Elizabeth Stafford, a granddaughter of Charles Carroll—who, as you may know, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

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The church was named after St. Patrick, a missionary who brought Christianity to Ireland in 400 AD at a time when Ireland was known for its violence, raids on its neighbors, slave trading, and pagan worship. It is in honor of Patrick and his mission work in Ireland that St. Patrick’s Day was instituted.

The 1.5-acre tract of land on which St. Patrick’s stands was given to the Catholic Diocese of Baltimore in 1808 by local resident Leonard Bevons. A cemetery surrounds the church, with some of the gravestones predating it. The oldest grave is marked 1802. [1]

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The graveyard at St. Patrick’s is a mixture of the modern day dearly departed, as well as the unmarked graves of Irish canal construction workers and their descendants. (Little Orleans, MD)

Some of today’s parishioners can trace their roots back to the original Irish laborers who worked on the C&O Canal and on the railroads in Western Maryland.

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A weathered gravestone of a 19 year-old Irish immigrant.

The shamrock, a distinctly Irish symbol, on St. Patrick’s Church in Little Orleans serves as a reminder of the rich Irish heritage of the country church and surrounding community. Tradition has it that St. Patrick used the shamrock—a three leaf clover—to explain the doctrine of the trinity (that is, one God in three Persons). Although Patrick may have done this, such claims did not emerge until the 17th century. Nevertheless, as “the apostle to the Irish,” Patrick led thousands to Christ. In that, there is cause for celebration.

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

I bind unto myself the name,
the strong name of the Trinity
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One and One in Three,
of whom all nature has creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
salvation is of Christ the Lord!

— an excerpt from St. Patrick’s Breastplate [2]


[1] maryland.gov/msa_se5_21.pdf
[2] Whether simply ascribed to him or whether he actually wrote it, for centuries this prayer (usually sung as a hymn) has been associated with St. Patrick’s life and ministry.

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