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.

The Spirit of ’76: Remembering the Bicentennial (& Before)

The Bicentennial Logo commissioned by the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, 1975-1976. (Public Domain image)

The Bicentennial Logo. (Image: Public Domain)

Even as a five year old, the significance was not lost on me. The year was 1976, and I was keenly aware that I was living in a time of special celebration that not everyone would personally experience: the American Revolution Bicentennial.

Plans for the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence began well before July 4th, 1976. In fact, Congress created the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission (ARBC) on July 4, 1966, to prepare for the big day. Initially, the idea was to have a single celebration in either Philadelphia, PA or Boston, MA; however, in 1973, the ARBC was dissolved and Congress created the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration (ARBA), which was formed to promote  and encourage the sponsorship of local events as opposed to one single-day, single-locale extravaganza. Bicentennial festivities officially began when The American Freedom Train left the station in Wilmington, DE, on April 1, 1975, for a 48-state tour that would last 21 months.

To further commemorate the Bicentennial, the U.S Treasury Department minted three special coins from 1975-1976.  Products of a nationwide design competition, these coins included the Bicentennial quarter, half dollar, and silver dollar.

As a youngster, Bicentennial coins were fun to collect.  I still come across some—mostly quarters—in circulation today.  I regard them with a patriotic reverence that compels me to keep them even still.  The mere sight of a Bicentennial coin takes me back to small town America and the most deliciously memorable moments for a five year old: our family’s frequent trips to the High’s Dairy Store at the edge of town where hand-dipped, red-white-and-blue-swirled ice cream was served up all summer long as a reminder of our nation’s hard-fought independence.

Long live the Stars and Stripes.  Long live the Spirit of ’76.

Memorial Day: It’s Not Just a Picnic

Did you know that Memorial Day (in the United States) was originally called Decoration Day?

Decoration Day originated after the American Civil War to honor, remember, and decorate the graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in combat. By the 1880s, Decoration Day was gradually and informally being referred to as Memorial Day. In 1967, it was declared the official name by Federal law. [1] By that time, the day had also extended to remember all Americans who had given their lives in service to the United States Armed Forces.

The Antietam National Cemetery at the Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland Antietam National Cemetery is one of the 130 cemeteries of the National Cemetery System, a system that began during the Civil War. There are 4,776 Union remains (1,836 or 38% are unknown) buried here from the Battle of Antietam, South Mountain, Monocacy, and other action in Maryland. All of the unknowns are marked with small square stones. These stones contain the grave number, and if you look closely on a few stones, a small second number represents how many unknowns are buried in that grave. There are also a few of the larger, traditional stones that mark unknown graves. In addition, more than 200 non-Civil War dead are also buried here. Veterans and their wives from the Spanish-American War, World War I and II, and Korea were buried here until the cemetery closed in 1953. Recently an exception to the closure was made for the burial of Keedysville resident Patrick Howard Roy, United States Navy. Fireman Roy was killed during the attack on the USS COLE and was buried in the Cemetery on October 29, 2000. If you walk to the back of the cemetery you will notice a few separate graves. Ironically, on the battlefield that led directly to Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, African-American graves from WWI were segregated to this out-of-the-way corner..

In this photo: The Antietam National Cemetery in Sharpsburg, Maryland, contains the remains of 4,776 Union soldiers, 1,836 of which are unknown and marked with small square stones. Also, some of the veterans and their wives from the Spanish-American War, World War I and II, and Korea were buried here. Most recently, nearby Keedysville resident Fireman Patrick Howard Roy, United States Navy, was buried in the otherwise closed cemetery on October 29, 2000, after being killed during the attack on the USS COLE. In the back of the cemetery are African-American graves from World War I.

One of my favorite presidents, Ronald Reagan, summed up Memorial Day and extended a challenge to all Americans in his May 31, 1982, speech at Arlington National Cemetery. His words still ring true, and I pray that ten, twenty, a hundred years from now these words describe our nation, not our nation’s history.

The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we — in a less final, less heroic way — be willing to give of ourselves.


[1] Alan Axelrod (1 June 2007). Miracle at Belleau Wood: The Birth of the Modern U.S. Marine Corps. Globe Pequot. p. 233. ISBN 978-1-59921-025-4