The history of the Holy Face Church building can be summed up by reviewing the significance of the four years inscribed in the beautiful stained glass window above and behind the altar in the current church, but it can be said that the true beginning of our parish dates from the arrival of the Ark and the Dove in Maryland at St. Clement’s Island on March 25, 1634. Our Faith came down to us in a direct line from Father Andrew White, S.J., who arrived with Governor Leonard Calvert and the earliest colonists. Two days after his successful trip to Maryland, Fr. White and the settlers arrived at their permanent landing at St. Mary’s City.
The Maryland colonists at St. Mary’s City were fortunate that the land and village which they purchased from the Indians provided temporary homes and gardens. The very first Catholic Chapel was an Indian house that was vacated by a Yaocomico Indian Chieftain, and passed to Fr. White, who recorded: “You might call this the first chapel in Maryland, although it’s fittings are barely an improvement on what the house had been as an Indian dwelling.” In1636 the Indian home was replaced by a brick chapel shaped like a cross and for 68 years it was used intermittently for both Catholic and Protestant services.
When the capital moved from St. Mary’s City to Annapolis, the town began to rapidly decline. Additionally, the Maryland Assembly came to believe the Popish chapel at St. Mary’s City was scandalous and offensive to the government. So beginning in 1704, the chapel was carefully dismantled by the Catholics living in the area so it could be moved five miles down the river to St. Inigoes Manor where the materials were used to build the Manor House on property owned by the Jesuits. Once again, Catholics had a building in which they could worship.
The church at the old Clifton Mills, near Great Mills, dates from 1879, the first year depicted in the current church as mentioned above. That was the year that Fr. James Pye Neale, S.J. arrived at the Jesuit residence at St. Inigoes and travelled the 12 miles distance to the “Factory” to hold services every third week. These services were held in a one-room village store that had been converted into a church and was known as the Guardian Angel Chapel.
By 1887, the second year depicted in the stained glass, the Great Mills area had outgrown the Guardian Angel Chapel. In the middle of April of that year the cornerstone was laid on land donated by John B. Cecil, and on Sunday, July 3, 1887 the first Holy Face Church was dedicated. The building still stands near Cecil’s Country Store on Indian Bridge Road, although it is now weather-worn and the “lovely belfry” has been removed; it has not been used as a church since 1940.
It has been stated that Holy Face Church is the only church of this name in the United States. Besides the uniqueness of its name, Holy Face is also unique because it was chosen by a woman, Mrs. Maria Wise Hammett Cecil. She was the second wife of William Washington Cecil. “Miss Maria” had great devotion for the Holy Face of Jesus as depicted on Saint Veronica’s veil. In 1880, a picture showing Christ’s Face on Saint Veronica’s veil was sent to “Miss Maria” by Pope Leo XIII, along with the impression of the papal seal. This picture was placed above the altar of the first Holy Face Church in 1887 and remained there until 1940. This picture now hangs in the Baptistry of the current Holy Face Church.
In 1924, the Cecil Family donated land at the top of Great Mills hill which was to become the current home of Holy Face Church. The new church took many years to be constructed and was deferred during the years of the depression. The Reverend Herbert J. Parker, S.J., pastor (1930-1946) was very instrumental in the building of this new structure. At long last, in January 1940, with help from the Maryland Colonial Society – a group of Baltimore ladies who raised over $8,500.00 – new plans for a frame church of modified old English design instead of the stone building first contemplated were drawn by Mr. Lucien E. E. Gaudreau, a Baltimore architect, the President of the Maryland Society of Architects, and the Secretary of the American Institute of Architects, Baltimore Chapter.
The Solemn Dedication of the new Holy Face Church took place on August 15, 1940 with the Right Reverend Monsignor Edward P. McAdams officiating and celebrating the Solemn High Mass.
Since becoming a part of the Archdiocese of Washington, Holy Face Church has undergone many changes and was most recently renovated during the mid 1990s by Reverend John F. Myslinski (1993-1999). Fr. John had a new altar and pulpit constructed by local craftsman and obtained pews from a closing parish in Philadelphia that were more in keeping with the décor of an old English church. With the addition of new carpet and exterior lights, the church continues to be a warm and beautiful place for worship and other parish activities.
This brings us to the final date depicted behind the altar, the year 2000. In the Roman Catholic tradition, a Holy Year, or Jubilee is a great religious event. It is a year of forgiveness of sins and also the punishment due to sin, it is a year of reconciliation between adversaries, of conversion and receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and consequently of solidarity, hope, justice, commitment to serve God with joy and in peace with our brothers and sisters. A Jubilee year is above all the year of Christ, who brings life and grace to humanity.
The Jubilee Year in 2000 happens to have coincided with the year the stained glass was installed behind the altar and up in the choir loft, thus its inclusion with the other three historical years.
More can be found about how Holy Face Parish got its name by visiting: http://www.cathstan.org/main.asp?SectionID=2&SubSectionID=20&ArticleID=2437