History of St. John the Evangelist
The Roman Catholic faith was brought to this area in 1634 by Jesuit missionaries. Roman
Catholics were forbidden, by the Crown’s Penal Laws, to build churches or practice their religion openly.
The first worship space in Frederick was established in the spring of 1763. It was in a small brick home on the north side of Second Street, owned by John Carey. When Penal Laws were repealed in 1776, the Roman Catholic community quickly outgrew the small home chapel. In 1789, Pope Pius VI created the first Roman Catholic Diocese in the United States, the Diocese of Baltimore. Fr. John DuBois was named pastor for an area from Frederick, Maryland to Saint Louis, Missouri. The cornerstone for the first St. John’s Church bore the inscription: “The first stone of St. John’s Catholic Church was laid by Rev. John DuBois on the 15th day of May, 1800.” It was unearthed in 1904, in Chapel Alley, and sits in the plaza just to the right of the front doors of the current church.
Rev. John McElroy, S.J., became the pastor of St. John’s in 1822. The existing church building was small, and it had never been completed on the interior; supports had to be put up for the sagging roof. Additionally, the church was too small for the fast growing congregation. The decision was made to use newly acquired ground to build the church. Work began in 1833 on what was to be the largest parish church in the United States at that time. On April 26, 1837, St. John the Evangelist became the first consecrated Catholic Church in the Diocese of Baltimore.
The style of St. John’s church is Grecian ionic, and the floor plan is that of a simple Latin cross, 104 feet long by 94 feet wide. The church originally had a copper roof which used more than 13,237 lbs of copper, but it was eventually replaced because of incessant leaking. On the outside of the building, above the doorway, is an 11-foot statue of St. John the Evangelist. To his left is an Eagle, the symbol of St. John. On each side of St John and the eagle are angels holding tablets inscribed with “in principio erat verbum” (in the beginning was the Word) and “et verbum caro factum est” (and the Word became flesh), the prologue of the Gospel of John. The Ascension painting by Baraldi in the center of the ceiling is not in the original church. It was completed for the 75th anniversary of the church’s consecration in 1912. The 17-foot-high windows are each topped with the bust of St. John created by Mr. Pettrick. The high altar was designed by Mr. Bevan and Mr. Baughman of Baltimore and is made of Egyptian and Italian marble. The top piece of the tabernacle was a later addition. It came to the United States on speculation and originally held a small statue of Benjamin Franklin. It was the perfect addition to the existing tabernacle once the image of Franklin was replaced by one of the Crucified Christ.
The Stations of the Cross were given to Fr. McElroy by Rt. Rev. Bishop Byrne of Little Rock in 1845. The painting of the Crucifixion, by Pietro Gugliardi, was hung in 1843. Rev. Fr. Prov. Dzierozinski paid $240 for the painting and gave it to the parish.
In 1857, the five story high square bell tower, approximately five stories high, was
completed. It is surmounted by three one-story telescoping sections and topped by a gold dome and cross, reaching a height of 145 feet. While the bells originally rang every hour, they now only ring the Angelus three times a day and summon worshipers to the celebration of Mass. The tower makes Saint John’s Church the tallest spire in the city.
Today, St. John’s serves over 4,100 families. Mass is offered in English every morning, along with weekend Masses on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Masses are also celebrated in Spanish on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. More than 30 diverse ministry groups serve not only the Catholic population but also the people of the greater Frederick area. If you would like more information about St John the Evangelist or the Catholic Church, please contact the parish office.