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HISTORY OF CATHOLIC EDUCATION

The first presence of Catholic education in Frederick was in 1756 when Father John William, S.J. established a school by Mr. John Cary. Because of the Penal Laws, Catholics were not allowed to practice their religion openly until 1776 when our nation gained its independence. This restriction along with the suppression of the Jesuits from 1773 to 1806, did not deter the Jesuit priests who continued to minister to the Frederick community. Whether the educational endeavors started by Father Williams continued during this period is not known.

In 1792, Father John DuBois was named pastor of the Frederick church (a chapel on the second floor of the priest's residence built by Father Williams and dedicated to St. Stanislaus Koska). On May 15, 1800. Father DuBois laid the cornerstone of the first St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Frederick. Father DuBois left Frederick in 1806 for Emmitsburg where he founded, in 1806, Mount Saint Mary's College and Seminary. In 1809, Elizabeth Ann Seton established the religious order of the Sisters of Charity and a private academy for girls in Emmitsburg. Today, Mother Seton Elementary School continues her tradition of Catholic education for both boys and girls.

In 1822, Father John McElroy was sent to Frederick to assist Father Francis Maleve. Upon Father Maleve's death that same year, Father McElroy began his very noteworthy stay as pastor until 1845. In 1823, it became obvious to Father McElroy that a school was needed in the Frederick community. He negotiated with Mother Seton's Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg and in January 1824 five sisters opened St. John's Female Benevolent and Frederick Free School. Realizing the need for academic education of boys, Father McElroy began a subscription in the spring of 1822 for the building of a school. St. John's Literary Institution began classes in 1829. For a period of about 25 years St. John's College (known by this name throughout the State) was a rival of Georgetown and counted among its graduates Enoch Louis Lowe who was to become the youngest Governor ever elected in Maryland and Admiral Winfield Scott Schley. Roger Brooke Taney was an early Trustee of the school. In 1853 a large expulsion of students occurred. The students could not be adequately monitored. The boarding "College" ceased but St. John's Literary Institute continued as a school for boys in Frederick.

Father McElroy was also instrumental in bringing the Jesuit Novitiate to Frederick in 1834. This institution was present in Frederick until 1902 when the Jesuits left Frederick for St. Andrews-on-the-Hudson in New York. Father McElroy also was responsible for building the present St. John's Church which was completed and consecrated in 1837. Father McElroy left Frederick in 1845 to become the Army's first chaplain in the Mexican American War. In succeeding years Father McElroy founded a free school for black children in Washington, D.C., the first such school South of the Mason-Dixon Line, and founded Boston College where he was elected its first president in 1863. In 1873 he returned to Frederick where he died in 1877, the oldest living Jesuit in the world at that time. It was later written of Father McElroy that "there is hardly a work carried on today by the Catholic Church in this country, of which Father McElroy did not in some way lay the foundation. Yet, no word of his indicated that he considered himself more than a simple priest and an unprofitable servant."

In 1846, the Sisters of Charity found it necessary to withdraw from Frederick. The Visitation Sisters from Georgetown came to Frederick and began the Ladies Academy of Visitation. Presently known as Frederick Academy of the Visitation the sisters continue to operate a boarding and day elementary school for girls (especially Spanish speaking students). Catholic education for boys continued at St. John's Literary Institute by the Jesuits until 1902 when the Jesuits left and the school and church property were turned over to diocesan priests from Baltimore. This education was continued by lay teachers until 1915 when Father William Kane, the diocesan pastor, persuaded the School Sisters of Notre Dame (S.S.N.D.) to staff the school. The old Literary Institute building was about 100 years old and was inadequate to accommodate the boys and girls who now attended St. John's. The old building was torn down and the new St. John's was built on the same site in 1925. This classic school building housed both the elementary and high school until 1958. An eight room addition was added in 1953 to accommodate the rapidly increasing enrollment.

The purchase of the Himes mansion (Prospect Hall) in 1958 provided the parish with 32 acres for the high school and relieved the crowded condition at the Second Street location. This historic mansion, which was built in the early 1800's, along with St. John's Literary Institute, which founded in 1829, is a fitting combination of history and tradition. Additional classrooms were added along with a gymnasium in 1959.

The S.S.N.D.'s announced in 1972 that they would be withdrawing from the high school. St. John's ceased being a parish high school at that time but because of the concern of many parents and friends for continued Catholic secondary education in Frederick, the school continued to operate as a private high school under the charter originally granted to the Jesuits. St. John's Elementary School was located on Second Street in the classic 1925 building and was designated a regional elementary school and the S.S.N.D. left in 1995. The school is now located on Opossumtown Pike and is administered and staffed by lay personnel.

Catholic education in Frederick began and continues today because of the ideals and dedication of strong individuals with a vision. St. John's is more than the name of a parish in Frederick; it has meant Catholic education for thousands of Frederick County residents for over 170 years. The vision of Father McElroy continues through the efforts of the Friends of Catholic Education and schools for new and expanded facilities to meet the ever increasing Catholic school educational needs of Frederick.

Father McElroy was a man of character and determination in any endeavor he undertook. It is also written of Father McElroy that "his was of noble character; massive and grand as some rugged mountain peak; tender and sweet as the last ray of sunlight that lingers upon its summit, sound and prudent in judgment, broad and comprehensive in his views, careful and deliberate in coming to a decision, but swift and untiring in its execution." These same qualities have been evident in Father McElroy's successor Jesuits, diocesan priests, S.S.N.D's, Sons of the Holy Family, and lay men and women that have been involved in Catholic education at St. John's over these many years. With God's help, St. John's will continue under the leadership of those with these same qualities.

St. John's Regional Catholic School, Frederick, MD

St. John's Catholic Prep High School, Frederick, MD

 

 

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St John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church
118 East Second Street, Frederick, MD 21701
Phone: 301.662.8288   Fax: 301.698.1832   Email: parish@stjohn-frederick.org
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