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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Washington, District of Columbia

The capital of the United States

Click to enlarge

Washington, District of Columbia, the capital of the United States, is situated on the left bank of the Potomac River, 108 miles from its mouth in Chesapeake Bay: latitude (Capitol), N. 380 53′; longitude, W. 770. The original district (10 miles sq.) was reduced by the retrocession of Alexandria County to Virginia, in 1846, to the present approximate land area of 60 sq. miles. The population, according to census of 1910, was 331,069, and was classified as wholly urban: the county organization (Washington County, D.C.) was abolished in 1874, and the city of Washington is now coextensive with the District of Columbia. The larger part of the district is built up, and, because of its predominant urban character, whatever farm land exists possesses its chief value as a potential residence property.

The Continental Congress had held its sessions in different places, principally at Philadelphia, and there was no permanent seat of the general government until after the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. The following provision, enumerating the powers of Congress (Sec. 8, Art. I), was included in that instrument: “To exercise exclusive jurisdiction over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of Government of the United States”. Various places were proposed, and much warmth of feeling and sectional jealousy were elicited in the debates on the resolutions and bills introduced before Congress on the subject: the States of Maryland and Virginia, in 1788 and 1789, had offered the requisite area, and the “acceptance of Congress”, under Acts of July 16, 1790, and March 31, 1791, constituted the District of Columbia the seat of the national government. The territory thus selected was determined as to its exact location and boundaries by George Washington: it included within its limits the flourishing boroughs of Georgetown, Montgomery County (Maryland), and Alexandria (Virginia); the rest of the territory was rural. The president was also authorized to appoint three commissioners to layout and survey a portion of the District for a federal city, to acquire the land, and to provide buildings for the residence of the president, the accommodation of Congress, and the use of the government departments. One of the commissioners thus appointed was Daniel Carroll “of Duddington”, of the family of Bishop John Carroll, and one of the principal landed proprietors of the District; Major Charles Pierre L’Enfant, a French Catholic, was employed to furnish a plan of the city, and to him the credit of its magnificent design is mainly due; James Hoban, a Catholic, won by competition the prize offered for a plan of the president’s house, and the “White House” is constructed in accordance with his design. The cornerstone was laid (October 13, 1792) by President Washington, who also officiated at the laying of the cornerstone of the north wing of the Capitol (September 18, 1793): the site which the Capitol occupies was part of the land of Daniel Carroll, and was practically a gift from him to the United States. In 1800 President Adams came to the city, the transfer of the departments from Philadelphia was effected, and Washington became the permanent capital of the United States.

The first local authorities of Washington were the president, three commissioners appointed by him, and the Levy Court; the city was incorporated in 1802, with a city council elected by the people, and a mayor appointed by the president. Robert Brent, a Catholic and nephew of Bishop Carroll, was the first mayor, and was annually reappointed by Presidents Jefferson and Madison until 1812; in 1812 the duty of electing the mayor devolved on the council, and from 1820 to 1871 on the people. In 1871 the charters of the corporations of Washington and Georgetown were abolished by Act of Congress; for a brief time the District was assimilated to a territorial form of government, with a board of public works as the most important administrative factor. Since 1878 it has been governed by a board of three commissioners appointed by the president, with the approval of the senate. The District of Columbia is neither a state nor a territory, but a municipal corporation, holding the same relation to the government of the United States that other municipal corporations do to their own state governments. It has no share in the election of president, nor any district representation in Congress: its inhabitants have no voice in national legislation, and, since 1874, not even any part in local self-government, except by favor of Congress.

Father Andrew White, S.J., “the Apostle of Maryland“, was the first priest to visit this region: in 1639 he established a mission at Kittamaquund, a few miles below Washington, and, with solemn ceremony, baptized the tayac, or “Emperor of Piscataway”. He also carried the Gospel still nearer to Washington. The “Annual Letter” for 1641 mentions that the King of the Anacostans was a most promising candidate for baptism. The tribe, from which the Anacostia River (eastern branch) is named, dwelt in the immediate neighborhood, and on the site of the national capital: so that the history of Catholicism in the District is traced back to the earliest days of Lord Baltimore’s Colony. As settlements advanced up the country from lower Maryland, a fair proportion of those who acquired land in what is now the District were Catholics. In 1669 “a parcell of land… called Rome… was layd out for Francis Pope extending to the south of an inlet called Tiber”: this gentleman, “Pope of Rome on the Tiber”, was sheriff of Charles County, and, in all probability, a Catholic. The well-known families of Carroll, Digges, Queen, and Young were the possessors of extensive landed estates before the American Revolution. There was no church in the region during the early decades of the eighteenth century, as the public exercise of Catholic worship was prohibited by the laws of Maryland: the faithful depended for spiritual aid on the Jesuit Fathers from White Marsh, Prince George’s County, or St. Thomas’ Manor, Charles County. Stations were visited and Mass was celebrated in private houses, a room being set aside for the purpose, the neighbors being invited. An interesting collection of vestments, altar furnishings, chalices etc., relics of those stations and memorials of the old Jesuit missions, is preserved in the museum of Georgetown College. The independence of the United States ensured religious liberty, and a new era for the Catholic Faith began in Maryland. Father John Carroll, having returned to America in 1774, resided at Rock Creek, from which he made missionary excursions to all the neighboring region, including what is now the District. In 1784, he was appointed superior of the American Church, and his consecration at Lulworth Castle, England, in 1790, to the See of Baltimore coincided with the selection of Washington as the seat of government. The District of Columbia has always been included in the Diocese of Baltimore. In 1789 Bishop Carroll had already taken steps for the establishment of Georgetown College, where, on May 4, 1912, a bronze statue to his memory as founder was erected by the Alumni Association, with imposing ceremonies and addresses by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the rector of the university, the attorney-general representing the president, Cardinal Gibbons, the Ambassador of Austria-Hungary, dean of the Diplomatic Corps, and the speaker of the House of Representatives.

The oldest Catholic Church in the District is Holy Trinity, Georgetown: the original edifice, erected by Father Francis Neale, S.J., is still standing, but is now used as a parochial school. The register of baptisms and marriages, beginning with 1795, has entries of people “living in the Federal City”, even after the name of Washington had been officially adopted. The present Trinity Church dates from 1844. St. Patrick’s is the parent church of Washington city proper, the land for it having been acquired in 1794 by Father Anthony Caffry; the first church was a one-and-a-half-story frame house. St. Mary’s, or Barry’s Chapel as it was generally called, was built by a merchant of that name, in 1806, for the accommodation of the workmen at Greenleaf’s Point, near the Navy Yard; this chapel disappeared long ago, but its cornerstone was saved, and is now inserted in the outer wall of the Holy Name Chapel, the Church of St. Dominic. Queen’s Chapel, in the northeast section, existed in 1816, and perhaps earlier, but was destroyed during the Civil War. In 1805 Father William Matthews became the second pastor of St. Patrick’s, and continued in that position for nearly half a century; he was the first native-born American to be raised to the priesthood in the United States. Among his assistants was Father Charles Constantine Pise, chaplain of the United States Senate, 1832-1833, and among his parishioners were: Roger Brooke Taney, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; Major L’Enfant, who drew the plan of the city; James Hoban, the architect of the White House; Robert Brent, the first mayor of Washington; Dr. Ironside, a distinguished convert; and Mayor Thomas Carbery, a brother of Mrs. Ann Mattingly, whose wonderful cure in 1824 was held to be miraculous, Father Matthews being one of the witnesses in the case. The original Catholic inhabitants were mainly Maryland planters, of English descent, and their colored servants; accessions came from other sources, Irish, German, French, when artisans were required for the construction of public buildings, but the absence of large commercial and industrial activities was a drawback to rapid increase in the general population and foreign immigration, which has contributed so notably to swell the Catholic statistics of northern and western cities, has had but little effect on Washington.

St. Peter’s and St. Matthew’s were the first divisions of St. Patrick’s, the original parish, which embraced the whole federal district, Georgetown excepted. There are now (1912) twenty-four churches, two of which (St. Augustine’s and St. Cyprian’s) are for the exclusive use of colored people. All the congregations are English-speaking, except St. Mary’s, which is German. St. Aloysius’ and Holy Trinity are in charge of the Jesuit Fathers and St. Dominic’s in charge of the Fathers of St. Dominic. The Apostolic Delegation for the United States was established in 1893, and the successive delegates, Cardinals Satolli, Martinelli, and Falconio, and Archbishop Bonzano, have resided in Washington. The religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution has been always fully enjoyed; the many representatives of Catholic countries in the Diplomatic Corps and the Catholics prominent in Congress and in the departments are factors for social influence and a restraint upon illiberal legislation. All churches, institutions of public charity, school houses, and cemeteries are exempt from taxation upon all their property not used for business purposes or to secure an income. Subventions, or appropriations to a limited amount, are granted to some of the Catholic charitable institutions. Catholic funeral services have been held in the Capitol occasionally for foreign ministers and members of either house, and Catholic chaplains have officiated in the halls of Congress: a Catholic priest, Father Gabriel Richard, of Detroit, was a delegate from Michigan territory to the House of Representatives. The local sentiment towards the Church has been, in general, one of good-will. When, during the Knownothing craze, a band of bigots secretly took away the memorial slab contributed by Pius IX to the Washington Monument, which was then being built, the better sentiment of the community condemned that act of vandalism: within the shadow of that same completed monument a solemn field Mass was celebrated in 1911, thousands attending it, and amongst them the chief magistrate of the republic. The grandest civic celebration which the capital has witnessed was that of the Columbus Memorial, June 8, 1912, when, under the auspices of the Catholic Knights of Columbus, a superb monument was dedicated in honor of the Catholic discoverer of America.

George Washington cherished the hope that the capital would become the home of a great national seat of learning. Although that hope has not yet been realized, in the sense of a university endowed by the Government and under governmental control and patronage, yet Washington is well supplied with institutions for higher education, offers extraordinary advantages for scientific and literary labor and research, and possesses an unparalleled educational equipment in the great scientific collections and libraries of the Government. By authority of Congress, all such facilities for research and information are made accessible to students of institutions of higher learning in the District. This provision applies to the Library of Congress, the National Museum, the Patent Office, the Bureau of Education, the Bureau of Ethnology, the Army Medical Museum, the Department of Agriculture, the Fish Commission, the Botanical Gardens, the Coast and Geodetic Survey, the Geological Survey, the Naval Observatory, several hospitals and other departments supplied with special libraries, laboratories, and equipment for research. The Library of Congress contains 1,100,000 volumes; Surgeon-General’s Office, 140,639; National Museum, 16,000; Museum of Hygiene, 10,500; Bureau of Ethnology, 5000; Bureau of Education, 30,000; Department of Agriculture, 25,000. The Law Library of the United States Capitol contains over 100,000 volumes, and is free to students seven hours daily. Washington presents advantages for the study of American jurisprudence which are unequalled elsewhere, and must always remain so. Congress, the Court of Claims, the Supreme Court of the United States, and the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia are in session during several months of each scholastic year, and, with the executive departments, the Patent, Pension, and General Land Offices, furnish advantages for professional study nowhere else enjoyed. There are six law and three medical schools in the city.

Georgetown University (q.v.), founded in 1789, and the Catholic University of America (q.v.), canonically instituted by Pope Leo XIII in 1887, offer in their various departments numerous courses in the arts and sciences to men who desire a complete general and liberal education, or who aim at a professional career. The Catholic University has 52 professors, and schools of the sacred sciences, of law, of philosophy, of letters, and sciences. It has affiliated colleges and communities of the Dominican and Franciscan Orders, of the Sulpician, Paulist, Marist, and Holy Cross Congregations, and a Polish house of studies. Georgetown University, beside the collegiate department, includes schools of law medicine, and dentistry; attached to the medical school is a hospital, in charge of the Sisters of St. Francis, with a training school for nurses; the law school has (1911-1912) 959 students, the largest registration of any law school in the United States. The total number of students in the university is 1445. For female education, the Academy of the Visitation, Georgetown, and Trinity College, Brookland, are institutions of high standing. A summer school, under the auspices of the Catholic University, was successfully inaugurated in 1911, for the members of Catholic teaching orders of women. Besides these are: Gonzaga College, directed by the Jesuits; St. John’s College, by the Christian Brothers; the Visitation Academy of Washington; the Immaculata Academy of the Sisters of Providence; academies and high schools, directed by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, Sisters of Charity, Sisters of Notre-Dame, Sisters of the Third Order of St. Dominic, and the Oblate Sisters of Providence (for colored children). Over 4000 pupils attend the parochial schools.

The eleemosynary and benefit institutions include St. Ann’s Infant Asylum, an orphan asylum for little boys, another for girls, St. Rose’s Technical School, and Providence Hospital (all in care of the Sisters of Charity). The Sisters of Mercy conduct a home for self-supporting girls. The houses of the Good Shepherd, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Bon Secours provide for their special objects of care and charity. Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul exist in nearly all parishes. The Christ Child Society, having for its object to provide for all the needs of child life among the destitute, has its headquarters in Washington, with branches in several other cities; the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions has its office here; the Apostolic Mission House was established in 1902 near the Catholic University. It is difficult to determine the exact number of Catholics in Washington, but it has been estimated to be 30 per cent of the entire population.


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