It’s 1741 in the Americas, 24 years before the British will have “trouble with colonies,” and in the English province of Maryland there are severely anti-Catholic laws prohibiting all manner of worship and rights—including the right to a public chapel. But it allowed for a private one, and the Jesuits created such a private chapel that still stands today in Bowie, Maryland, and is now called the Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
The Jesuits of the Mission of St. Francis Borgia inherited a piece of land called Carrollsburg from James Carroll in 1729. They renamed it White Marsh Plantation and had a residence there including the chapel and it became known as a worshiping community.
As an early Catholic Mission of the Jesuits in the English colonies, it was the center for Catholicism in Prince George’s County. The fathers who resided there were missionaries, traveling the county and surrounding areas like Annapolis and Baltimore, even areas of modern-day D.C.
The church also contains a cemetery going back just as far, while its first burial on record is from the early 1800s. The parish and community began an effort this past Martin Luther King Jr. Day to identify gravesites there of enslaved African Americans. Community members, assisted by students from the Catholic University of America, went through grounds, searching brush and removing overgrowth to find grave markers lost to the wilderness. The church plans to contact the families of those identified in the graveyard to determine the best way to honor those buried there.
Today, a new Church of the Sacred Heart stands in this community, dedicated on October 26, 1969. It was the most fervent hope of the church’s late Pastor Monsignor John F. Hogan that awareness of the rich heritage entrusted to them would kindle in their hearts a deep determination to keep the Catholic faith alive and dynamic and to pass it on to future generations.