History of the Churches
St Michaels Mission Church - 1968
miles southeast of Baltimore, and sixty miles east of Washington,
as the crow flies, lay the town of St. Michaels. This historic
little town is located in Talbot County on Maryland's beautiful
Eastern Shore. Bounded on the north by the Miles River and on
the south by San Domingo Creek, the town boasts a picturesque
harbor, a haven for boats plying the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers
since earliest times.
Michaels was founded in the seventeenth century. Its shipyards
built the swift, sharp-hulled sailing vessel, the Baltimore Clipper,
which not only increased America's world trade but greatly contributed
to victory in the War of 1812, in a night attack during this war,
St. Michaels was shelled by the British naval forces. By the simple
ruse of hanging lanterns in treetops and covering windows with
blankets, enemy cannon fire was misdirected. The town was overshot
and saved from destruction. This blackout is believed to be the
first of its kind in the history of modern warfare.
main industries of the town and its surrounding areas are agriculture
and seafood. With an excellent harbor, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime
Museum and fine restaurants, St. Michaels attracts thousands of
visitors annually. Population increases are due mainly to the
continuing influx of retired people from many areas - principally
Baltimore and Washington.
this quiet, peaceful community religious denominations flourished.
Edward Elliott built the first church in St. Michaels in 1677
on the site of the present Christ Episcopal Church on Talbot Street.
It was named St. Michaels, and around it clustered the town, which
took its name.
came slowly to St. Michaels, and as a sturdy oak, grew from a
very small beginning. Saints Peter and Paul Parish, located in
Easton, serves all of Talbot County, including St. Michaels, and
extends westward to embrace Tilghman Island.
1964 the Catholics of St. Michaels and the adjacent areas held
their first Mass in the loft of the St. Michaels Firehouse. Three
ladies initiated this change: Julie Van Bibber originated the
idea; Margaret Keyes discussed it with the Bishop, stressing the
distance from Tilghman Island to Easton; and Kathleen Turner arranged
for use of the Firehouse though Ray Turner, the Fire Chief. This
Mass was attended by thirteen Catholics - the nucleus around which
grew the ambition to build the chapel.
four years, Mass, celebrated by Monsignor Joseph Irwin and his
assistants, was held weekly in the upstairs room of the old Firehouse.
Without a doubt, this 5:30 p.m. Mass under a tin roof on a humid
summer day was true penance - for priest and parishioners alike.
One parishioner remarked, "It was hotter than the hubs of
membership grew. By early 1965 attendance in the winter months
averaged 70 people and virtually doubled during the summertime.
Finally, a small group of dedicated people decided a chapel in
St. Michaels was necessary - an enormous ambition for so small
interest increased, enthusiasm spread and an ecumenical spirit
developed, from which a beautiful project materialized and flourished.
While thoughts of a Chapel were still in the talking stage, donations
started to arrive. Among the earliest - perhaps the first - was
a gift of $5,000.00 from a non-Catholic friend in memory of his
wife. Mr. Romaine Button recalled that the Maryland-Virginia Realty
Company, developers of Rio Vista community, had offered three
acres on Lincoln Avenue to any denomination willing to build a
church. Mr. Button checked on the availability of the offer. The
option was tenable. Five thousand dollars and three acres! Incredible!
March of 1965 committees were formed and fundraising plans were
drawn up; a bazaar to be held on the Christ Episcopal Church grounds
and a bake sale were planned for July. Announcements in the Star
Democrat publicized the activities, merchants gave their support,
and local people and visitors responded enthusiastically. By August
1965 the total collected exceeded $12,000. While this sum was
far from the total needed, it was enough for Monsignor Irwin to
give his approval to obtain building estimates.
the next three years no fund raising activity was too demeaning
or demanding. Bake sales were held in front of Hudson's Pharmacy.
Jokingly the chapel has been called "the church that cheese
cake built." A booth called St. Michaels Country Kitchen
was sponsored the Artisan's Fair at the Talbot Agricultural Center,
Route 50, north of Easton. Rummage sales were held; 254 books
of Green Stamps were collected and raffled off. Incidentally,
the stamps were won by the Episcopal minister, Rev. Donald F.
Etherton. Many busy hands baked, collected, repaired, polished
John N. Walton, an architect from Riverdale, Maryland, offered
his services to fulfill a promise made earlier in his life. As
a young, striving architect, Mr. Walton had donated his services
to a priest whose church had burned down. His business grew rapidly,
and he promised God that in thanksgiving he would give - gratis
- his time and talent to any mission church in need. Msgr. Irwin
welcomed his gracious offer.
land, the money, the architect, essential components for the chapel
were now available. To allow for possible future expansion Msgr.
Irwin purchased three additional adjoining acres on Lincoln Avenue.
The Building Committee comprised of Mrs. Gretchen Van Bourgondien,
chairman; Mrs. Dorothy Button, secretary-treasurer; Mr. and Mrs.
Gerard Lane and Mrs. Harold Heck. Four contractors submitted bids
on the plans for the chapel.
December 13, 1966, the John J. Raskob Foundation for Catholic
Charities granted $50,000 to the building project. This generous
donation prompted Msgr. Irwin to write on December 30, 1966 to
the Building Committee of the Wilmington Diocese. Following are
We are now, I believe, in a financial position to go ahead with
the project as soon as the necessary approval from the Diocesan
authority is forthcoming. Since the estimated cost of $103,000
was secured over a year ago, and since there seems to be no end
to the increasing costs of construction, we fear that any further
delay will add to our costs and thus our financial problems."
am sure you can understand that our people now feel that their
prayers have been answered; that their once remote dream is now
on the verge of reality
year of 1967 saw two important events. When offered the facilities
of Christ Church, the St. Michaels congregation thankfully moved
its celebration of the Mass from the Firehouse. On December 17,
1967, Alvin Walbridge was awarded the building contract.
Van Bourgondien and Mrs. Button, with Msgr. Irwin's approval,
made multiple decisions, established and maintained schedules,
received money, sought donation, and wrote letters of recognition
and appreciation. Their ambition was expressed in their motto:
"When we open, we'll be debt-free!"
teamwork and astute business management they met this challenge.
The Chapel, at a final cost of $186,000 was debt-free when dedicated.
The Wilmington Diocese made no monetary contribution.
April 24, 1968 Monsignor Irwin and Father John Hynes broke ground
for St. Michael's Chapel and completion was planned for January
April 20, 1969 Thomas Mardaga, Bishop of Wilmington, dedicated
the chapel. Year round the beautiful colonial building provides
a place of worship for several hundred families and hundreds of
summer visitors. It stands as a monument to the vision and enduring
determination of a small group of people who made their dream