St. Joseph-on-Carrollton Manor and the land surrounding the church are closely tied into the history of Catholicism and Jesuit missionary work in Maryland. Jesuit priests had maintained a presence in the city of Frederick since the mid-1700s. After the American Revolution, the faithful in Maryland were freed of anti-Catholic laws that forbade the presence of their churches outside of private homes. Jesuits took advantage of this new era of religious tolerance to establish new churches and chapels, including St. Joseph-on-Carrollton Manor.
Persecuted in Europe, many Jesuit priests came to America to work among the new nation’s Catholics, and a long list of immigrant clerics worshiped with the faithful at St. Joseph. In 1809, Father Francis Maleve, S.J., a Belgian by birth, replaced the Frenchman Father John DuBois, S.S., in Frederick and worked tirelessly to establish a number of new churches in the county. Father DuBois later founded Mount St. Mary’s College and became the third bishop of New York.
There were a number of tenant-farmer Catholics on Carrollton Manor, a 12,000-acre tract owned by Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.
In 1810, the Catholics on the manor reported to Father Maleve that they were still worried about religious persecution, and while they enjoyed the protection they believed Carroll provided them, they wondered what their fate might be when Carroll passed away. They suggested to Father Maleve that they might have to relocate to Louisiana, the only other area in the United States with a significant Catholic population.
In 1814, Carroll agreed to provide two acres of land for a church on Carrollton Manor, although the deed was not executed until 1819. This land seems to have remained vacant until 1822. In the summer of that year, Carroll’s granddaughter, Mary Patterson, executed a land swap with Father Maleve, giving him the deed to the current church property in exchange for the land her grandfather deeded in 1819. The church was probably built rapidly after that, and Mass was certainly celebrated there by November 1822, if not a month or two earlier. Under Father Maleve’s direction, the first St. Joseph Church was built of limestone. The building was 35 feet by 25 feet and faced east/west with the entrance to the west. Father Maleve may not have lived long enough to see the final results of his handiwork, as he died suddenly in October 1822. Father John McElroy of Ireland, who later founded Boston College, replaced him and served the Frederick area for the next 23 years. In this period, missionary churches such as St. Joseph’s usually had Mass celebrated once each month.
After the Civil War in 1867, another Irishman, Father John B. Gaffney, S.J., oversaw the construction of a new church. The walls of the old church, being in excellent condition, were left standing. The entrance changed to the north and was extended about 30 feet. Construction caused some disagreement as many parishioners wanted the church in the manor woods relocated to a more accessible spot. The Carroll family, however, had decisive influence because Emily Harper, Carroll’s great-granddaughter, made substantial donations for the church remodeling and wanted the church to remain where it was. Completed in June 4, 1871, the church was soon joined by a brick rectory. The original rectory or priest house stood on the opposite of the road from the present rectory.
The Jesuit mission evolved with the growth of the nation, and as millions of Catholics migrated from Europe to the North and Midwest, the Jesuits left their parish duties in Maryland for assignments in the rapidly growing cities of the North. Secular priests took over these duties in Frederick in 1902.
Next to the Carroll family, the Jarboe-Grove family was the church’s most generous benefactor. William Jarboe Grove wrote a history of Carrollton Manor in the 1920s and recalled the religious devotion of his mother in the book’s dedication:
To the memory of my mother, Susanna Jarboe Grove, whose greatest comfort and happiness was kneeling in prayer in Saint Joseph Church in Carrollton Manor surrounded by her children. (1)
Grove also recalled the early 20th century as a period of growth, and one where the church played a significant role in the religious and social lives of its followers, including a very popular annual picnic that drew in visitors from outside the county:
The members of St. Joseph Church, about ten years ago , secured about five acres in the Manor woods … The spot is an ideal one in the midst of virgin forest in Carrollton Manor woods. The annual picnics held here are always grand successes. The management has erected a large daning [dining] pavilion finely equipped and used in every way for the enjoyment of the people who come by the thousands from this and adjoining states. (2)
In the 1930s, Grove made a substantial donation in his will to the church, including money for the beautiful stained glass windows that adorn the church. The church cemetery is also tied into the area’s growth and to the history of Catholic migration to the United States. The oldest headstone coincides with the completion of the first church in 1822 and includes some of the most prominent Catholic families from the county including Thomas, Day, Spalding, Jarboe, Dutrow, and Grove.
The era of railroad and canal building in the United States attracted many poor Catholic laborers from Ireland. This difficult and hazardous work claimed many lives, and some Irish laborers working on the construction of the C&O Canal were buried in the cemetery after they succumbed to a Cholera epidemic in 1832. Father McElroy worked tirelessly among the victims who were stricken along the Potomac River between Point of Rocks and Hagerstown.
For decades, parish offices and functions were housed in the basement of the historic church. In the early 1980s, a portable building was added to the property for offices. This building was removed in 2013 to make room for construction of the new church building.
Since 1994, St. Joseph’s has held its Country Fair every October, attracting hundreds from around the area.
The Parish Center was completed and dedicated by William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, in 1997.
The historic church, often the site of weddings and funerals, is now being rented but is still owned by St. Joseph’s.
In January 2006, the purchase of 11 additional acres of property was completed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore for the parish. In 2013, we continued writing the next chapter in the history of St Joseph-on-Carrollton Manor as we celebrated the groundbreaking and beginning construction of our new church. The church was dedicated on May 4, 2014.
(1,2) Carrollton Manor, Frederick County Maryland, by William Jarboe Grove; March 29, 1921