Old St. Mary’s Church, the first cathedral of the Diocese of Philadelphia, celebrates the 250th anniversary of the parish this year.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput and Msgr. Paul A. DiGirolamo, pastor, will conclude the anniversary year by celebrating Mass at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 26 at the church located at 252 South 4th Street in Philadelphia.
Following Mass a procession led by the Philadelphia Emerald League Pipe Band and the University of Pennsylvania Naval ROTC Honor Guard will walk from the front of the church to the Commodore John Barry Plaque and continue to the graveside of Commodore Barry behind the church, where a wreath will be laid.
A reception with refreshments in the church basement will follow the cemetery ceremony.
Organizations represented at the 250th anniversary celebration will include the Irish Societies from the Commodore Barry Club of Philadelphia, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Commodore Barry Club of Brooklyn, the American Catholic Historical Society and the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.
Old St. Mary’s Church was originally established in 1763 as “Mission No. 1” of Old St. Joseph’s Church, becoming the second Roman Catholic Church in Philadelphia.
The church was the site of the first public religious commemoration of the Declaration of Independence. Members of the Continental Congress officially attended services at Old St. Mary’s Church four times from 1777 to 1781.
The church was the first cathedral for the Diocese of Philadelphia from 1810 to 1838. Many prominent Philadelphians worshiped and are buried at Old St. Mary’s Church including: Commodore John Barry, a hero of the American Revolution and the father of the American Navy; Thomas Fitzsimons, a signer of the Constitution, member of the Continental Congress and a founding member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick; General Stephen Moylan, George Washington’s aide-de-camp and the founding president of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick; Mathew Carey, one of early America’s most important publishers of works including the first American version of the Douay-Rheims Bible; George Meade, prominent merchant and great-grandfather of General George Gordon Meade of Civil War fame; and Michael Bouvier, great-great-grandfather of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
After the 1820s, when Old St. Mary’s Church was known as the largest and richest congregation in the United States, it reverted to the status of a parish church.