Happy Birthday: Celebrating 75 years with the Archdiocese of Washington (1939-2014)

Happy 75th Birthday to the Archdiocese of Washington!!

This week marks a very special chapter in American Church History:

Seventy-five years ago, Pope Pius XII established the Archdiocese of Washington in a papal bull dated July 22, 1939. He decreed that the city of Washington be “adorned with the splendor of an archiepiscopal throne,” thus separating Washington, D.C. from the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The Papal Bull establishing the Archdiocese of Washington (Photo: Cardinal Wuerl’s Blog)

Fun Fact:

The Archdiocese of Washington is comprised of the District of Columbia and the following Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Saint Mary’s.

At first, these two archdioceses were under the spiritual leadership of one archbishop. When Michael J. Curley (1879–1947) was named the first Archbishop of Washington (1939), he had been serving as the tenth Archbishop of Baltimore since 1921. Highly popular, Archbishop Curley was much loved by the people of Baltimore.  The November 30, 1921 edition of “The Washington Post”  reported about the joy which met him from the very first day as an Archbishop:

“Archbishop Michael J. Curley arrived in Baltimore today for his installation in the cathedral tomorrow. He was given one of the greatest welcomes ever tendered a new citizen of Baltimore, the greeting being marked by the largest gathering of Catholics in this city since the funeral of Cardinal Gibbons, just eight months ago today.”

Fun Fact:

Archbishop Curley had been the youngest American bishop when he was first raised to the episcopate in 1914 at the age of 34. He spent seven years as the fourth Bishop of St. Augustine (1914-1921) before moving north to Baltimore.

Bishop Curley in his Florida days (Photo: Archdiocese of Baltimore Archives)

His episcopal motto: “Quis ut Deus?” (Who is like unto God?)

Eighteen years later when the Archdiocese of Washington was created, Archbishop Curley served as both the Archbishop of Baltimore and the Archbishop of Washington from 1939 until his death. He was the only U.S. bishop to lead two Archdioceses at one time.

Archbishop Michael J. Curley: Photo: Archdiocese of Baltimore

Sadly, Archbishop Curley’s last years were filled with the challenges of extended illness, as well as failing eyesight and subsequent blindness. He died at age 66 in 1947 and was laid to rest in the crypt under the main altar of Baltimore’s Basilica of the Assumption.

Separate archbishops for Baltimore and Washington in 1947:

The separation of the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington was final in 1947 when two separate archbishops were appointed after the death of Archbishop Curley: Francis Patrick Keough † (1889-1961; Archbishop of Baltimore from 1947-1961) and Patrick Aloysius O’Boyle † (1896-1987; Archbishop of Washington from 1947-1973).

Assembly 386 of the Knights of Columbus was instituted in December of 1962, and organized as the “Archbishop Patrick A. O’Boyle General Assembly.” Archbishop O’Boyle was given honorary membership.
Knights of Columbus Assembly 386

The other shepherds of Archdiocese of Washington:

Four other archbishops followed after the spiritual leadership of Archbishop O’Boyle:

1. Cardinal William Wakefield Baum (born William Wakefield White in 1926; later adopted and renamed Baum in early childhood by his widowed mother and Jewish step-father; Archbishop from 1973-1980).

After finishing his service to the Archdiocese of Washington in 1980, Cardinal Baum moved to Rome to serve as Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education (1980–1990), followed by eleven years at the Major Penitentiary (1990–2001). Elevated in 1976 to the College of Cardinals, he continues to be the longest-serving American cardinal in history (38 years).

Bishop Robert W. Finn, of Cardinal Baum’s home diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, greets the Cardinal after the Jubilee Mass in Washington, D.C., May 12, 2011 (Photo: Mark Zimmermann, editor, The Catholic Standard)

2. Cardinal James Aloysius Hickey † (1920-2004; Archbishop from 1980-2000)

Cardinal Hickey greeting the children at the new Cardinal Hickey Academy in Owings, named in his honor. At the school, he was affectionately known as the “grandfather of the academy.” (1997 Photo: Catholic Standard

3. Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (born 1930; Archbishop 2000-2006)

Before the 2005 conclave which elected Pope Benedict XVI:

 Washington’s Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (far right) gathers with the U.S. Cardinals: From left: Cardinals Justin Francis Rigali (Philadelphia), Adam Joseph Maida (Detroit), Roger Michael Mahony (Los Angeles, who was keeping track of their schedule), Francis Eugene George (Chicago), and Baltimore’s William Henry Keeler at the North American College in Rome, Sunday, April 17, 2005. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)


President George W. Bush and his wife Laura hosted a dinner at the White House in honor of outgoing Archbishop of Washington McCarrick (left), the incoming Archbishop of Washington Donald Wuerl, (right), and Papal Nuncio Pietro Sambi on July 8, 2006.
 (White House photo by Kimberlee Hewitt

4. Cardinal Donald William Wuerl (born 1940; Archbishop 2006 to present)

Enjoy Cardinal Wuerl’s May 16, 2014 blog here where he reflects on the richness of the gifts of the previous archbishops of Washington.

Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, talking with Chief Justice John Roberts in 2010
(Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Fr. David Beabien, pastor of St. Aloysius Church of Leonardtown, welcomes Cardinal Wuerl and the crowd of pilgrims who marked this special anniversary together. (Facebook photo: St. Aloysius Church)

In honor of the 75th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl celebrated Mass on June 29, 2014 on St. Clement’s Island, the location of the first Catholic Mass in the New World. That historic Mass was celebrated by Jesuit Father Andrew White on March 25, 1634, when the Ark and the Dove landed in Maryland.

“The first Mass on St. Clement’s Island in 1634 marked the beginning in this land of an unbroken line of continuity in faith, celebration and service that goes back 2,000 years. Today, this legacy is manifest in so many ways today in the Archdiocese of Washington through its parishes, missions, schools and social service agencies. This diamond jubilee presents an occasion to acknowledge and thank those who have generously given their time, talent and treasure to our family of faith, as well as to our sisters and brothers whom we are called to serve in the greater community.”

–Cardinal Wuerl on June 29, 2014 at St. Clement’s Island

Coming soon: Pilgrimage sites in the Archdiocese of Washington:

Summer is the perfect time for travel and sight-seeing. There are many great places of Catholic interest in the Archdiocese of Washington. Next week I will be sharing travel tips on a number of those churches and shrines.

Watch for this special pilgrim travel blog in “God is in the Clouds.”

Three Cardinal-Archbishops who served the Church of Washington:
 From left: Cardinal James A. Hickey †, Cardinal William W. Baum, and Cardinal Patrick A. O’Boyle †
(Photo: Circa 1980)


Happy Anniversary and many blessings to Cardinal Wuerl and the people of the Archdiocese of Washington:
Ad multos annos!!

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.