Passionist-Irvington, Maryland Infancy Narratives November 30, 2003: First Sunday of Advent

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by Father Rob Carbonneau, C.P., Ph.D.
Historian/Director-Passionist Historical Archives

Every Advent, the Gospel infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke recall the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas is a holy time because we have the opportunity to allow Jesus’ past history to enter our every day life. Frequently, we find ourselves involved in this sacred story when we share family memories, traditions, sorrows, and hopes.

Have we ever given thought that St. Joseph’s Monastery Church parish is part of Passionist-Irvington, Maryland infancy narrative? This is more than a trip down memory lane. Advent 2003 offers us the ability to remember how our Irvington neighborhood came to life. Over the next four weeks let us recall our past. Everyone we see on Frederick Road is a present day participant in this sacred life story. Continued rebirth of a neighborhood must instill reverence of the past.

First let us look back at the Passionists’ arrival in Baltimore. Many years ago I learned that there were two documents in the Archdiocese of Baltimore archives that explain the beginnings. The first document told of the Passionists’ 1866 acceptance to work in the Archdiocese of Baltimore:

“At the kind request of his Grace the most Rev. Martin J. Spalding D.D., Archbishop of Baltimore, I do thankfully accept the invitation of establishing a Monastery of our Order in the Archdiocese, and I do agree, according to the wishes of his Grace, to keep the Parish Church of St. Agnes near Catonsville, attending to the spiritual wants of both English and German Catholic population of the said parish, and moreover I do promise to be willing to oblige his Grace, whenever requested, to tenure our services in behalf of the Convent of Mount Sales.”

It was signed on February 2, 1866 by Father John Dominic Tarlattini, Provincial of the Passionist Fathers in the U.S. of America. Later in the year another document was signed. This was called the Supplemental Agreement between Superior of the Passionists and the Archbishop of Baltimore, September 12, 1866. It read as follows:

“The Superior, or Visitor nomine.Resmi… General of the Passionists, having hereby agreed to locate the Congregation permanently in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and besides, the obligation, already assumed by the Provincial of the Passionists, V. Rev. John Tarlattini, February 2, 1866, having promised to furnish from the Fathers, a Chaplain for Mt. St. Mary’s Industrial School, and the Xaverian Brothers, the Archbishop of Baltimore permit the said Congregation to erect a residence and novitiate, also a parochial church on any lot the said Visitor may select in the vicinity of Carrolton, and beyond that village, reserving to himself the right to fix the boundaries of said parish.

“The Archbishop will permit the Fathers, to sollicit [sic] contributions, for building the said residence and Church, but it is hereby provided for, that beyond this they are not to make general collections among the people for their support, though they will have the privilege as in England to collect once a year from annual Subscribers.”

It was signed by Passionist Ignatius Paoli, General Visitor for the Passionist Congregation.

What might these documents make us think about? On the one hand we might think about how long the Passionist priests and brothers have been in the Baltimore Archdiocese. We might also recognize familiar names. We read about the village of Catonsville and St. Agnes parish. Right from the start they were asked to get involved with the Xaverian Brothers and St. Mary’s Industrial School as well as the convent located at Mount de Sales. Furthermore plans were grand. There were immediate hopes to build a monastery. This in turn meant permission to raise monies.

Still we wonder about cultural adjustment. Part of this Passionist infancy narrative is to recall that the Passionists came from an Italian tradition. Their members had been in the United States since 1852. By 1866 they had established monasteries in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1852), Dunkirk, New York (1860), West Hoboken [later known as Union City], New Jersey (1861). They also had a short-lived experience (1864) to establish a mission in the mining town of Virginia City, the Nevada territory.

Were all these previous ventures going to have an impact on how these Passionist priests and brothers plan to bring the Gospel to the English and German Catholics? Does English mean Irish in this case? Also, the long history of the Oblate Sisters of Providence in the Archdiocese is a reminder of the rich legacy of Black Catholics. Notably absent is any reference to Black Catholics.

All these points provide us the opportunity to use our imagination, make some observations, and ask a variety of questions. We might notice that the documents do not mention Irvington The Passionists arrived before Irvington came into being. Local signs in the area put the date to be 1874. This historical sketch might make us wonder what the Frederick Road area was like in the nineteenth century? That is the subject of next week’s essay.

If you wish to find out more about the history of the Passionists please consult

Please contact Fr. Rob Carbonneau, C.P. at [email protected] if you have any comments.

Permission of Archives needed for publication.