Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
E-mail this article
Print this Article

By the way, the byway
The Religious Freedom National Scenic Byway commemorates how Maryland paved the way for religious freedom in the United States.
“The language of the First Amendment can be traced to the [1649] Act of Toleration. It was one of the first legislative attempts in the world to establish religious freedom during a time of [religious] intoleration in Europe,” said Jennifer Pitts, the byway’s manager.
The byway also highlights the natural and scenic landscape that the European colonists traversed during Maryland’s early history, Pitts said.
Designated as a National Scenic Byway on Oct. 16, 2009, the byway traverses St. Mary’s and Charles counties, reaching from Point Lookout in Scotland to Douglas Point in Nanjemoy. Many historical churches are on this byway, including St. Ignatius Church in Port Tobacco. The National Scenic Byway website lists 18 historical sites on the byway:
ź Chiles Homesite, Douglas Point, Nanjemoy
ź Christ Episcopal Church, Chaptico
ź Friendship Farm Park, Nanjemoy
ź Leonardtown
ź La Plata
ź Mount Carmel Monastery, La Plata
ź Nanjemoy Loop
ź Old Durham Church, Nanjemoy
ź Piney Point Lighthouse and Museum, Piney Point
ź Point Lookout State Park, Scotland
ź Port Tobacco
ź Smallwood Retreat House, Smallwood State Park, Marbury
ź St. Clement’s Island Museum, Colton’s Point
ź St. George Island
ź St. Ignatius Church, Port Tobacco
ź St. Ignatius Church, St. Inigoes
ź Thomas Stone National Historic Site, Port Tobacco
For more information on the Religious Freedom National Scenic Byway, go to, or contact Pitts at 301-274-1922 or

When the first European Colonists arrived on Maryland’s shores, they brought their faith with them, and quickly established parishes and the buildings to nurture them in.

The oldest churches, mostly Episcopalian and Roman Catholic congregations, have stories of Jesuit priests ministering to Native Americans, members who served in the Revolutionary War and a rector who doubled as a naturalist.

St. Ignatius oversees Maryland history

Overlooking the Port Tobacco and Potomac rivers, St. Ignatius Church has seen almost the entire history of Maryland.

Roman Catholic priest the Rev. Andrew White first ministered to Native American populations in the region in 1641, establishing the Jesuit parish then.

White, who came over on the Ark and the Dove with the first Europeans to settle in Maryland, stayed in the first Maryland colony for about five years before branching out to minister to the Native American tribes in the region, said Angela Hume, the church’s director of religious education.

White managed to convert several Native Americans, including the Piscataway tribal leader Kittamaquund, Hume said. White also served as St. Ignatius Church’s first pastor.

The church building dates to 1798; it is noted in a Latin inscription outside the church that John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the United States, blessed the church and dedicated it on Aug. 7, 1798.

The parish is the oldest continuously operating Roman Catholic parish in the United States. The church is also called St. Thomas Manor because the property used to be a 4,000-acre plantation, Hume said. Now, the church property consists of approximately 31 acres.

From St. Ignatius Church’s beginning to 1692, the church could operate in freedom because Maryland had tolerance for Roman Catholics, as opposed to other Colonies at the time. Maryland’s Act of Toleration in 1649 officially promoted tolerance among different Christian faiths and provided protections from hate speech, according to the Maryland State Archives.

However, Maryland enacted The Act of Establishment in 1692 that made the Anglican Church the forefather of todays American Episcopal Church the state church. Catholic churches could not practice their faith publicly. During that time, the church was publicly shuttered, but Jesuit priests in the manor house continued to minister in the area.

After the establishment of the U.S. Constitution and religious freedom throughout the United States, the church continued to operate.

The church has several markers of its Jesuit heritage and tradition, including displays of the letters I, H and S, which are the first three letters of Jesus’ name in New Testament Greek.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, for whom the church is named, founded the Jesuit order, also known as the Society of Jesus, along with six others during the 16th century.

The Jesuits take vows of poverty, chastity, obedience to God and obedience to the pope in its mission, according to the Society of Jesus’ official website.

The letters A, M, D and G also are displayed in several parts of St. Ignatius Church, reflecting the Jesuit motto “ad majorem Dei gloriam,” meaning “to the greater glory of God.” A plaque in the back of the church indicates that in 1805, the church hosted the ordination of the first three Jesuit priests to be ordained in the United States.

The Rev. Edward Dougherty, St. Ignatius’ pastor, said the plaque recognizes the church’s link to Jesuit ministry in the United States.

St. Ignatius has history reflected in its kneelers, used by parishioners who kneel for prayers. One kneeler depicts White baptizing Kittamaquund. On another kneeler, St. Ignatius of Loyola is depicted along with the IHS and AMDG symbols. Other kneelers depict the history of Maryland and education from the one-room schoolhouse to Georgetown University, the first Jesuit university in the country; one kneeler was made by children.

The kneelers were put in for the 200th anniversary of the church building in 1998.

The interior of the building is newer, as a fire destroyed the interior in 1866, Hume said.

During the Civil War, the Union Army had troops stationed near the property, Hume said. The Union soldiers apparently thought it was easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission to use the cemetery as a practice firing range. Although the soldiers practiced firing at gravestones and took provisions from the manor, records do not show that the soldiers used the manor house, Hume said.

The church sued the U.S. government for damages after the war and received $3,000 as a settlement, Hume said.

A hidden tunnel also extends from a little white building, where the manor kitchen used to be, to the Port Tobacco River, but the tunnel is closed now.

Dougherty said despite its history, the church is comprised of people, not a building.

“I like being connected to the roots of things, but it’s the living people that are more important. Some of our parishioners are descendants from the 17th century, but our church is not a museum. It’s a living place,” Dougherty said.

Away and back again to St. Andrew’s

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Leonardtown dates back to 1744, when the state legislature established the parish from two adjoining parishes.

The church, however, did not officially come together until 1753 because the existing rectors of the parish had to resign or die before the parish could be established, due to Anglican Church laws, according to a church history history, “Creation of a Parish — Time Capsule of an Era” by Win Everett, a church member.

The church building was erected in 1767 with two towers, each containing a staircase that indentured servants and slaves used because they were not allowed to sit in the regular pews. Indentured servants could enter the front of the church but had to ascend the right tower to sit in a balcony. Slaves were not allowed to enter the front of the church at all, instead entering the left tower from the outside, said the Rev. Beverly Weatherly, the church’s rector.

The church’s exterior has Georgian-style architecture, according to the Maryland Historical Trust’s Inventory of Historic Properties. The style emphasizes symmetry and decoration above its windows.

The interior has been restored to reflect the original paint scheme and includes an altar piece with the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Apostle’s Creed displayed.

The Maryland Historical Trust’s IHP indicates that John Freich painted the altar piece, called a reredos, in 1771.

A feature in older church buildings are doors on the pews of the church. They were meant to keep cold air from getting in the pews. The church rented out the pews or people bought individual pews. Doors are still present on the pews at St. Andrew’s.

The church also had members who served in the Revolutionary War and are buried in the church cemetery. One of those members was George Dent, a captain in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Dent also served as a colonel in the War of 1812.

The congregation regularly attended St. Andrew’s Church until approximately the 1860s. At that time, the parish decided to build a church closer to downtown Leonardtown with modern amenities like electricity and running water, Weatherly said. For more than 100 years, the congregation worshipped at the modern building, which was known as St. Peter’s Church.

However, because of Anglican Church requirements, the congregation had to come back to the St. Andrew’s Church building annually for six weeks to keep the parish organized, Weatherly said.

Longtime church members recall coming to the church in the middle of the summer every year.

“For six weeks of services, we came to St. Andrew’s. It was hot and miserable,” said Helen Rotzinger of Hollywood.

The congregation focused itself on morning and evening prayers, with a weekly Eucharist service, said Bob Rotzinger, Helen’s husband.

The congregation moved back to the St. Andrew’s building in 1985 when St. Peter’s Church was condemned due to structural concerns.

The Rotzingers continued to attend St. Andrew’s when the congregation permanently moved back, and both said they have a fondness for the site.

“It’s a great church. I like the warmness of the community,” Helen Rotzinger said.

The move back “revitalized the congregation,” Hollywood resident Susan Bennett said, because the congregation came together to renovate the church and bring it back to life.

Renovations restored two church towers and restored the building to look as it did when it was originally built. Engineers specializing in Colonial buildings stabilized the church, Bennett said. The church added a parish building for church offices, classrooms and ministry activities in 1985, Weatherly said.

Weatherly, who has been the church’s rector for 2˝ years, said the church is a warm and inviting community that organizes events and runs St. Andrew’s Preschool.

Enduring from generation to generation

Christ Church in Port Republic is the oldest continuously operating church in Calvert County, dating back to at least 1672.

The current building dates back to 1772, built on the foundation of the church’s two previous buildings, said Richard Dodds, curator of the Calvert Marine Museum.

The church cost 160,000 pounds of tobacco to build and received financing through Maryland’s General Assembly because the Anglican Church was the official church at the time, according to “The Story of Old Christ Church” by John Fleming.

Christian faiths that were Protestant were permitted some freedom but had to pay taxes in the form of tobacco to fund the state church, according to Fleming’s account. After the Revolutionary War, Anglican churches changed their names to become Episcopal churches, providing distinction and independence from the Church of England.

Known for hosting its annual jousting tournament, which has been around for 147 years, the church also has several stories, including two about previous rectors.

The Rev. George Handy was the rector when British troops stormed the region in 1814 during the War of 1812, Dodds said.

Handy wrote a letter to a man in 1814 asking him to receive some of his household goods, Dodds said, as the British troops were invading Calvert County. Handy moved to Kent County soon after for safety and did not return as rector, Dodds said.

Another rector was more attached to the landscape than Handy; the Rev. Hugh Jones trained as a naturalist at Oxford University prior to guiding the church from 1696 to 1702.

“While serving as rector, he collected items to send back to London, such as Maryland’s early plants, animals and fossils. Some of the items survive today at the British Museum,” Dodds said. Jones is regarded as Maryland’s first naturalist.

The church has undergone several renovations and repairs during its history but has remained in the same building since 1772, according to Fleming’s account.

The church’s current rector, the Rev. John Howanstine Jr., who has been there for 28 years, said it gives him encouragement, hope and strength to know that the church has been worshipping for centuries in the same place.

“There’s a phrase out of Scripture that I pick out and use a lot — ‘from generation to generation.’ It’s a very profound concept in Scripture. To be in a place that has the kind of historical roots that go back as far as Christ Church, there’s not many places that you can feel [the sense] ‘from generation to generation,’” Howanstine said.