St. Charles Church To Celebrate 225 Years

This article is a year old, St. Charles celebrated its 226th year last month.  But I thought it interesting since it included the history of the church.  This was my home parish for many years.  I was organist for most of the years I was there – beginning at the age of 15.  In 1986 when St. Charles was 200 years old I was invited back to play for the special Mass held for the occasion.  Since so many were expected, the Mass was held outdoors, beside the church.  There was a large raised stage for the altar with folding chairs fanning out in all directions – even into the adjoining cemetery.  The choir had practiced special music, including “The Bells of St. Mary’s” in honor of the name of the community – St. Mary, Kentucky – and the seminary of the same name that was just a mile or two up the road.  A large dinner was prepared and waiting for all there.

Many of the parishioners of St. Charles parish are descendants of Catholic pioneers from Maryland – primarily St. Mary’s County and Charles County.  I can trace my roots, several of my lines, back to Maryland!  Most of the Marylanders settled in Marion, Washington and Nelson Counties.  At the very beginning there was no church building.  Mass was said in people’s homes – which happened every few months or so.  The first church was built of logs, the building of which was overseen by Father Charles Nerinx, who was the first resident pastor of St. Charles Church from 1805 to 1824.  The first brick church was built in 1829, and the present-day church in 1906.

(The photos are mine, taken March 26, 2009.)

John Cissell, born December 18, 1794, died July 3, 1865

from The Record, Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

October 13, 2011

Historic parish in St. Mary, Ky., will hold celebration Oct. 16

by Marnie McAllister

St. Charles Church sits on a hill surrounded by a rambling parish cemetery in the Marion County countryside near Loretto, Kentucky, just a field away from the original site of the first Sisters of Loretto community.

It’s the second-oldest parish West of the Allegheny Mountains and will celebrate it’s 225th anniversary on Sunday, Oct. 16.  St. Charles was established in St. Mary a year after Holy Cross Church was formed in 1785 at Holy Cross, Kentucky.

Parishioners will mark the anniversary with the help of Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, who will preside at the celebration.  It will begin with a musical prelude and a presentation of church history at 10:15 a.m.  The liturgy will begin at 10:45 a.m. to be followed by a luncheon on the parish grounds.

St. Charles is old to be sure; but it’s not an aging parish.  It has an active parish council, well-kept buildings and grounds and an active congregation – 254-families strong – that’s deeply connected to the parish’s roots.

John Lancaster, born in Charles County, Maryland, 1767, died 1835. His wife, Catherine Lancaster

Because the parish’s roots are so deep and because so many of the nearby Catholic churches were carved out of St. Charles parish, the church is expecting a large crowd for the anniversary – up to 1,200 people.

St. Charles Church figures prominently in Kentucky’s Catholic history.  When the Sisters of Loretto formed in 1812, they lived in a small cabin a field away from St. Charles.  They trudged across the field to attend Mass at the parish.

The parish also lies just up the road from the now-closed but once auspicious St. Mary’s College and  Seminary.  A host of priests for the Archdiocese of Louisville – and for dioceses around the nation – were educated there.  So were several Kentucky governors and some U.S. congressmen and senators, said Father Clyde Crews, historian for the Archdiocese of Louisville.

The college was a testament to the high value St. Charles parishioners – and other area Catholics – placed on education, he noted.  The parish, he said, is a “treasured place in Kentucky’s history.”

“This is going to be perhaps the most documented celebration the parish has had,” said Michael Cecil, a member of the parish council and of the anniversary committee.  “We’re going to have a DVD and a pictoral history  And we may plan a historic memorial garden to memorialize the people buried there.

“We have to remember our ancestors,” he noted.  “You tend to forget about them.  And we’ve got to preserve (the history of the parish) for the future generations.”

Searching through baptismal records, written in Latin, for the name of my ancestor, Ellen Lyons Smith. She is buried in St. Charles Cemetery, died 1859, but the stone was broken and removed.

7 replies »

  1. I had ancestors from the Marion Co. area and have heard a story that a William Fletcher Browning built a staircase in a church at St. Mary. I would like to take a day trip just to see and photograph the stairs. If anyone has information on this & can direct me to the church I would be so grateful. Thanks!

    • If this is the church, St. Charles, located in St. Mary, Kentucky, I have walked the staircases many times! I played the organ there for many years – which was upstairs in the choir loft. There are two staircases, on either side of the back of the church. Where are you living now? I’ll get directions for you. Next time I’m there I’ll take pictures of the staircases and post them for you. That would make an interesting blog – the inside of the church.

  2. My ancestors were part of the movement from Maryland around 1780 and were a part of the St. Charles church. My grandfather and grandmother are buried in the cemetery there. Their names were George L. and Mary F. Hamilton. I would love to hear from anyone that might give me any information about the Hamilton families living in and around Marion county and surrounding areas.

  3. Does anyone know about Father Steffan who was a priest or semenerian at St Marys He would of died in New Hope Ky from a buggy accident near the Arch Culvert was taken to E L Miles home and died there Fr Jenkins & father Hennesy attended to him he was honored with a service at St Mary’s so I suspect he a priest there sent back to Buffalo New York area for burial. would like to know any info such as his personal data etc group at New Hope wanting to put up a marker for him suspect he died between 1875-1896 period Thanks Joe Masterson

  4. My ancestor, Teresa Ann Elder, donated the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary which marks the site of the St Charles’ 2nd church. Saint Charles Cemetery Plot R04L35G04 . Her grandfather, James Elder Sr, moved to Kentucky from Maryland around 1791. Saint Charles Cemetery Plot R03L41G04. James married Mary Ann “Polly” Richards and they had 15 children.

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