Parish History - Chapel
   
 
 

The Chapel on the Hill

There's a little old chapel on the hill
Where everything is so quiet and still
It's filled with memories of hundreds of years
And the walls echo with sounds of song and of tears

The Jesuits who lived here now are gone
But all they have done will linger on
In the trees they planted and the barns they built
From morning to night they worked to the hilt

The hardships were many in those bygone days
To hide from detection, they were disguised many ways
They taught the sacraments and tended the sick
When the needy were hungry they fed them real quick

Below the ground where the headstones stand
Lay some of the loved ones who worked this land
Some of the graves have seen many a day
Others hold some who lately passed away

The parish is big now, the chapel too small
Down below the modem one has room for all
But we did not abandon the one on the hill
There are masses, funerals and weddings still

Eleanor Assante

The Chapel on the Hill - click to view larger Sacred Heart Chapel on the Hill was built  when it was illegal to worship publically as a Catholic. Jesuit Fathers built the original "chapel house," the present sanctuary and sacristy, about 1741 as a "Mass House." The main part or nave of the present chapel was added in 1827. During the night of May 15, 1853, the chapel was destroyed by fire with the adjacent buildings, first the rectory, then the old novitiate. The stone walls of the chapel, however, remained standing. Over 100 years of records were destroyed, all except the Baptismal and Marriage Register dating back to 1819. Some of the rectory furnishings also survived the fire.

Rebuilding of the chapel was not completed until 1856. The walls began to bulge by 1873, having been weakened by the fire. In 1874 passing iron rods from side to side (visible today) strengthened the walls. The bell tower was built in 1876 in front of the chapel to give it its present shape. Previously the bell had been hung from the limb of a tree. A new 1,000-pound bell was added in 1889. Some of the wagon roads to the hill became essentially what they are today, including the road down the hill to the Shrine of Our Lady of Rock Springs. This was primarily a farrm road to a cultivated field in the early days. The remains of a road from Route 450 is evident just below the north side of the old part of the cemetery that entered the hill at the rear of the present School Building. Oral tradition tells us that the priests used to walk this old road and pray their Daily Office.

A unique sundial, with its weather beaten wooden indicator and its meridian, is still in place and can be seen on the south wall of the Chapel.It is reported that it is a copy made by Francis J. Deutsch Sr., replacing and duplicating an original that had been badly damaged by the fire in 1853. The date on the present sundial is 1827, and read Latitude 38" 59'North, Longitude 00"20'E. The longitude is measured eastward from a meridian passing through the Ellipse in Washington, DC. Rev. Fidelis Grivel, S.J. (1831-1834) used these coordinates as his corresponence address while residing at Whitemarsh.

Chapel interior at Christmas - click to view larger

White Marsh was renamed "Church of the Sacred Heart" in 1893. The interior of the Chapel at Sacred Heart was remodeled in 1916 and new pews were installed. Between the years 1967 and 1970, when the Catholic Church was undergoing numerous liturgical changes, the interior was greatly altered. The altar was stripped of its candelabras and angels, the altar rail was removed and the statues were painted white. Its historic interior was barren. In 1970, when Father John F. Hogan arrived at Sacred Heart, and subsequently was appointed Pastor, he recognized the great historical value of the Chapel and immediately began a long-range project to rebuild and restore it as close to its original beauty as possible. With the encouragement and help of Monsignor Hogan, and the direction of Edward Geiz, who did much of the work himself, Sacred Heart Chapel  was restored to its historic beauty.\

On November 2003 the Chapel was closed after several large chunks of the ceiling fell prompting Monsignor Parry, the Pastor, to undertake a major restoration project that included removing the two separate roofs, one on top of the other. While that was in process, the pews were sent out to be restored, the floor sanded and varnished, the electrical system replaced, new chandeliers and lighting installed, walls painted, carpeting replaced and a banner painted over the sanctuary reminiscent of one seen in a 1936 photograph. The Chapel was reopened in 2005.

The stained glass window in the vestibule was installed in 1874 and dedicated to the Young Men's Sodality. The installation date is unknown for the two stained glass windows in the Sanctuary. Ten "Grisaille" or glazed windows were installed in 1889 to commemorate the nomination of John Carroll to be the first bishop of the 13 colonies of the United States. These were to be temporary until the Mission could afford stained glass. They were never replaced, and in 2007 an outside protective covering was installed to prevent damage.

 
16501 Annapolis Rd., Bowie Maryland 20715 | Office: 301-262-0704 | CCD Office: 301-262-1221 | Fax: 301-805-4686 | email: parishoffice@sacredheartbowie.org