WARWICK, Md. — Bishop Malooly celebrated morning Mass Sept. 1 at St. Francis Xavier Shrine (Old Bohemia), the mother church of the Diocese of Wilmington, as part of the yearlong sesquicentennial celebration for the diocese.
The bishop told more than 60 people gathered at the rural landmark that the first service celebrated in 1704 occurred at a time when it was not legal for Catholics to publicly celebrate Mass.
“You can imagine how far off the beaten track this was,” the bishop said during his homily.
“It was on purpose because you would be persecuted for celebrating Mass and the penalties were severe,” he said.
The bishop recognized members of the Old Bohemia Historical Society for maintaining the non-profit shrine.
He said the original settlers were not people interested in material belongings.
“The only thing they had was their faith,” he said.
The bishop referenced his letter to Catholics in the diocese this weekend in which he described “egregious crimes perpetrated by Catholic priests and cover-ups by the hierarchy” that “leave us heartbroken, disgusted and angry.”
Quoting from the letter, Bishop Malooly said, “Some are tempted to look only at the failings of priests and bishops and walk away. But should we abandon Jesus because of Judas? It is not the time to leave the Church that gives us the Sacraments. This is not the time to turn our backs on the Eucharist – the source and summit of our lives as Catholic Christians; but a time to turn toward the Eucharist in prayer and courage. We must put our trust in God and ask Our Blessed Mother’s intercession, to guide us through this difficult time. Let us use this crisis to get back to the basics of our faith: read the scriptures, participate in the sacraments, and pray the rosary, and spend time before the Most Blessed Sacrament as frequently as possible.”
The bishop said recent troubles “remind us the church has been in trouble many times before … even when the first Jesuits were here (in Warwick).”
“Today we give thanks for those who began the work of the Lord,” he said. “May the Lord continue always to bless us.”
Founded in 1704 by Jesuit priests, Bohemia Mission is one of the oldest permanent Catholic establishments in the English Colonies and is considered the mother church of the Diocese of Wilmington. The plantation was clandestinely established to minister to the scattered Catholics throughout what is now Cecil County, Md., the entire Delmarva Peninsula, and southeastern Pa., when Catholicism was outlawed in the English Colonies. The property is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
The shrine will continue to be open the first Saturday of every month through March 2, 2019 for the sesquicentennial pilgrimage, with Mass celebrated at 11 a.m. The society encourages schools, Knights of Columbus Councils, Columbiettes, Altar and Rosary Societies, Sodalities, youth groups, religious education classes, senior groups, Scout groups, and other church groups and ministries to organize a visit on one of the planned pilgrimage dates or on another date that is convenient. Additionally, groups may arrange for their pastor or associate pastor to celebrate Mass.
For more information or to arrange a tour, please call OBHS President Marji Matyniak at 302-328-4803 or send an email to OldBohemiaHS@gmail.com. The church is also available for group retreats and weddings. A video about the mission can be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFGlCsNM6gk. The GPS location of the Bohemia Mission is 1699 Bohemia Church Road, Warwick, MD 21912. The next Sunday Mass at the church will be on Sept. 16 at 4 p.m. Monsignor David Kelley, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Middletown, Del., will be the celebrant.