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Tiny St. Patrick’s Chapel draws crowd, Bishop Malooly for 200th anniversary Mass in Pilottown

Father Jay McKee, left, and Bishop Malooly join members of Cecil County Division One Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians in singing "Happy Birthday" in honor of the chapel's 200th anniversary on Sept. 14. Photo/Christopher White

PILOTTOWN — If any of those gathered for the 200th birthday of St. Patrick’s Chapel wondered about the possibility of air conditioning in the tiny place of worship, they might have remembered the shivering and likely wet canal workers two centuries ago who built the place.

St. Patrick’s has none of the amenities of the current era, but it has plenty of life, much of which was on display Sept. 14 as the mission of Good Shepherd, Perryville, Pastor Jay McKee, members of the St. Patrick’s Chapel Historical Association and many friends and contributors who have helped revive and keep the place going celebrated Mass with Bishop Malooly.

Celebration after Mass at St. Patrick’s Chapel Sept. 14. Photo/Christopher White

Fortunately, seasonal weather made for a pleasant morning for the more than 100 guests who showed up to celebrate the 200-year-old chapel a stone’s throw from the Pennsylvania border on the Eastern Shore of Maryland’s northwest corner.

The majority of immigrants along the Susquehanna River in the early 1800s were natives of Ireland. They labored through hard, gritty work in building and navigating canals that were the lifeline of commerce in and around Pennsylvania and Maryland. They were considered cheap labor. Included in their hard work was adherence to their Catholic faith, which they could not openly practice in their native Ireland.

The newfound religious freedom led to the construction of the one-room church that seats 75-80 people.

“When you think about geographically and commerce-wise, what it did for the state …” said Bill Pare.

“One of the reasons the Irish Catholics came to this country was they were not able to worship freely in their country,” said Father McKee.

“This place was really, really isolated. What’s saving us now is we have neighbors,” said Bill Pare, treasurer of the St. Patrick’s Chapel Historical Association. “It was subject to a lot of vandalism.”

Bill and wife Marilyn are board members and have been involved long enough to have most of the chapel’s history on the tip of their tongues. They remember the historic church in disrepair, having been abandoned several times during its history.

“Father Greg Corrigan, in 2000, was interim administrator during a renovation project,” Bill Pare said. “I remember him saying ‘Being an Irish lad myself, if I didn’t do anything about this church, I think I’d have to pay for it down the road.’”

Masses happen about four times a year. Much of the work to keep up the facility is performed by Ancient Order of Hibernians members in Harford County and ladies Hibernians from Cecil County.

Parishioners at Good Shepherd come to support the events, Father McKee said. Bill Pare does what he can to get the word out on events at the chapel — Masses four times a year and Stations of the Cross at Lent.

The tiny chapel helps keep people connected to the church.

“It’s a little magnet in and of itself,” Marilyn said.