Below is a press release I wrote this weekend for the Irish Catholic organization, The Ancient Order of Hibernians, on a landmark historical moment near our home just outside Baltimore...
In 1888, a seemingly unremarkable thing happened. A baptism took place at a little country church in northeast Maryland. St. Patrick’s Chapel in Pilottown was the host to an event that regularly marks the lives of parishes around the world. It was, to put it mildly, a very different time. Chester Arthur was serving out his one term as a president, the United States was still going through the painful process of Reconstruction after the Civil War. The U.S. was at least twenty years away from its emergence as a superpower on the global stage. About the only thing a 21st century visitor to that time might recognize is that Baltimore had a professional baseball team named the Orioles.
A lot has happened since 1888. Except one thing. St. Patrick’s Chapel had never borne witness to another baptism. That changed on May 31, 2009. Claire Kathleen Cannon was brought to the font by her parents, Lysti Ann & Michael, and received the first sacrament of baptism. It was a landmark moment in the efforts by local Irish and Catholic groups to restore the chapel—“This baptism will mark the rebirth of the little chapel”, said Bill Pare, who oversees the renovation and restoration project.
Michael is a member of the St. Kevin’s Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, based in nearby Bel Air. The local AOH division has made participation in the St. Patrick’s restoration a key part of its activities and the Marine sergeant has been enthusiastic part of that process. “Every time they have a service, we’ll be out there”, he remarked. “That building has history and represents the past Irish immigrants. It’s the perfect place to be.”
Cannon’s wife Lysti Ann, is similarly enthusiastic. “We love the fact that she (Claire) can be a part of the tradition of the area. It’s the sweetest little country chapel.” Efforts to renovate the chapel have gained steam over the past several years, in what has been a general period of renewed interest by Irish and other ethnic groups about their immigrant heritage.
The restoration project still faces challenges, but in light of the commitment from people like the Cannons one thing seems safe to say—it won’t be 121 years until the next baptism. The odds are that Claire Kathleen will have a lot more company in the years to come.