Visit no. 12: Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception

Visit no. 12: Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception

Our Rejoice in Mary Jubilee Journey ended magnificently at Fredericksburg. I commenced writing this post on the evening of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which brings even fonder memories of our visit to this extraordinary parish. Father Dansereau, who joyously welcomed us to the parish, pointed out the connection between the church and the Ineffabilis Deus by Pius IX issued on December 8, 1854, declaring the Blessed Virgin Mary was “preserved free from all stain of original sin.”1 My eyes thus opened, I am discovering far larger connections of the parish to Virginian Catholic history and the fuller story of the Immaculate Conception and its significance for the American Church.

** update: 2/17/24: mobile view rendering errors fixed (was caused by footnotes) **

Address: 1009 Stafford Avenue, Fredericksburg, VA 22401trap.

Website: Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church (

Saturday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Lectionary: 508

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy
from carousing and drunkenness
and the anxieties of daily life,
and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.
For that day will assault everyone
who lives on the face of the earth.
Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man.”

First Sunday of Advent, Lectionary: 2

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”

OUR (final) VISIT: Church no. 12!

by Michael

After a wonderful visit to Our Lady of the Blue Ridge, Mary-named Church no. 11 on our list, at Madison, Virginia, that Friday morning, we made the easy drive eastward towards Fredericksburg, regularly passing Civil War placards, which turned into Civil War Battlefield National Park entrances, including that of the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness, which has always stood out to me as the turning point in the War, more so than even Gettysburg. But more on that later.

I can’t now fully recreate our trajectory, but at some point we ended up off of the four-lane highway, US 522/ VA-3, that makes a straight line from Culpeper to Fredericksburg. Turned out to be an enjoyable drive along the two-lane and windy River Road that tracks the Rappahannock River. However we got there, the path took us to downtown Old Fredericksburg, and taking a left on William Street and onto Kings Highway across the river, it landed us at our cabin on Naomi Road, just over the bridge.

After a wonderful dinner with a special friend that evening, we rose early Saturday, eager for our final Jubilee Journey Mary-named church visits Mass (say it fives times fast). While we didn’t get to church no. 12 within the second year of the Diocese Jubilee celebration, we did make it within the Liturgical year, which ended that day, Saturday, December 2, and which was our goal all along.

Above all, we looked forward to attending the 5:30 Vigil Mass that evening, the start of the new Liturgical year, ministered by Father Dansereau, whom we got to know the last year of his duty at our home parish, the Cathedral of St. Thomas More. Father Dansereau is very special to us, as he guided Terry and me into our proper relationship, marrying us in the Church on St. Joseph’s Feast Day last March, and bringing me through RCIA and into the Rite of Confirmation at the Easter Vigil Mass at the Cathedral on April 8. Father Dansereau literally saved us both.

We arrived to the church Saturday morning within plenty of time for the 9am Mass, but had to drive around back to find a parking space — 9am Mass! — Saturday! nobody goes to 9am Saturday Mass! Well, let’s just say that most of our visits have been on Saturday mornings, and these masses are not the most attended. It’s Saturday, after all. No parking spaces, really? And, yes, this is a Catholic parish, not some “megachurch,” one of which we passed along I-66 on the way to the Piedmont.

I was worried about the dogs — “Macduff of Fife the Fifth,” actually, the crazy one with whom I share separation anxiety (seriously, it’s pathetic…), so Terry reluctantly allowed me to use one of her phones as a baby monitor. Mackie howled when we left, but calmed down by the time we got near to the church, so all seemed well. But just as we pulled up to the church, he started whining again, and I caved like a clueless victim walking over a poorly concealed, nay, deliberately poorly concealed, pit trap. So Terry joined Mass, while I circled back to get the dogs.

She truly enjoyed the celebration, and taunted me for having missed it, as Father Cozzi’s homily was a play on “wokeness” — after my heart! — and how true wokeness is spiritual wokeness, awake and ready for God. You can see the Mass here on the parish Facebook page. If you do, you’ll notice something Father Cozzi did which is fantastic — after returning the hosts to the tabernacle and while cleaning the paten and chalice, he led the congregants in the Salve Regina. That’s marvelous!

A lovely statue of the Mother and Son greeted us on the way through the campus from the back parking lot

After the Concluding Rites, Father Cozzi picked up a handout, which Terry says was given out at the beginning of the Mass, and together all recited a prayer that beings with “My Lord and my God” — love that! I sometimes recite these lines from John 20:28 to myself as I approach the altar to receive the Eucharist. So glad that St Mary’s has adopted this prayer:

My Lord and my God, you take the bread and wine we offer, and through the priestly prayer of consecration, make them your Flesh and Blood, which was born of the Virgin Mary, hung upon the cross, rose from the dead, and sits at the right hand of Father.

Your body is true food, and your blood is true drink. Renew my heart and mind, in love of the Most Holy Eucharist, and draw all God’s children to your wedding feast.

May the Heart of Jesus, in the Most Blessed Sacrament, be praised, adored, and loved, with grateful affection, at every moment, in all the tabernacles of the world, even until the end of time.2

I returned with the dogs and wandered around the grounds, taking in the constant flow of parishioners in and out of the various buildings. Seems that there is always something going on at St. Mary’s. (Btw, it’s either “St. Mary” or “St. Mary’s,” which are used interchangeably in the parish bulletin.)

Father Dansereau kindly agreed to meet us after the Saturday morning Mass to take a celebration photo of the completion of our pilgrimage dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. I left the dogs in the truck parked out back, of course, and I met Father Dansereau out front. Terry was inside praying, from which, startled but happy, she was interrupted by Father’s tap on the shoulder and huge smile. He led us to the Mary grotto out front, where, after a prayer, a blessing, and thanks for our Mary pilgrimage, we took a few photos:

Father showed me around the complex, explaining to my bewilderment the various buildings and parts. He also pointed out how certain neighbors are not yet reconciled to the church’s presence, which, as I will elaborate on below, is perfectly consistent with the Catholic experience in the state — and which makes us all stronger for it. The Campus is about two residential blocks, with multiple buildings and houses dedicated to a variety of uses. For the season, a garden area is stocked with Christmas trees. I failed to ask what it’s used for the rest of the year, although I’m guessing, or hoping, it’s for parish and/or priestly barbeques. Here from my walk around the grounds:

After we bade Father Kevin a happy goodbye, and looking forward to his presiding Advent Vigil Mass that evening, we snuck back into the church to look around:

Afterwards, we found ourselves in the narthex, awestruck before a poster of Our Lady of Guadalupe. A lovely woman looked at it with us, and we vigorously explained to her all the elements of the Tilma image, with Terry esspecially pointing out the flower on her womb that to the Aztec meant she was pregnant. Our happy friend in turn shared with us her First Saturdays Devotional as per here:

After stopping by Freddy Donuts, most conveniently located along William Street down from St. Mary’s, we headed back to the cabin. Terry spent the rest of the morning relaxing and catching up on missed work from our trips, while I set off to explore the Battle of Fredericksburg National Park site, as well as Chatham Manor, just across the street from our cabin. I’ll discuss both later in this post. We spent a lovely rest of the day at the cabin reflecting on our Mary-church pilgrimages.

It’s been a great honor for us to visit and meet the priests, parishioners, churches and history across this wonderful Diocese. We can’t thank Bishop Burbidge enough for the call for this celebration. We feel blessed and edified — a word too easily dropped, but which really describes how we feel for the graces the Lord has given us on this journey.

Our Pilgrimage complete, now let’s celebrate Advent!

Turns out that this first Saturday of December is a big deal in Fredericksburg, with the Christmas Parade. I figured it out when I tried to buy lunch at a BBQ restaurant I had seen earlier along the river, but street parking was closed and all the private lots were full. Back to our cabin, I found cars parked on the grass across from us, as people left their cars there to walk across the river to the parade.

Looking out from a little second floor reading room of the cabin, I watched as a car tried to park on the incline between our street and the highway above us. “Perfect!,” I thought, as the back wheels raised on a bump that leveled with the front. Then, “Oh no!,” as the driver tried to pull up a touch further, bashing both front and read ends into the ground as the back wheels fell down the bump. The poor thing panicked and backed out, which pulled the panels outward now, making it worse. I went out to see what I could do, and as I approached the driver, a woman with her daughter, said rather plaintively, “Sir, can you help us?”

A little muscle grease and encouragement from her rather positive-minded daughter who calmed her mother’s panic, assuring her it’d be okay, the panels were back in place, sort of, and enough to leave it be. I wished them well, then whispered to the daughter, to her amusement, that she’d one day make either a brilliant auto mechanic or psychiatrist, or both.

Given the downtown closures for the parade, and having learned about difficulty parking at St. Mary’s, we left early enough for the 7:00 Vigil Mass. We were thrilled to start our New Year with another Mary-church visit and heading into whatever is next.

Father Dansereau presided in full Advent purple, upon which he thoughtfully built the entire Mass, from his purple robe to the purple advent candles and, along the way, to the purple Converses his high school basketball team had to use during Advent. He admitted it didn’t help the team much, but it reminded them of the purpose of Advent and to always run toward God.

Father opened mass by wishing us a “Blessed New Year!” He explained that on this first day of Advent, “purple” means penitence and joyful preparation for the coming of Christ. As Advent starts, we are waiting and watching, so we should turn to the lessons and words of scripture. The prophet Isaiah prayed for restoration of the people of Israel with God, which, Father pointed out, is why St. Paul frequently turns to Isaiah for guidance in our exile on earth, waiting impatiently for reunion with God– “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!” (Isa 63:19) In our impatience and trials, Father counseled, we can learn from the Blessed Mother who awaited in expectant hope, patiently carrying in her womb for nine months the promise of Christ. Marvelous to think about! Above all, Father explained, we have the words of Jesus himself, such as in the day’s Reading from Mark, to be on the watch! to be spiritually alert and prepared. Advent, he said, is the time to “quiet down and enter these twenty three days of preparation spiritually for the Coming of Christ.”

Before closing Mass, Father blessed the Advent candles, and lit the first one. Father Dansereau, we know from our time with him at St. Thomas More, loves a good ceremonial act, and it made us both very happy to be there with him for this Mass. Terry and I both commented to each other afterwards on the demeanor of the altar servers, two boys and a girl, which really impressed us, especially that of the young lady whose every movement was purposeful and deliberate. It was a beautiful and fulfilling Mass, and well-attended. I don’t recall it, but I see from the Pastor’s newsletter that the Marian Antiphon changed to Alma Redemptoris Mater, which even pastor Father Mosimann said he was just getting down as Advent commenced. The newsletter offers a link to a wonderful Gregorian chant rendition.

We always enjoyed Father Dansereau’s homilies, as he invariably touches upon all the Readings (please, dear clerics, Mother Church gives the Readings to us for a reason!), and weaving them into his larger points, even if, at first, seemingly unrelated. A similar Advent message, I know, came that day from pulpits across the world, but I am guessing this was the only one to include a thought on purple basketball shoes. Father Dansereau always provokes a new thought or question, and he used to make fun of me for always coming out of Mass full of theological questions, which he would patiently answer for me outside the Cathedral, even on a cold February morning. He didn’t have time for my questions after this Mass, but had he done so I would have jumped all over St. Paul and Isaiah. (I will save that one for next time, Father!)

Terry and I thank the Lord for every wonderful moment of this journey, and for making this final Mary-named church visit so special.

Why “Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception”?

As does the parish website, most of the historical literature I have found on our Fredericksburg3 church calls it simply, “St. Mary” or “St. Mary’s.” As we prepared our visit, I got to wondering, then, when the “Immaculate Conception” was added to the “St. Mary”? — It was not added, I discovered, as it was so named, as John might say, in the beginning, “Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception.”

That beginning was in 1858 with the laying of the cornerstone in the presence of Bishop John McGill, the third Bishop of Richmond. The literature universally states that Bishop McGill’s 1856 sermon “of great ability and spiritual power”4 to believers in Fredericksburg inspired the building of a mission church named for Our Lady. God knows us by our name, so there’s a reason for the name of this parish. And it’s the same reason why Saint Patrick Church of Norfolk, founded in 1791 (predating the Basilica of Saint Mary in Alexandria by four years, and probably the earliest Catholic church in Virginia) was renamed to “Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception” when it was rebuilt under Bishop McGill after a fire in 1858.

As Father Dansereau later explained to me, that reason is Pius IX’s 1854 Ineffabilis Deus, affirming, ex cathedra, as official dogma (to be redundant, as “dogma” essentially means “official”) the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The decree is deemed by secular academics as merely a response to popular demands following Saint Catherine Labouré and the “Immaculate Medal”, which had created a worldwide sensation, or as a political move to shore up support for the Pope during challenging and turbulent times.5

Silly academics — the Pope may have been responding to the people, but the people were responding to the Perfect Virgin, to whom the Pope more importantly responded. As for politics, whatever: Our Lady cares about souls, not politics, and God always finds goodness in chaos. Whatever the motive, Pius IX more importantly both settled a longstanding theological debate — a perfectly normal step in the accumulation of the Church’s Magisterium — and affirmed the people’s own acclamation. He wrote:

Let all the children of the Catholic Church, who are so very dear to us, hear these words of ours. With a still more ardent zeal for piety, religion and love, let them continue to venerate, invoke and pray to the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, conceived without original sin. Let them fly with utter confidence to this most sweet Mother of mercy and grace in all dangers, difficulties, needs, doubts and fears.6

And so Catholics of Virginia, under the guidance of Bishop McGill, flew “with utter confidence” to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception — as did Catholics across the country. A quick count from the Metropolitan Catholic Almanac of 1851 shows about ten churches or chapels in America named for the Immaculate Conception; the 1861 Almanac shows over one hundred (I didn’t conduct a full count). That’s not just a lot of new St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception churches, that’s a lot of new churches! Something was going on.

Here for the listing of St. Mary’s of Fredericksburg:

Fredericksburg, Spottsylvania Co., St. Mary’s of the Immaculate Conception, visited every third Sunday from Richmond. New brick church. Alexandria, St. Mary’s, Rev. P. P. Kroes, S.J. [This church was by rescript of 15th August, 1858, transferred to the Diocese of Richmond, at the request of the last Provincial Council of Baltimore.]7

The theological doctrine was long debated between Franciscans and Dominicans, and became so divisive that in 1481, and again in 1483, Sixtus IV forbade preaching for or against the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Yet, following Pius IX’s declaration, overnight, the contrary Dominicans became ardent lovers of Our Lady so immaculately conceived. And the moment of the pronouncement was large enough for Pius IX to summon to Rome bishops from around the world, including one John McGill of Richmond, Virginia. Make that December 1854 — add in travel time by sea, and it’s within a year of his electrifying speech at Fredericksburg. Mary of the Immaculate Conception was on his mind when he visited the little town along the Rappahannock.

Pius IX’s pronouncement of 1854 didn’t come from nowhere, so let’s make sense of it with a little timeline:

Timeline of the Immaculate Conception


St. Augustine writes De conceptu viginali

“God was conceived from a just virgin—not out of necessity, as if He could not be conceived from a sinful virgin, but rather because such a conception was fitting” (Ch. 18)

c. 1346

St. Bridgette of Sweden

St. Bridget experienced various visions, including one of the actual virgin birth of Christ.8

Feb. 28, 1476

Pope Sixtus IV issues Cum praexcelsa, affirming The Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8

Affirmation of the doctrine of Immaculate Conception by Sixtus IV, Paul V (Sanctissimus, Sept. 12, 1617; here for an interesting copy printed in Peru) and Gregory XV Sanctissimus, June 4, 1622) were cited as important precedents by Pius IX in his 1854 bull, Ineffabilis Deus (see below)

Dec 9, 1531

Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Perfect Virgin

The Virgin Mary appears to Saint Juan Diego on the morning of December 9 — the day after the Feast day of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, and the traditional day of its celebration in the Eastern church. Our Lady separately visited Juan Diego’s uncle, Juan Bernardino, and instructed him to call the image she imparted upon Juan Diego’s tilma, “The Perfect Virgin, Holy Mary of Guadalupe.”

Jun 17, 1546

Council of Trent’s “Decree Concerning Original Sin”

“This same holy Synod doth nevertheless declare, that it is not its intention to include in this decree, where original sin is treated of, the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, the mother of God”9

Dec 7, 1585

On the eve of the “Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, Battle of Empel, Holland

Among 4,000 Spanish troops trapped and demoralized on an island, a soldier digging into the ground for shelter discovered a wooden tablet with the image of the Immaculate Conception on it. The image was processed in devotion to a church on the island, and thereupon the waters around the island froze, allowing the Spanish to cross in force and defeat the Dutch boats stuck in the ice.

c. 1645

Persecuted in Maryland, Catholic Giles Brent escapes across the Potomac River to Virginia and later establishes an area of free worship just north of Fredericksburg

Hounded out of Maryland by Puritan opportunists during the “Plundering Time” (see Our Lady of the Valley), Brent and his family settled along the Potomac in today’s Stafford County. In 1867, Brent and three partners purchased land between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers in today’s Prince William and Stafford counties, and secured from James II the “right of free religious worship” there.10


Pope Alexander VII professes the Immaculate Conception

Pope Alexander VII professed his support for the Immaculate Conception but did not declare it official dogma.

Dec 6, 1708

Clement XI declares the Dec 8 Feast of the Immaculate Conception a holy day of obligation.

As part as his response to the Jansenist heresy (an almost Calvinistic Catholic schismatic movement), including that Mary required purification from sin, Clement XI’s papal bull Commissi Nobis Divinitus extended the Feast of the Immaculate Conception to all the Church.


Pople Clement XIII issues Quantum Ornamenti

Clement XIII’s Papal Bull declared Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception patroness of Spain, which King Carlos III the next year extended by official order to all Spanish possessions.


La Dame de La Mobile is renamed St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception

Established in 1703 under the French Bishop of Quebec, under renewed Spanish rule the church was renamed “St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.”

Nov 27, 1830

Saint Catherine Labouré & the Miraculous Medal

The Holy Virgin Mary visited the 24 year old Catherine with rays of light streaming from her hands and framed by an oval that read, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Small medal replicas of the vision were made, which led to miraculous interventions of those who wore it.

May 13, 1846

Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore

The council declared that the Blessed Virgin Mary, conceived without Sin was patroness of the United States. In 1849, the council wrote to the Vatican its pleasure if the Holy Father “declared the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception an article of faith.”11

Mar 6, 1854

Washington Monument

In the early morning, “Know Nothing,” anti-Catholic agitators raided the construction site of the Washington Monument, and destroyed the “Pope’s Stone,” a gift from Pius IX to celebrate the construction of the monument. The stone was from St. Peter’s Square and was engraved with, “A Roma Americae” for “From Rome”.

Dec 8, 1854

Pope Pius IX pronounces the dogma of the Immaculate Conception

Church tradition held from the earliest days that Mary was born and lived free of sin, but some from the early church also held that she was conceived in a state of grace and thus was also born free of original sin. Following the sensation of Catherine Labouré’s visitation and the “Miraculous Medals,” Pius IX commissioned a study of the matter and on Dec. 8, 1854 issued a papal bull, Ineffabilis Deus, declaring as official Church dogma Mary’s “Immaculate Conception.”

Mar 25, 1858

Bernadette Soubirous, Lourdes

The Holy Virgin Mary visited the 14 year old Bernadette at a natural grotto at Lourdes, and, after multiple visits, on March 25 told her, “I am the Immaculate Conception.

Jun 27, 1858

St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Fredericksburg, VA

Per the parish website, “On Sunday, June 27, 1858 at 6:00pm Bishop John McGill of Richmond, assisted by Reverend William Brady, blessed and laid the cornerstone of the church on Princess Anne Street in Fredericksburg, Virginia.”

Dec 11, 1862

Battle of Fredericksburg, VA

At dawn, Federal Troops under Gen. Burnside commence a two-day process of crossing the Rappahannock River and occupation of the city of Fredericksburg, before suffering a staggering defeat at Marye’s Heights on December 13. St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church is used as a hospital.


Archbishop John McCloskey of the Diocese of New York published “The Manual of the Immaculate Conception”

A “Prayer-book dedicated to the especial Patroness of America, and placed under her benign protection, under the title of her Immaculate Conception.” Here for the book, scanned by the Library of Congress.

Nov 20, 1959

Washington, D.C.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is dedicated

Pius IX: a Pope for the times

Well, you won’t hear that in your modern texts, which treat Pius IX as a promising liberal reformer who quickly dissolved into the reactionary elixir of tradition, constancy and defiance of progress. As an antidote, I recommend this wonderful biography, Life of Pius IX and the Great Events in the History of the Church During his Pontificate, by John Gilmary Shea (1877).12

Amidst the European secular breakdown, Pius IX found a particular affinity for the American Church. He recognized its growing importance and guided it closely. Obviously, Our Lady of Guadalupe’s conversion of millions of Amerindians is altogether different, but we must recognize that Pius IX oversaw the rise of the American Catholic Church from around two million Catholics in 1846 to nearly seven million by the end of his papacy in 1878. We can’t credit Pius IX for it, but we can confidently state that he guided it, nurtured it, and affirmed it. That’s a lot of people, and, as we shall see, they weren’t just immigrants.

One wonders, then, if, as in Guadalupe, the Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Patroness of the United States, wasn’t at work here.13

Given the murderous 20th century, and with our own Civil War so large in our national memory, it is easy to overlook the disruptive and unsettled world, and not just in Europe, of the 19th century. China underwent one of the worst civil wars in its long history, the Taiping Rebellion, blandly known as a “syncretic movement,” a bizarre combination of Confucianism, Daoism, socialism, and a a vaguely Christian deism, that ended with 20-30 million dead (ever hear of that one?). Europe imploded multiple times, and along with Russian and British expansion, Austrian, Spanish and Ottoman declines, German and Italian nationalism, the world upended as much as, or, at least in prefigurement of, the 20th century. Protestant animosity for the Church didn’t end with the Thirty Years War; it carried on well into the 19th century, especially in Germany, sparking a diaspora. Amidst it all, Pius IX unwillingly oversaw the removal of the Vatican as a governing state — to becoming even stronger as a governing church.

God’s plan?

Animated map of Italian-unification. The Papal States were formed by Charlemagne, who granted Papal authority over various regions of Italy. The territories were enlarged or reduced according to larger powers and historical events, reclaiming much territory under the Warrior Pope, Julius II, and reaching its greatest extent in the 18th century (wikipedia)

We modern Americans have a vague sense for the historical territorial and secular rule of the papacy and its entanglement with European powers. Did you know about, for example, the 1849 “Roman Republic,” which was declared following the assassination of the papal Minister of Justice and subsequent street protests that forced Pius IX to flee to Gaeta (south of Rome), with Giuseppe Garibaldi himself leading an army of several thousand followers to take control? Pius was restored with Spanish and French, principally, help, later that year.

Then, after two decades of European gamesmanship resulting in its disastrous Franco-Prussian War of 1870, France pulled its troops from the Papal States, removing the remaining effective resistance to the King of Sardinia, Victor Emmanuel II, who had declared himself ruler of the first unified Italy since the end of the Roman epoch. Pius IX ordered his remaining forces to put up a token resistance in order to deny his consent to the kingdom, defiantly leaving the papacy to operate as the “Prisoner in the Vatican” until the 1929 Lateran Treaty that settled Vatican independence and, ultimately, international recognition as an autonomous state. The treaty was named for the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran, the papal seat, which lay outside Vatican City and which popes from Pius IX to Pius XI refused to visit by way of protest of their subjugation to the Italian state.

American Catholics, many of whom had escaped religious oppression only to find resistance, if not outright discrimination, again in the United States, needed Pius’ steady hand, which the American bishops repaid in kind with tremendous support of his leadership, irrespective of his appointments of many of them (which would have happened whoever was in charge, as leadership in the States was derived from a narrow band). As did several other important bishops, but not all, especially at first,, Bishop McGill endorsed the doctrine of Infallibility of the Pope, and the First Vatican Council of 1869, led by Archbishop James Frederick Wood of Philadelphia, was well attended by American bishops, marking acceptance of their importance to the universal Church. The American Church was a steadfast ally and bulwark for the Pope.

Research for this post has raised in my view Pius IX’s importance to that of Saint Pope Pius X, long a hero of mine for his stance against “modernism.” I did not know of Pius’s “Syllable of Errors,” which took on the Enlightenment and socialism. And, guess what, the Holy See issued the document under the letter, Quanta cura (“With great care”), which was released — ten years after to the day of Ineffabilis Deus, yep — on December 8 of 1864. I urge you to review the “Syllable of Errors” as Pius saw it in 1864, and see how little has changed since, even as regards his assertions of temporal powers. While he may have reluctantly overseen the dismantling of the Papal States, by maintaining Papal claims on that territory, Pius IX saved the Church from submission to a secular power, and in doing so enormously enhanced the Vatican’s ecclesiastical powers.

Knowing Nothing was about something

Your basic U.S. History course will run quickly through the 1850s “American Party,” a xenophobic, anti-immigrant and vehemently anti-Catholic political movement known more generally as the “Know Nothings,” as the party arose from secret societies that required members to say “I know nothing” to inquiries. (Parallels to any “America First” movement of today are incoherent.14) While a rush of Irish and German immigration sparked the hysteria, prior Irish and German immigration didn’t bother these sensitive souls, as the incoming then were largely Protestant. We all know the Great Irish Famine, starting 1845, but few know about the German Protestant nationalism15 of the same period that pushed large numbers of German Catholics to the United States.16 By 1860 there were 1.6 million Irish-born residents in the U.S. and about 1.2 million German-born. This sudden influx of immigrants frightened Protestant America not for their entrance but for their Catholicism.

The Know Nothings started in 1850 in New York City as a secret society, the “Order of the Star Spangled Banner.” Using Masonic techniques of wigwams and arcane rituals, the movement had spread across the country, including, to the South.17 Up to that time, the nativist movement’s public expressions consisted of disconnected outbursts, such as public Catholic Bible burnings (oh, the Deuterocanonical books!), street demonstrations and riots.18 In a “nativist outburst”, in 1844, led mostly by Scotch-Irish protestants, many of whom were first or second generation immigrants themselves, Catholic churches were burned in Philadelphia.19 It was the collapse of the national Whig party that opened the opportunity for formal, outward organization of the Know Nothings in the “American Party,” especially over Southern anger at the failure of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act to limit voting in to American citizens, which was seen by them as an obstacle to the expansion of slavery in the territories. Once adopted by political organs, so, too, went the press, which in those days was directly partisan. Into the mid-1850s, we see the anti-Catholic uproar expressed such as this from a Richmond newspaper editorial:

We believe that the Catholic Church, will, if it ever gets the power, proscribe Protestantism and the Bible in this country and in this state, destroy our constitution and liberties, and make these United States a kingdom of the Pope, ruled and governed by a Catholic tyrant of the Pope’s appointment.20

As with all moments of hysteria, opportunists drove the agenda well beyond the superficial appeal. At one end, the Know Nothings tapped into frustrations with the inability of mainline politics to resolve the growing sectional divide, such as we see in the last-gasp Compromise of 1850, which was engineered by the elder statesman generation of Clay and Webster. On the other hand, especially in New England, Know Nothingism was a philosophical descendant of puritans who used nativist, anti-Catholic hysteria in the face of Catholic immigration to push temperance, social reforms and public education aimed at suppressing supposedly corrupt and corrupting Catholicism. Modern historians twist themselves into pretzels as they attempt to justify the so-called “good” aims of these Know Nothings, such as promotion of legal rights for women, economic regulations and, in the North, emancipation: but that’s how the Evil One works — use a partial good to promote a larger evil. Whatever they were, the Know Nothings were anti-Catholic.

In 1854, Saint Bishop John Neumann warned his Diocese of Philadelphia flock:

Beware of secret societies. Trust not their agents; too often only false brethren in disguise. ‘Trust in Gop and in the Law, and “you will put to silence the ignorance of foolish men,” and many a prejudice against the Catholic Church will disappear.21

Bishop McGill came into the Richmond Diocese in 1850 at the rise of the anti-Catholic furor, which Richmond politics came to fully embrace. But for their anti-slavery northern counterparts, Virginia Whigs and Democrats would have aligned entirely with the Know Nothings (“American Party”) and their principles. The 1855 Virginia gubernatorial election was narrowly won by a former Whig candidate, Henry Wise, running as a Democrat, whose most salient defense against Know-Nothingism, which had infected both parties, was that there were too few Catholics in the state to worry about, and — get this — you Know Nothings with your religious intolerance are acting like Catholics, anyway.22 Know Nothing candidates won various municipal elections, including in Fredericksburg. But in the end, Wise fell back on slavery to fend off the Know Nothing ascendency by accusing them of being abolitionists, as well as to publicize the Know Nothing gubernatorial candidate’s once-stated (and valid, btw) position that the institution of slavery led to economic stagnation. The race caught national attention and generated the largest voter turnout in any prior Virginia election, with Wise winning by only 10,000 votes out of 156,488.23

So that you know the extent of the Know Nothing freakout, consider the case of the Washington Monument. In 1854, Pius IX sent a memorial stone to be installed in the building dedicated to the great George Washington. Countries and leaders across the world did the same, such as the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire who sent a stone inscribed with his good will, along with $30,000 in cash. I, the Know Nothings seized the moment of outrage at “Papal” interference, invaded the construction site, tied up the watchman, poisoned his dog, seized the “Pope’s Stone,” and broke it into pieces and threw it into the Potomac River.24 If you’ve ever wondered why the coloration of the Monument changes about a third up, here’s why: anti-Catholicism.

The parish of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception at Fredericksburg, Virginia, exists as result of a persistence of the faith in hidden Masses at private homes and of brave evangelizers who set that cornerstone for this incredibly vibrant Diocese amidst tremendous anti-Catholic agitation from the colonial period through to the Know Nothing movement of the 1850s, amidst which Bishop McGill arrived to Fredericksburg and, despite it, inspired the church’s enormous growth.

History of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception church

Note: the St. Mary website has excellent articles documenting parish history, including “150 Years of History,” so I will address only what I believe usefully draws from or adds to that excellent review.

At the 150th anniversary of the Fredericksburg parish Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Bishop Loverde said, “The seeds of faith that were planted by 150 immigrant workers who formed our parish in 1858”.25 Eight years before then, when Bishop McGill was consecrated Bishop of the Richmond Diocese, he presided over all of eight priests and ten churches,26 a modest increase from the six priests and eight churches as of 1841 (give or take the two priests and churches moved under the new Diocese of Wheeling in 1850).27 So humble as that may seem, it was a long way from neat total banishment of Catholicism in the early colony of Virginia.28

But there has to be more. To put the question differently,

How come we can’t find a parking space at a Saturday morning Mass at this parish?

In his inspiring sermon at the Fredericksburg Court House in 1854, Bishop McGill had an audience, and those disenfranchised, itinerant Irish railroad workers were likely not welcome at the Court House. That his speech was delivered in the Court House marks consent by local authorities, which he clearly earned, be it through his renowned patience, persistence, logic, and good will. And he knew his audiences.

In his “masterly sermon,” the Bishop recounted that the first governor of Virginia was a Catholic, Don Pedro Melendez, and, thus, Virginia was

Catholic before she was Protestant, and this was eight years before Cap. John Smith was born.29

He explained that in 1570, Spanish Jesuits built a log chapel on the Rappahannock, “La Madre de Dios de Jacon,” and ended his discussion with a call for a second St. Mary’s to be built along the Rappahannock.

From 1856 to 1860, the Bishop celebrated the founding of an additional eight or nine new churches,30 and throughout he oversaw the establishment of schools, cloisters, and at least one orphanage.

Here for the 1851 and 1861 entries on the Diocese of Richmond. Bishop McGill at work!

Then, of course, came the Civil War, which put a halt to new institutions. Presiding over the Diocese of Richmond during the war could not have been easy. His biographer notes,

“though his sympathies were with his own flock, his charity was not confined to them: the federal officers and soldiers taken prisoners and held in the Libby prison were objects of his especial attention, and many acts of generosity did he perform for them.”31

During the War, Catholics in the South were cut off from the larger dioceses in the North — and their resources, including Bibles. Bishop McGill sustain MI ed Church teachings with his own writings, including his, “The Creed of Catholics,” which served as a catechism for Virginia Catholics.

I can best sum up Bishop McGill’s role in making this parish and the entire Richmond Diocese through what it has become through my favorite moment in the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe, when Our Lady says to Juan Diego,

But it is very necessary that you personally go and plead, that my wish may, become a reality, that it may be carried out through your intercession.32

Bishop McGill was necessary.

St. Mary’s at Frederick remained a mission church until 1871, even as the Diocese had expanded enormously, as had the Catholic population. But the numbers don’t add up, especially given the Civil War, which halted all immigration and, sadly, cut the population. What does add up is that there were fervent, needing believers and a strong Church Militant that drove Church presence in Fredericksburg and beyond. The biography of Bishop McGill notes,

A Catholic population emigrating from one part of the word to another occasions a loss to the Church… But to gain souls to the Church from among non-believers is a truly apostolic work. Such was Bishop McGill’s vocation in Virginia.33

As discussed in my post on Our Lady of the Valley, establishment of Catholic churches in anti-Catholic Virginia followed specific historical and/or migration events, such as the need for French priests to minister to French troops at the Battle of Yorktown34, port and railroad construction on the coast and in the Shenandoah. But on review of the Saint Mary’s “Memories” oral history lies the larger answer to my question, one I should have figured out from my own conversion story: these Catholics came from everywhere, including from within, of which I can personally attest. A quick review of the oral histories counts origins of German-Swiss (1903), Irish (1948), Slavic (1921), Netherlands (1952), and England (1944).

I see everywhere that “Irish railroad workers” provided the impetus for formation of many a Virginia Catholic church, but the causality is incomplete, and not just because it ignores German Catholic immigration. While migration follows chains and intermarriage expands and integrates communities, I’m getting the sense that conversions had a significant impact upon Catholic growth in Virginia. Bishop McGill’s biographer anecdotally shows that conversions drove Church expansion under the Bishop and, we can imagine, in no small part due to the Bishop’s own vigorous evangelism:

His episcopal administration was a zealous and laborious one. The Church of Virginia had few churches, few priests and few resources. The tide of immigration did not set in that direction, and hence the Catholic population did not increase rapidly. But so far as it did increase, the increase was almost entirely a pure gain to the Church. It was not a transfer of Catholics from Europe to America, with a large percentage of loss to the Church. Some of the most intellectual citizens of the South sought truth and peace in the bosom of the Church under his lucid instructions. A Catholic population emigrating from one part of the world to another occasions a loss to the Church, as by the statistics has been ascertained. But to gain souls to the Church from among non-believers is a truly apostolic work. Such was Bishop McGill’s vocation in Virginia.35

As an 1876 study of the American Catholic Church shows from a survey of bishops,

“Fourteen per cent, of those I have confirmed,” writes Dr. Gibbons, of Richmond, ” since I came to this diocese are converts. … In North Carolina, about thirty-five per cent, of those I have confirmed are converts.” We have been told of a parish in North Carolina, the members of which are all converts. In five years, the late Archbishop Spalding, of Baltimore, confirmed twenty-two thousand two hundred and nine, of whom two thousand seven hundred and fifty-two were converts. The more Catholicity becomes known, the greater will be the number of conversions; indeed, from this source alone there is much to be hoped.36

McGill’s biographer’s enthusiasm aside, that fourteen percent of confirmations as conversions under his successor represents a significant absolute gain in the Catholic population, as the rest of the confirmations would have been from the children of existing Catholic families who were already confirmed. If so, conversions were — and likely are yet — a tremendous driver of Catholic growth. And we can thank Bishop McGill for it.

I leave this study satisfied of the organic and designed growth of the Virginia Church starting under Bishop McGill.

A note on the Feast of Saint John Neumann, January 5, 2024:

Today’s Magnificat presents an excerpt from Biship Neumann’s Pastoral Letter of 1854 to the Diocese of Philadelphia, in which he notes the remarkable number of conversions to Church during the mid 1800s:

Seldom, if ever, have there been more glorious examples of conversion to the faith than within the last half century. Examples too, of heroic charity have not been wanting. How many have accepted the sweet invitation of Jesus Christ: “If thou will be perfect, go, sell what thou hast and give to the poor; and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.”—St. Mark, x, 2138

I found the entire Letter (here), and it reinforces the points we have developed here as to the importance of the Immaculate Conception and its impacted upon the mid-19th century Church, especially conversions.

The Letter was issued on the Feast of S. Charles Borromeo, 1854, thus November 4, and thus a little over a month before Pius IX issued Ineffabilis Deus, declaring the Immaculate Conception official doctrine. St. Neumann’s letter urges that declaration and submits a full argument for it that is fascinating to read.

So back to my question about the parking lot at today’s Saint Mary of Immaculate Conception:

We left our cabin to go home Sunday morning, and on the way out we drove by the church so that Terry could say a prayer in the Mary Grotto out front. We came by well before the 11am Mass, but the lot was already full, cars had lined the side streets, and people streamed onto the premises by foot. Whatever has gone on there, whatever the need for more parking, something is going right, and it’s a beautiful, blessed thing to behold.

From the quick view of our little visit, it is clear that the parish has a stream of activities, both parochial and social. After Saturday Mass, there was a class going on in one building, another class gathering in another. Christmas trees were being sold, people were gathering to chat, and, as with our friend we met in the narthex, people just stick around. It’s truly beautiful and exemplary.

Best of all, Father Dansereau tells me that there are more than 75 adult RCIA candidates this season. Wow. Something’s going right at St. Mary’s! (or is it Marys?)

We had a marvelous trip, and, best of all, Fredericksburg is but a traffic jam away from Arlington, and without one, within an hour, at least the way I drive. Indeed, Saint Mary of Our Immaculate Conception is just down the street. We heartily recommend you to visit.

Terry’s smile here, as we headed out says it all:

– Michael

Battle of Fredericksburg

Before we left Sunday morning, we tried to swing by the George Washington birthplace, but it only opens at noon on Sundays. So a photo of the historical marker is all I got.

I did make it to Chatham Manor, which is literally across the street from our cabin.

Built by a member of the “First Families of Virginia”, William Fitzhugh, the manor is now the headquarters for the National Park Service Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park (nice), also used, I discovered for weddings. It’s a fabulous property that overlooks Fredericksburg across the Rappahannock. It was taken as headquarters for Union forces that approached Fredericksburg with hopes to annihilate the Southern Rebellion in 1862. Seriously, if you were about to launch an attack on an incredibly well fortified enemy who commanded heights over your field of approach, wouldn’t you want to hang out the night before at this place? General Burnside did. And so did the following days many of the 12,600 Union casualties from the next day who were brought back for care by army doctors and volunteers, including Walt Whitman and Clara Barton. A year later, another 1,000 wounded soldiers were evacuated to Chatham Manor following General Hooker’s horrid defeat to Lee at Chancellorsville.

Today, they have weddings, a bridal photo shoot of one you can see if you zoom in to the left in the first photo here. I posed the dogs in front of the mansion, as it wouldn’t be complete without a couple Cavalier King Charles Spaniels running around.

On our way in to Fredericksburg on Friday afternoon, we passed by the Wilderness Battlefield. It’s been a while since I immersed myself in Civil War history, and I honestly forgot much about the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg itself, as it was one of the early battles that taught both sides just how brutal a war this would be.

The Wilderness battle came two years later. Historians call it a stalemate, but I’ve always seen it as a Confederate victory, despite a near disaster with the Third Corps, saved, as usual, by General Longstreet, Lee’s “Old War Horse.” It was a crazy battle. The forest made movement difficult, negating effectiveness of both calvary and artillery. With limited visibility and winds that carried battle noise in different directions, troops were isolated and blind, leading to friendly fire incidents, including one that took out of action General Longstreet (not far from where Stonewall Jackson was killed by friendly fire in 1863). His removal from the field caused confusion and delay in the Southern attack, which, had it gone forward as planned, may have broken the Union lines and led to a rout. As happened, the delay allowed the Northern army to regroup and withstand the attack.

Overall, Lee won by not losing, but as with Gettysburg, he was unable to break the Northern Army. Worse for him, this time he faced a new Union General, U.S. Grant. Grant had the military qualities that a Ceasar, Napoleon or Frederick the Great admired: tenacity and luck. More than once, Grant was saved by last minute replacements, and, his nickname, “Unconditional Surrender” was well-earned: he never gave up. (See the Vicksburg campaign for his hold on strategy when others around him, including Sherman, saw only failed tactics.) After the battle, the weary Northern troops, used to the revolving door of Commanding Generals, were given the order to muster out. As they started to move, they realized they were moving south and not north; that is, they were advancing, not retreating. Cheers broke out across the entire Army of the Potomac, from one unit to the next.

It must have been bittersweet for any survivors of the first Battle of Fredericksburg there at Wilderness to have been back to the area, get schooled by Lee once again, then realize, for the first time, two years later, that it would be different now — and only to be thrown into the most murderous battles yet. And, I am just as sure the hold at the Wilderness was bittersweet for the Confederate soldiers who had so cleanly routed other Northern Armies, but now realized they’d just keep coming back at them.

With all that in mind, I wandered over the Fredericksburg Battlefield National Park. It’s startingly small with residential homes running right up to its base, a pathway known as the “Sunken Road” lined by a stone wall. I walked along it, thinking about that day, just wondering, “Why?” The Confederate artillery and sharpshooters lined the top of the hill, about 50 feet up, and the wall gave perfect cover to riflemen. Why would they even try this assault? But that’s one of the tragedies of the Civil War, similar to the Crimean War and World War I, whereby tactics fell behind technology.

The Park Service said I could bring a dog through so long as I didn’t enter the cemetery (I watched a guy walk his pit bull right up the hill and through it). MacDuff and I climbed the hill and wandered to the ridge, which overlooks the city. There, it all starts to make sense. Later that day, when I stood on Chatham Manor and looked over the city, from where the Northern approach commenced, and now, looking back in that direction from the Southern position, well, no wonder the park site is so small — this battle took place in the city. The Union army, under the hapless General Burnside, had moved over the river and loaded the lower city with troops and artillery, and began lobbing shells at the Confederates who had formed a line along a western ridge above the city — which includes St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception church.

God ever shines goodness amidst chaos, which was expressed at this battle by a South Carolinian infantryman, Richard Kirkland, who braved ongoing fire that night to distribute canteens of water to the Union wounded. Recognizing his purpose, Union soldiers further back held fire. A most touching memorial to this moment stands at the spot.

The Union assault south of the city broke through a gap in the Confederate lines, but the opportunity was lost to confused orders and jealousies in chain of command. The northern charges directly at the fortified hillside called “Marye’s Heights” were disasters repeated an incredible fourteen times. In such a state of denial Union General Burnside even tried to talk his commanders into a final assault, led by him, the next morning. Several times Union solders got within half a football field of the Sunken Wall before being cut down, some of them charging without loaded guns, only bayonets. One charge was scrambled when the soldiers panicked as wounded soldiers lying in the field below them grabbed at their ankles, begging them not to go forward. It was not until that next afternoon that Burnside petitioned Lee for a truce to attend the wounded, who lay where they fell the day before.

Nearly directly in the line of the Union advance, St. Mary’s church was used as a hospital and storehouse, as the city around her was beaten by artillery shells. She again served as a hospital when the war returned to the area in 1864. A priest recollected,

 “Floors and walls…were literally bespattered with the blood of the wounded and dying soldiers brought there for hospital treatment.”39

Already shorn of the delusion of a quick war, the Battle of Fredericksburg destroyed Union confidence that Antietam had falsely created, and left Lincoln’s administration in a crisis, as, despite successes elsewhere, he continued to sort through commanding Generals for his Army of the Potomac. From Lee’s perspective, it was simply, and grimly, onward.

Father Dansereau tells me he walks the battlefields and prays for the souls. It brings to my mind what I can only hope was the lesson from Jesus to always be prepared,

At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.

He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans?

By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent you will all perish as they did!

Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?

By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”


Some photos of the Battle of Fredericksburg National Park

“My soul rejoices in the Lord”


  1. Father Vincent-Ferrer, from the Cathedral of St. Thomas More, earlier had explained to me the history of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, especially its early expression by St. Anselm. I started putting it all together upon our visit with Father Dansereau and, now, upon absorbing the larger history of mid-19th century American Catholicism, as discussed here later. ↩︎
  2. From Our Pastor – Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church ( ↩︎
  3. The city is named for Frederic, Prince of Wales, son of George II and father of George III. If you want to know why he wasn’t George III himself, you’ll have to either ask my wife or learn on your own a lot about bizarre English history. Just kidding– kinda. The Prince predeceased his father, so his son became GIII. One wonders, though, what would have happened had Frederdick become king? Hmmm. Perhaps Fredericksburg would be today the capital of the American province of Great Britain? ↩︎
  4. History of the City of Fredericksburg Virginia, by S. J. Quinn, 1908, p. 214; see also Historic Fredericksburg: The Story of an Old Town by John T. Goorick, 1922, p 176 ↩︎
  5. For example, the Wikipedia entry on Kulturkampf – Wikipedia, states:
    The papacy was at a weak point in its history, having lost all its territories to Italy, with the pope a “prisoner” in the Vatican. The church strove to regain its influence and to hold sway in such matters as marriage, family, and education. It initiated a Catholic revival by founding associations, papers, schools, social establishments, and new orders, and encouraging religious practices such as pilgrimages, mass assemblies, devotion to the Virgin Mary or the sacred heart of Jesus, and the veneration of relics; the pope himself became an object of devotion. ↩︎
  6. Ineffabilis Deus – Papal Encyclicals ↩︎
  7. The Metropolitan Catholic Almanac, And Laity’s Directory, For The Year Of Our Lord 1861, pp. 72-73. Brackets are frpm the original text. Btw, I count 14 total churches in the Diocese of Richmond) ↩︎
  8. Her revelations were recorded by a local confessor, then translated into Latin and first published c. . For English version, see, Revelations of St. Bridget, on the Life and Passion of Our Lord, and the Life of His Blessed Mother, translated, 1862, p. 37-39; Access here at Internet Archive) and here at Wikisource ↩︎
  9. Council of Trent, Session the Fifth, “Decree Concerning Oirignal Sin,” here on p. 24: The canons and decrees of the sacred and oecumenical Council of Trent, celebrated under the sovereign pontiffs, Paul III, Julius III and Pius IV : Council of Trent (1545-1563) : Free (Internet Archive) ↩︎
  10. 150 Years of History (; see also George Brent (politician) – Wikipedia, ; the St. Mary’s history seems to confuse George Brent with his uncle, Giles, who, interestingly, fled to Maryland with his Piscataway tribe wife (Drive Through Stafford County’s History); otherwise the story is accurate. See here for the remarkable Margaret Brent – Wikipedia who was one of the first woman land owners in the colonies. See also The Brent Family ( ↩︎
  11. Immaculate Conception of Mary Patroness of the United States –Aleteia ↩︎
  12. The link goes to a scan of the book in which someone penciled in a “D” between John and Gilmary, as his name was John Dawson Shea, with the “Gilmary”, which means “Servant of Mary”, which he took upon joining the Society of Jesus in 1844 (he left in 1852) ↩︎
  13. She was actively at work in Pius: according to this source, Fr. Hardon Archives – Doctrine and the Blessed Virgin Mary (, as from childhood, in the seminary, Pius, then Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti, suffered from seizures and was ordained as a priest under the condition that he never present Mass by himself. He prayed to the Virgin Mary, “Mary, no more seizures, please. Also, would you please spare me the embarrassment and inconvenience of never being allowed to offer Mass without another Priest at my side,” and he suffered no seizures during Mass while he was under that restriction. According to that article, he considered the Immaculate Conception pronouncement repayment for the Blessed Mother’s protections. (He died of epilepsy.) ↩︎
  14. See this article, How the 19th-Century Know Nothing Party Reshaped American Politics | History| Smithsonian Magazine, which has good historical background, attempt to connect the Know Nothings to Trump — the argument entirely fails because the 19th century anti-immigrants weren’t against immigration, per se, they were against Catholic immigration. ↩︎
  15. Prussian nationalistic policy of “Kulturkampf” under Otto von Bismarck in the 1870s was a directed policy of isolation of Catholicism, specifically in protest of Pius IX’s defense of Papal authority. However, the process of marginalization commenced well before Bismark, from which hundreds of thousand of German Catholics escaped to America. ↩︎
  16. The German migration included the “48ers” were leftist German protestants, mostly, who came to the U.S. after failure of the “Revolutions of 1848,” and who brought with them violent anti-Catholic rage, and caused great conflict in Ohio, Illinois and other areas of settlement — where they also started many breweries, including Anheuser-Busch — see The man who really started what’s now Anheuser-Busch: Part IV ( ↩︎
  17. I’m just guessing, and I haven’t looked into it carefully, although a quick web search yields nothing, that the Know Nothings were intertwined with the Masons ↩︎
  18. Antebellum Philadelphia went through growing pains often expressed in violence. See The Philadelphia Riots of 1844.doc ( for a catalog of racial, ethnic, economic and religious violence. ↩︎
  19. See History of St. Teresa’s Parish, Philadelphia (JSTOR), which states “The Know-Nothing Party who a little over ten years before, had burned Catholic churches in Philadelphia, were still powerful.” The “ten years before” would be Philadelphia Prayer Riots of 1844 that followed manufactured outrage over the use of Catholic bibles by Catholic students in public schools. Schools days were opened with Bible readings using protestant Bibles, so Biship Kenrick requested that Catholic students be allowed to read from the Douay, instead. The Know Nothings had not yet formed, but the anti-Catholic sentiment was strong well before them, especially among Philadelphia’s Scotch-Irish protestants. The “American Republican Party” was started in New York in 1843 and won municipal elections there and in Philadelphia in 1844, but lost political favor following riots of that year.
    African-Americans and abolitionists were also the frequent target of mob violence, the most famous of which is the 1838 “Pennsylvania Hall Riot”, which was an organized attack upon an women’s abolitionist convention at the newly built Pennsylvania Hall building. A few years before, 1834, blacks and black businesses and churches were attached by mostly Irish mobs, and, again, in 1842, in a more expressly Irish Catholics uprising. From the 1820s to the 1850s, such riots occurred across the northeast as urbanization and industrialization, along with agitation for and against abolition, put pressure on social cohesion and civil order. ↩︎
  20. From The Richmond Newspaper Debate Over Know-Nothingism 1854-1855 (, by John Daniel Schminky, Masters Thesis, William & Mary, 1979, p. 46 ↩︎
  21. “Letter, To: Clergy & Laity of Diocese of Philadelphia, From: Bishop John Neumann, November 4, 1854” at ↩︎
  22. See “Virginia Is Middle Ground”: The Know Nothing Party and the Virginia Gubernatorial Election of 1855 on JSTOR, p. 46-47 ↩︎
  23. ibid, p. 58-59 ↩︎
  24. Archbishop Blesses’ ‘Pope’s Stone’ at Washington Monument,” Nov 22, 1982, Catholic News Service New Orleans Archbishop Philip Hannan held a ceremony at the Washington Moment to bless a “replica of the block of marble donated by Pope Pius IX for the monument and stolen 128 years ago.” ↩︎
  25. History ↩︎
  26. History of the Catholic Church in the United States, Vol. 4, by John Gilmary Shea, 1886, p. ↩︎
  27. Numbers are from Lives of the Deceased Bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States, Vol. 3 by Richard Henry Clarke (Google Books) and 150 Years of History (, p. 15. Similarly, the Diocese of Wheeling, covering western Virginia and which was split from the Diocese of Richmond in 1850, consisted of two priests, two churches, “one or two stations” (mission churches?) and “no religious institutions or schools (from Lives of the Deceased Bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States by Richard Henry Clarke (Google Books) p. 114) ↩︎
  28. The parish history reviews George Brent, a pioneer in Virginia Catholicism. This article adds a few curves to the story: The Brent Family ( ↩︎
  29. Lives of the Deceased Bishops of the Catholic Church in the United, Volume 3, by Richard Henry Clarke, p. 85 ↩︎
  30. Lives of the Deceased Bishops, pp. 86-87. A list that includes the “Old Church” at Fairfax Station, now Our Lady of Sorrows, both of which we visited in July, 2023. The other churches listed in the biography are in Portsmouth (St. Paul’s, established c. 1811, burned in 1859 so it may have been a rebuilding of the church, not a new founding), St. Patrick of Richmond (1859), St. Mary Star of the Sea, Fortress Monroe (1860) and St. John the Evangelist (dedicated in 1861, but not built until 1874). ↩︎
  31. Lives of the Deceased Bishops of the Catholic Church in the United, Volume 3, p. 89 ↩︎
  32. Translation from Nican Mopohua (English) ( ↩︎
  33. Lives of the Deceased Bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States ↩︎
  34. See Parish History – Peninsula Cluster ↩︎
  35. Lives of the Deceased Bishops of the Catholic Church in the United, Volume 3, p. 86-87 ↩︎
  36. A popular history of the Catholic church in the United States : Murray, John O’Kane, 1847-1885 p. 585 ↩︎
  37. A popular history of the Catholic church in the United States, p. 316 ↩︎
  38. from Magnificat, January, 2024, Friday 5th, Meditation, quoting from “Letter, To: Clergy & Laity of Diocese of Philadelphia, From: Bishop John Neumann, November 4, 1854” at ↩︎
  39. St. Mary Parish, Fredericksburg (Arlington Catholic Herald via ↩︎


One response to “Visit no. 12: Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception”

  1. Michael Avatar

    Ran across a fun reference to a Fredericksburg native, Fielding Lucas, a Catholic convert who ran in Baltimore the nation’s largest printing operation of Catholic materials. His “Metropolitan Catholic Almanac” served the Catholic community across the nation and serves as an excellent study resource on 19th century Catholicism in the U.S.

    “The History of the Catholic Church in the United States, 1844-1666” by John Shea, notes:

    “Early in 1854 the diocese of Baltimore and the Catholic body at large sustained a loss in the death of Fielding Lucas, who was born at Fredericksburg, Va., in 1781, and had for many years been the most extensive publisher of Catholic books in the country, investing a capital which no other at the time could command. Drawn to the Catholic Church, he had for many years been a regular attendant at its services, always manifesting a liberal public spirit. In his last illness he was received into the true fold and died fortified by the sacraments.”

    Here for the entry on at Wikipedia.

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