The year was 1868. The United States had just emerged from the Civil War and was made up of 38 states. Horses were the most popular mode of transportation. Electronic gadgets were unimaginable considering the invention of the light bulb was still a decade out.
And St. Joseph Catholic Church was founded in Sykesville.
Throughout this year, what is now known as Saint Joseph Catholic Community, with services held in an Eldersburg place of worship for more than 50 years, is celebrating its 150th anniversary.
The church begins a year-long celebration on Sunday, April 15. To represent all areas of importance, members of the anniversary committee have adapted a theme for the sesquicentennial celebration, “Our Journey in Christ: Remember — Celebrate — Dream.”
On Sunday, Archbishop William Edward Lori, the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, will preside over a 10 a.m. Mass followed by a Jubilee Open House from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Formation and Fellowship Center. Special guest speaker Mike Tenney will speak during the afternoon.
“Our pastor, Father Neville [O’Donohue] will be part of the 10 a.m. Mass with Archbishop Lori,” said Megan Channing, chairperson of the SJCC 150th anniversary committee. “He wanted to commemorate the sacraments as well during the Mass. VIPs from the past year will represent each of those sacraments and they’ll stand and be introduced to the parish.”
O’Donohue said this celebration is an important one.
“We see it as a celebration of faith and also of our history and people and a legacy. But above all it is a celebration of our faith,” he said. “We are thankful for what we have and are energetic and hopeful for our future. Our over-arching message is that we believe we have something to offer both Catholics and all those searching for God. We can help them embrace the life of Christ and we invite them to join us in reflecting some of God’s love. It is the core message of our community.”
Music will play an important part in the Sunday service.
“The music ministry will include our adult choir, the children’s choir, the hand bell choir, and our schola,” Channing said. “Our adult choir typically sings songs form our hymnal but Schola performs many a cappella songs and more traditional songs. This shows the diversity of our music program along with the liturgy and the spoken word in a traditional mass.”
An open house will follow mass with the Knights of Columbus color guard and an historical display of old photos and records on display in the Cassidy Center.
St. Joseph Catholic Community historian Mike Murphy said he has seen a lot of growth in membership and in the ministries extended to the community during his 18 years as a church member. In an email interview, he shared memorable moments from St. Joe’s history. He said Orrelana H. Owings and his wife, Margaret, moved to Sykesville from Frederick in 1852, eventually donating land for the church.
“In 1867, Rev. Thomas O'Neill, pastor of St. Paul’s, Ellicott City, together with Fr. Hugh Griffin, Pastor of St. Louis Church, Clarksville and Dr. Owings started a collection campaign for the erection of a granite church to serve Catholics in the vicinity of Sykesville,” Murphy wrote. “The cornerstone was laid in August 21, 1867. The stone was supplied from Dr. Owings' estate at Sykesville and from the Brooks’ property directly across the Patapsco River in Howard County. The stone was transported by ox carts.”
On Sunday, Sept. 7, 1879, the original church was consecrated by the Most Rev. Archbishop Gibbons of Baltimore. In 1962, Father John A. Snyder was appointed pastor, staying for 20 years. Sometime during the mid-1950s Snyders’ predecessor, Father John Kelly, asked the men of the Holy Name Society to begin searching for a site for a new church, and in April 1963, 15 acres of the Adam’s farm on Liberty Road was purchased for $21,500.
Groundbreaking took place in June 1964 and on May 23, 1965 the first Mass was celebrated in the new church, in Eldersburg. It was dedicated on June 20 of that year by His Eminence Lawrence Cardinal Shehan. It wasn’t until 1998, that a third church was dedicated on the same property.
“There will be a number of photographs that have been collected showing the various church buildings and parish activities over the years,” Murphy said of what visitors will find at the open house. “More will be included in a published parish history to be released later in the year.”
“Church tours will go on throughout the day and light fair will be provided,” Channing said. “We want to meet with the community — parishioners, past parishioners and those who want to get to know us.”
Three cake cuttings will represent each area of the celebration theme, with visiting dignitaries, such as state Sen. Gail Bates, on hand.
“We are capturing elements from our parish’s past, present and future, with a cake celebrating each,” Channing said. “The Catholic Daughters are hosting this first Jubilee celebration from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Celebrate cake — representing the present — will be cut by the archbishop after the morning mass and Father Dave, one of our former priests, is coming back for this, too. Then we will have our traditional noon Mass, followed by the cutting of our Remember Cake at 1:15 p.m. with Father Neville. The Dream Cake — celebrating our future — will be cut at 2:30 by the Junior Catholic daughters with Father Neville, because our youth programs represent the future.”
O’Donohue said this is a way of looking back and thanking God for a generous and genuine community of faith.
“We are celebrating some of our recent energy,” he said, noting the reshaping of their Fellowship Center. “That is a nice large space. And we are working away on adult faith formation, building ongoing men’s and women’s and parents’ groups slowly. And we are looking forward to the future with some confidence that we are going to be bolder about who we are, becoming more aware of the needs of the community and our role in the broader community.”
Murphy spoke of the integral part St. Joseph’s has played in the community during those 150 years.
“It's a great accomplishment and a testament of faith for a community to grow together, build, and dream of their children’s' place in that community,” he said. “One day, we'll all be but memories in a historical presentation, but for now we're the lifeblood of this vibrant faith community.”
“This is a time to party and celebrate,” he said. “The idea of jubilee is important, and it is built on the Sabbath, the seventh day. This is our third jubilee in the 150 years. We can look back, thank God and renew ourselves.”
Throughout the year, more Jubilee events are planned at Saint Joseph, 915 Liberty Road, Eldersburg.
April 17: Lyle Peters, SJCC’s pastoral associate for Liturgy and Music, will present an evening concert of music, worship, reflection and prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
May 5: The 150th Jubilee Spring Craft Show with 35 crafters and vendors will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
May 15: The church will launch WSJF 92.7 FM — their radio station.
June 17: The church’s patron saint, Saint Joseph, will be celebrated at a Father’s Day Festival in downtown Sykesville — home of the historic church of 1868.
Aug. 11: The church’s famous annual Chicken BBQ Dinner will be brought back from the 1980s at the church.
Sept. 17-19: Father Cedric Pisegna, known for his evangelical missions and the television program “Live with Passion!’ will present a mission. Time TBA.
Oct. 20: St. Joseph’s Homecoming and Open House invites old friends to return.