WARWICK — Parishioners at Saint Francis Xavier Church, like local Catholics 300 years before them, celebrated the feast day of the historic site’s namesake, on Friday, Dec. 3.

“We stand in a long line of tradition, something so much bigger than all of us,” Father Tom Flowers, presiding over the mass in Warwick, said. “It’s kind of exciting, it is something very special to be in this place.”

After the Diocese of Wilmington originally sold the church in 1931. The Old Bohemian Historical Society, established in 1953, purchased the site to preserve it after the church had fallen into ruin due to neglect. The two organizations now work together to upkeep the grounds including the historic cemetery and church building.

“There were birds nesting on the altar,” Flowers said. “There were cows grazing in the middle of the cemetery. The Historical Society was formed. They raised the money, they got rid of the cows, the birds and they started cleaning the place up.”

Many of the current volunteers began their work because their parents or other family members worked to maintain the church, which was originally founded in 1704 by Jesuit priests.

“It’s pretty much in my blood,” Marla Dill-Palmer, a third generation volunteer, said.

Flowers’ sermon focused on the missionary history of the church, as Saint Francis Xavier is credited with more than 10,000 conversions. Flowers said Catholics should strike a balance when discussing faith, they should avoid shoving religion down people’s throats, but they should not be afraid to bring up their religious views to other people.

“When you clothe the naked, when you teach the ignorant, you’re seeing Christ in the least of your brothers and sisters and when you do that you’re letting them see Christ in you,” Flowers said. “That’s why Saint Francis Xavier was so successful. He recognized Christ in those he was sent to and allowed them to see Christ in him.”

Flowers said that when the church began, it was illegal to celebrate the Catholic mass in Maryland, as the colony had been conquered by protestants during the Glorious revolution, which saw the Catholic King of England James III getting deposed, in 1688, leading to Catholic practices being illegal until the American Revolution.

“When they came here they had to pose as gentleman farmers because they were still in Maryland,” Flowers, referring to the church’s founders, said.

Mass was celebrated in secret until after the revolution, when the current church building was erected in 1793, according to Flowers. The church rectory is now a museum, with priest vestments from 1700’s and 1800’s along with other historic equipment, including a press used to make communion hosts, used by priests.

The next mass at the church will be in April. Readers interested in more information, or a tour of the church or the rectory can contact Historical Society President Kathy Ursitti at 302.378.7283 or send an email to OldBohemiaHS@gmail.com.

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