Confirmation During the Civil War

On June 22, 1863, the Most Reverend Francis P. Kenrick, Archbishop of Baltimore, confirmed 84 children and a few adults at Saint Mary Church in Alexandria. Most of those attending were women since many of the younger men of the parish were serving in the Confederate military forces, away from Union-occupied Alexandria. Father Peter Kroes, SJ, Saint Mary’s Pastor, was not present either. Father John Barrister, SJ, acting pastor, and Father John Early, SJ, President of Georgetown College, presided. Perhaps Father Kroes was not present due to his well-known Southern sympathies or he may have been ill.

It is interesting that Bishop John McGill of the Diocese of Richmond did not administer the Sacrament since Saint Mary Parish was part of his diocese at that time. As Bishop of Richmond, capital of the Confederacy, Bishop McGill championed the cause of his Southern diocese. He was responsible for the spiritual care of the many Catholics serving in the Confederate Army, as well as those members of his Virginia flock who favored the South. He ordered his priests to discontinue praying for the United States during Mass and even considered prohibiting Union chaplains from hearing confessions in Virginia! With this in mind, it is most likely Bishop McGill would not have been welcomed by the Union occupiers of Alexandria in 1863. In June 1865, however, shortly after the end of the war, Bishop McGill did administer the Sacrament of Confirmation here at Saint Mary.

— Kitty Guy, Parish Historian

Throughout 2020, the Basilica of Saint Mary will present “From the Archives.” It is a weekly feature online and in our bulletin spotlighting the history of the parish. All of our “From the Archives” features are located here

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