Our Parish History
The following was printed in the 1993 Directory of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, the 100th Anniversary of the parish.
Ilchester was a rural farm village when the Redemptorists first saw it in 1866. They were looking for land on which to build a new seminary, and George Ellicott, Jr. had the perfect place for them. Mr. Ellicott owned 110 acres, along with a stone house, near the local Baltimore and Ohio Railroad station. He had dreams of turning his stone house – just a short walk from the station – into a prosperous tavern. But those dreams turned sour when the B&O picked Ellicott City as the next stop for the bigger western trains. So, he sold the property to the Redemptorists on July 21, 1866 for $15,000.
It was a perfect match, Ilchester was just a few miles by train to St. Alphonsus Church, the order’s provincial residence of Baltimore.
Fr. Joseph Firle celebrated the first Mass on August 28, 1866 in a small room on the third floor of the stone house. Then the Redemptorists set to work building the seminary, which was completed in 1868 and called the “upper house.” The Ellicott home was known as the “lower house.” They named their new college Mount Clement but later changed it to St. Mary’s College.
As soon as they moved in, the Redemptorists began caring for the spiritual needs of Catholics in the local communities of Thistle, Gray’s Mills and Ilchester. Later, Catholics from those communities would form the nucleus of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. But in 1866, they were considered parishioners of St. Paul’s Parish in Ellicott City. Nonetheless, those local Catholics began attending Mass in the lower house chapel, which was open to the community.
Though not a parish, the locals received Benediction, and their children learned catechism on Sunday afternoons. Here, converts were baptized, and children made their First Holy Communion. But those children weren’t learning their multiplication tables and ABC’s. And, the Redemptorists decided to take care of that, too. They bought a building on Thistle Road and on September 15, 1879, opened St. Mary’s, a one-room school for 24 children. The school later moved to the lower house chapel.
On September 14, 1879, the priests installed the authentic picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the chapel. The Holy Father, Pope Pius IX, had given the Redemptorists the task of making Our Lady, under the title of Perpetual Help, known to the world. When the parishioners were searching for a name for their new church, they didn’t have to look very far.
The Redemptorists used the lower chapel until 1882, when they opened the upper house chapel.
As the Catholic community in Ilchester continued to grow, James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, decided to establish a parish in Ilchester. On February 12, 1893, the lower chapel was reopened as a parish church dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. However, it was still known as St. Mary’s due to its connection with St. Mary’s College.
Once the parish had started, two parishioners decided it was time for a church cemetery. On September 8, 1894, Henry Otten and John Geisen asked Fr. Elias Shauer to start one. The priest agreed, designating a piece of land on Ilchester Road as St. Mary’s Cemetery. On October 11, Mr. Otten was buried there and a few days later, a Mrs. Cugle.
The church and school continued to thrive during the late 1800’s and early 1900s. Classes continued until 1910, when the school closed because of too few students. It reopened in 1914 but closed again a few years later.
On September 7, 1926, the parish began transporting its children by bus to St. Paul’s School in Ellicott City, where they we taught by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Two years later, they were taken to St. Mark’s in Catonsville.
They remained there until 1946, when the parish reopened its own school. It was located in the lower house, which also served as the parish church. The sisters of Notre Dame de Namur staffed the school. They had moved to the area in 1933 after buying property on Ilchester Road for a school.
In the early days, there were two methods of school transportation: bus and sleigh. William Cugle, known as “Willie,” operated both. Mr. Cugle was a longtime school employee, driving the school bus for 50 years. His dedication to the Redemptorists was matched by his parents, who came to Illchester in 1895. After working in the local mill, they were hired by the Redemptorists. The Cugles lived in the old Ellicott stone house. Five generations of Cugles have attended Mass at OLPH. Many other longtime parish names are still around today, including Putgenter, Kramer, Kerger, O’Connor, O’Neill, Feidler, Schatz, Miller, Resch and Dennis.
In 1953, the parishioners realized they needed larger and safer church and school facilities. The Macklin property, consisting of 28 acres and located about a mile from St. Mary’s, was for sale. In 1955, the parish began a fund-raising drive to purchase the property.
Once the cash was raised, Archbishop Keough granted permission in 1957 to build a one-story, four-classroom school with a basement for a “temporary” church. The parish began a second fund-raising effort on December 8, 1957. A month later, they broke ground for the new building. Fr. Maurice McDonald celebrated the first Mass in the new temporary church on September 2 but that temporary church wasn’t so temporary, serving as the parish for 27 years.
In the 1960’s, the church pastor, Fr. Joseph Comyns, added a second story to the school and extended the church. A kitchen also was added in 1963-64.
In 1968, a fire tragically destroyed the lower house and former church and school.
Four years later, the Redemptorists closed St. Mary’s College and put the property up for sale. Meanwhile, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur announced that they could no longer staff the school. Fr. Lawrence Lover, the pastor at the time, asked the Franciscan sisters of Sylvania, Ohio to take over the school. The new sisters arrived on June 25, 1973.
Then, the parish turned its attention to the construction of a new rectory and convent. The pastor, Fr. Donald Lindsay, spearheaded a fund-raising drive to raise the necessary cash. The new buildings were completed in 1978.
Only one task remanded: constructing a new, permanent church. Fr. Francis Nelson, then pastor, took care of that. Construction was completed in 1985, and the dedication Mass was celebrated on November 24. The parish turned the temporary church into a parish hall, now called Harrison Hall, in honor of then pastor, Fr. John Harrison.
From 1985 until 1996, the Redemptorists continued to staff the church as they had done for 100 years. 1996, however, marked the end of an era for the parish, with the withdrawal of the Redemptorists Priests who found they could no longer staff the parish. At the same time, the Franciscan Sisters of Sylvania withdrew.
The parish community expressed heartfelt appreciation to the many priests and sisters who had served so long over the many years with such love, zeal and commitment. The good they had accomplished for so many was tremendous.
With the withdrawal of the Redemptorists, William Cardinal Keeler appointed Father Richard E. Smith as Pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
In August of 2007, Cardinal Keeler appointed Father Erik Arnold as Pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Fr. Arnold is assisted by Fr. John Rapisarda, the associate pastor, who also serves as Campus Chaplain at UMBC.