Saint Joseph – Cordova

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Saint Joseph – Cordova

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History of St. Joseph Mission Church 

“Oldest Catholic Church on the Eastern Shore”

The present pastor is Father James Nash. 

Old St. Joseph’s Church was established in 1765 by Father Joseph Mosley as St. Joseph’s Mission. Father Albert Peters was the last resident Jesuit pastor when, in 1864, the Mission was transferred to the Diocese of Wilmington.

Tuckahoe, after the Indian tribe inhabiting this area, was the original name of the district in which Father Mosley established his residence and built the church. His correspondence is inscribed, “Tuckahoe, on Wye River, and St. Joseph’s Talbot County Head of Wye.”

Vessels from London used to anchor in the Wye, three miles from his house, and the Captains executed commissions for him and took care of letters to and from England. But this means of communication was only occasional and uncertain, so Father Mosley directed that letters to him should be addressed in care of Father Harding, in Philadelphia, 110 miles away. When postal facilities were increased, many years later, the catalogue of the Province gave the address: “Wye Mills P.O. and Cordova P.O.”

The Priest’s residence was in a lonely, rural spot and there was not a Catholic living within six miles of it. The Mission, in the days of Father Mosley and for years afterwards, was very extensive, embracing ten counties. In later years, it was restricted to the charge of Talbot, Caroline, and Queen Anne’s Counties.

At the time of the surrender of the Mission to the Wilmington Diocese, the stations depending upon St. Joseph’s were Denton and Easton. Denton, where there was a wooden church, was ten miles away, and Easton, the county town of Talbot, was a greater distance. The parish priest now resides at the latter place, from which St. Joseph’s is attended as a station.

Father Joseph Moseley was a native of Lincolnshire, England, born November 16, 1731. He studied at St. Omers and entered the Jesuit Society in 1748. Coming to Maryland in 1758, he labored for some time in Charles and St. Mary’s counties and, in 1765, he founded the Mission of St. Joseph’s and remained in sole charge of that “arduous station” until his death on June 3, 1787.

The letters of Father Mosley are a record of missionary tolls and privations, presenting a graphic description of the country and the conditions of the Catholics. They exhibit the fullest consecutive account of Maryland that is available from the pen of any Catholic missionary during the eighteenth century.

These letters from 1758 to 1768 were written by Father Mosley to his sister, Mrs. Dunn at New Castle on Tynes, England, and to his brother, Father Michael Mosley, S.J., who was at the time chaplain to the Acton family at Aldenham, Shropshire, England. They were published in Woodstock Letters, 1906.

Father Mosley went to Bohemia on August 11, 1764, and immediately began visiting the more remote stations depending upon that Mission, which included the whole of the Eastern Shore, or the present Diocese of Wilmington.

In the first letter to his sister, after settling at Tuckahoe, he gives the reason for founding the new mission and describes his surroundings. The letter is dated October 14, 1766. “It’s a Mission that ought to have been settled above the sixty years past, by means of immense trouble and excessive rides it had given our gentlemen, that lived next to it: yet, till these days, no one would undertake it, either for want of resolution or fear of the trouble notwithstanding, it had contributed to the deaths of several of ours and had broken the constitution of everyone who went down to it although it was but twice a year, except calls to the sick.” ” I was deputy in August 1764, to settle a new place in the midst of this mission. Accordingly, I set off for those parts of the country. I examined the situation of every congregation within 60 miles of it and before the end of that year, I came across the very spot, as providence would have it, with land to be sold, nigh the center of the whole that was to be tended. I purchased the land and took possession the March following.”

Father Lewis of White Marsh and his workers helped him cut down the woods and to open a plantation. Father Manners of Bohemia contributed 260-10 pounds Sterling and Father Harding of Philadelphia, 7-10 pounds Sterling to pay for the land.

Father Mosley describes the miserable shack in which he lived for a time. “My dwelling house was nothing but a few boards driven from oak trees, not sawed plank, and these nailed together to keep out the coldest air. Not one brick or stone about it; no plastering, and no chimney, but a little hole in the roof to let out the smoke. In this I lived till the winter, when I got it plastered to keep off the cold and built a brick chimney.”

He expresses his hope of bettering things and of providing for future ease and comfort. “The Chief congregation is but ten miles off: second, 20; third, 24; fourth, 22; fifth, at home; sixth, 22 miles. All these I visited once in two months. I have two others which I visit but twice a year – the first, 30; the other 90 miles off.

Notwithstanding the troubles I had to purchase the land, to improve the place, to build and tend the workmen, yet I never neglected any one of my missions on their due and set times.”

The more distant stations must have been in Dorchester and Somerset Counties, perhaps Meekin’s Neck, Tangier Island and Quantico.

Father Mosley was in trouble for a time, shortly after the Declaration of Independence. 

The Maryland Legislature prohibited any minister of religion to preach unless he took a prescribed oath. Father Mosley neglected to do this, not through disloyalty, but from scruples of conscience. The other Priests in Maryland had freely subscribed to the oath, but in his remote position he was not aware of this and he waited until he could find out what course should be determined on by his Brethren, so that concerted and uniform action might be taken. For this delay, he fell under suspicion. As soon as he discovered what had been done by the other Catholic clergymen of the province, many of who were Englishmen like himself, he presented himself to take the oath. The objection was raised that the time had expired for compliance with the law. Father Mosley sent a petition to the Legislature, and a special act was passed to enable him to preach.

In those days, a sermon at a funeral was indispensable, and Father Mosley notes in his diary, “No sermon, not having qualifies by an oath, to be taken by law, by all that would preach.” On the 12th of September, 1780, he notes: “Burial of Mr. William Youngs Queen Anne’s Co., Sermon, having qualified by a private Act for myself.”

Writing to his sister, October 4, 1784, Father Mosley renewed the correspondence which had been long interrupted by reason of the late “tedious and calamitous war.”

He dilates upon the improvements that had been made and upon the brighter prospects for religion.

“When I first settled,” he wrote, “I had not one of my own profession (Catholic) neighbor than six or seven miles; but now, through God’s particular blessings. I’ve many families joining and all around me. The toleration here granted by the Bill of Rights has put all on the same and has been great service to us. The Methodist, who have started up chiefly since the war, have brought over to themselves chief of the former Protestants on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where I live. The Protestant ministers, having no fixed salary by as heretofore, have abandoned their flocks, which are now squandered and joined different societies. We’ve had some share. Since the commencement of the war, I’ve built on my farm a brick chapel and dwelling house. It was a difficult and bold undertaking at the time. I began it, trusting on Providence, and I’ve happily finished without any assistance either from our gentlemen or my congregation.

Father Mosley was so proud of what he had accomplished. As he received no contributions from the congregation and was not aided by the procurator of the missions, he must have paid for the brick house and the chapel from economies and savings in the personal expenses of living. Pew rents and collection boxes were unknown in those primitive days. The residence and chapel were under the same roof; this arrangement being adopted in several of the Maryland missions, in order to evade the operation of the law at the time, which forbade public places of worship for Catholics. The priest, as a private gentleman, attached the chapel to his residence. It was considered to be a part of his private property to which his neighbors were invited.

The zealous labors of Father Mosley were crowned with such success that he could report five or six hundred communicants in his mission in 1786. The territory dependent upon St. Joseph’s had in earlier times been visited by one of the priests from Bohemia who lodged with some Catholic family. Records mention some priests stationed at Queen Anne, such as Father James Quinn, who was killed in crossing the Choptank River, in 1745. He was dragged by his horse from the St. Joseph’s Jousting Tournament, that is held each year from 1868 to when the knights tried spearing the rings riding on-board automobiles rather than horses. The practice apparently did not prove popular because of it, and the fact that quite a few of the riders were in the Armed Services were cited as reasons for not holding the tournament in 1918.

The 350-acre farm surrounding St. Joseph’s was held until 1882, when it was sold to John P. Steele. The Church and a few acres surrounding it were retained.

In 1848, some alterations and changes were made to the Church but to what extent is not definitely known. While searching through the records of St. Joseph’s Church, papers were found asking parishioners to subscribe to the fund. The paper was hung at the rear of the church and read as follows:

“The church was built in the year 1782, by Father Joseph Mosley, of the Society of Jesus. It is now not only too small for the congregation, but also needs repairs. A record will be kept at the church in which will be inscribed names of those who contributed and the sums which they subscribed.”

The cemetery adjoining the church is almost as old as the church itself. Records of Father Mosley’s record that Mr. Charles Seth was the first person to be buried on these grounds on January 3, 1767.

St. Joseph’s remodeled in its present design in 1900; it is the oldest Catholic Church in existence on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Priests who have served St. Joseph’s from Easton since it became a part of the Diocese of Wilmington in 1874 have included Fathers, Tuohy, O’Neill, Comiskey, McGoldrick, Walsh, Murphy, Daughtery, Irwin and Gegan. Right Reverend Monsignor Joseph Irwin, Father John Farrington, Father Howard T. Clark, Father John Kavanaugh, Father Paul F. Jennings, Jr., and Father Robert E. Coine.