History of Place
The history of Christ’s presence here in the St. John’s boundaries includes the persons who have gone before us, and those who are to come. All continue to participate in this eternal work of grace.
The history of St. John the Evangelist parish begins over 200 years ago, when Rev. John Carroll, S.J. said the first Mass in his mother's home in Rock Creek, the area currently known as Forest Glen. All the larger homes belonging to Catholics of that day had rooms set aside for the offering of Mass, since penal laws made it illegal to erect Catholic churches. Father Carroll’s zealous ministry created the need for a place of worship and, in 1774, the Carroll Chapel (now called St. John’s Chapel) was built close to the family home.
Father Carroll ministered to the spiritual needs of the people in a wide area of Maryland and Virginia, sometimes covering over 50 to 60 miles on horseback, until he moved to Baltimore in late 1786. Three years later he was consecrated the first bishop in the United States, and in 1791 the entire Diocese of Baltimore was placed under his jurisdiction. It is important to note that the Diocese at this time covered the area that is presently half of Canada and three-quarters of the United States. The job was so vast that Bishop Carroll and the suffragan priests campaigned to have the Diocese of Baltimore divided. On April 8, 1808, Pope Pius VII named the four suffragan Sees as Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Bardstown. Three years later John Carroll was invested as the Archbishop of Baltimore.
John Carroll accomplished much during his lifetime. He founded Georgetown University, assisted the Poor Clares in founding Georgetown Visitation Convent, and encouraged Elizabeth Seton to found the first distinctly American congregation of religious women, the Daughters of Charity.
After Fr. Carroll left St. John’s parish, Jesuit missionaries attended to it until 1813, when it was made a mission church of the newly formed St. Mary’s parish in Rockville. In 1850 a new chapel was built to replace the former deteriorated one and, at this time, the building officially became St. John’s Church.
At this time, Father Charles Rosensteel was pastor of St. Mary's in Rockville. As such, he was in charge of the mission church of St. John’s. Because of its connection to Archbishop Carroll, Fr. Rosensteel was intensely interested in the parish and, in 1893, he began construction of a new stone church near the chapel. Construction was completed a year later and Fr. Rosensteel was appointed as the pastor, becoming the second resident pastor of the parish.
During his 38 years of service as pastor, Fr. Rosensteel had a rectory built in 1899 and a replica of the Carroll Chapel in 1906. He also rebuilt St. Peter's Church in Olney, built the first Kensington Church of the Holy Redeemer, and began a mission at Brightwood, which became Nativity Church on Georgia Avenue in Washington, DC. As a country pastor, he cared for parishioners over a widely scattered area. He was the first priest in the Archdiocese to operate a motorcycle and the second to drive an automobile in the discharge of his ministry.
Fr. Rosensteel long dreamed of building a school for the children of the parish and, in 1931, he established a separate fund for this purpose. Although the school was not built during his lifetime, he should be given credit for founding St. John the Evangelist School.
Fr. Rosensteel donated two lots to the Knights of Columbus for the construction of a new Council home in Silver Spring. In 1934, the name of the Council was officially changed to the Fr. Rosensteel Council in honor of its first chaplain. Fr. Rosensteel was the pastor of St. John's until his 80th year. He retired in 1936, and Fr. Joseph T. Kennedy was selected to be the third pastor of St. John's. Fr. Rostensteel left Forest Glen in April, 1939, because of failing health, and died on June 13, 1940 at the age of 86. He is buried in the cemetery that surrounds the Chapel, the Forest Glen Cemetery.
Fr. Kennedy served as pastor as St. John's parish changed from countryside to well-populated suburb. In addition to establishing the mission church of St. Bernadette in 1944, he ministered to St. Bernadette's and the mission church of Holy Redeemer, until they were made separate parishes in 1948.
Fr. Kennedy continued with plans to build a parish school, but St. John's parish did not own enough property to build a school in Forest Glen. He purchased the McKeever property at 10501 Georgia Avenue, consisting of 8.8 acres. The McKeever residence was used as a chapel for a short time. The school was built and opened in 1950 under the guidance and instruction of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The first principal was Mother Mary Amata. It consisted of 10 classrooms and an auditorium that was under construction. When completed the auditorium doubled as a church and parish hall, and the McKeever house served as the convent. Two additions were added to the school, until it reached its current size of 16 classrooms, a library, school offices, and auditorium. Enrollment reached a high of 1,070 students in 1957. The parish celebrated the school's 50th anniversary in 2000. Sr. Kathleen Lannak, I.H.M., is the current principal.
The parish continued to grow in numbers even though other parishes were partially created from it. St. Catherine Laboure became a parish in 1951 and St. Andrew's was established in 1959. On May 27, 1962, His Excellency Archbishop Patrick A. O'Boyle blessed the new convent and solemnly dedicated the new Church. A large marble mosaic featuring the Crucifixion scene wraps around the front of the church and can be seen from Georgia Avenue. After completion of the rectory on Georgia Avenue, all parish life was now centered there. The church at Forest Glen was given the nickname the "Old Church" by the parishioners, although it is officially known as "Historic St. John's."
In 1968, Msgr. Kennedy retired as Pastor and lived at St. John's as Pastor Emeritus. Msgr. Kennedy died on his 80th birthday, January 5, 1975, and is buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery.
Msgr. Harry Echle served as pastor from 1968 to 1970. From 1970 until 1983, Msgr. Louis Albert was pastor. During his pastorate the Stations of the Cross were erected in the church; statues of the Sacred Heart and St. John the Evangelist were placed in the two apses of the church; and Our Lady's Chapel in the basement of the church was opened for daily Mass. In 1974, the parish celebrated its 200th anniversary.
In 1983, Fr. Oliver Mahedy was appointed to succeed Msgr. Albert. Under his direction, the baptistry, located on the left side of the church, was completed in 1984. The basement beneath the church was made into a meeting room and named the Kennedy Room in honor of Msgr. Kennedy. Fr. Mahedy was known for his love of children and regularly visited the school. Fr. Mahedy died on November 9, 1999. He was loved by many and in his remembrance a statue of Jesus surrounded by children of the world was erected at the front entrance of the church.
Msgr. William J. English became pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish in March 2000 and took on the task of revitalizing the parish. In the summer of 2001 he began the renovation of the Kennedy room, and initiated the creation of the first parish website.
In October 2004, Msgr. Barry Knestout was named pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish. Rev. Knestout began his ministry by working with parish leaders to develop a pastoral plan for the parish. Additionally, under his pastorate St. John the Evangelist instituted a Help Line to which parishioners and others in the area may turn in times of need.
Since 2006, Msgr. John Pennington has overseen the formation of the Stewardship Committee, brought financial stability to the parish resources, and welcomed beauty on the altar and in the music. Associate pastor Father Mark Tucker, a canon lawyer for the Archdiocesan Marriage Tribunal, remains in residence as a friend and steadfast presence in the parish for over a decade.
Masses are still held at the "Old Church" or "Historic Church," as it is more properly known, including a Saturday Vigil Mass at 5:30 p.m. Many weddings and funerals are also celebrated at the Historic Church. Since 1977, the congregation of Our Lady of Poland has used the Forest Glen rectory and holds Polish-language Masses in the old church. A replica of the original Carroll Chapel, standing on the site of the first Chapel, is open to the public on Sundays during the summer. The cemetery surrounding the Chapel contains the grave of John Carroll's mother as well as other historical figures.
St. John the Evangelist Parish has a rich and noteworthy past and this brief account cannot do it justice. For a complete history, please read St. John the Evangelist: The History of the Parish, 1774-1984, which was the primary source of information for this summary. Copies are available in the library of Our Lady's Chapel.