Georgetown Returning 400-Year-Old Catholic Cross to St. Clement's Island for Maryland Day

One of Maryland’s oldest relics will be temporarily returned to where it first came ashore with some of the first English settlers.

A 4-foot-2, 24-pound iron cross arrived on St. Clement’s Island in St. Mary’s County March, 25, 1634, and is believed to have been used in one of the first Catholic masses in the colonies.

The cross eventually wound up at St. Francis Xavier Church in Cecil County, where it stood over one of the first Jesuit schools.

In 1862, a Latin inscription was added to the cross, explaining it should never be forgotten — and then it was lost.

Then in 1989, the cross was found by Father Ronald Murphy, who teaches German at Georgetown University.

He saw a sign pointing to the original site of St. Francis Xavier School and decided to pay a visit. He saw a replica of the cross with a plaque saying the original was at Georgetown.

“And that’s when my curiosity was aroused,” he said. “I never saw a cross like this at Georgetown. Where could it be, I wondered.”

Murphy asked around campus, but even the archivist didn’t know about the cross.

One day in 1989, the priest was rooting around in a storage room beneath the south tower of Healy Hall.

“And I only got so far when I almost tripped and fell on my face, and there it was,” Murphy said.

He had literally stumbled over one of the university’s oldest relics.

“It may have been sitting there for a hundred years,” he said.

Now the cross hangs in Dahlgren Chapel in the heart of Georgetown’s campus, but this weekend, the cross will come down.

On Monday, March 25, Murphy will take the cross back to St. Clement’s Island 385 years to the day when another Catholic priest first walked ashore with it. It will be displayed as part of the Maryland Day celebration.

“It’s hard to express,” Murphy said. “You’re holding something in your hands that the very first people brought, and here I am holding it in my hand and walking back to where it came from. That kind of experience is very, very hard. You don’t want me crying.”

Maryland Day at the St. Clement’s Island Museum is open to the public.

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