History of St. Dennis




BEGINNING OF
ST. DENNIS PARISH






At the time it was decided to found St. Dennis' Parish, the priest responsible for attending to the spiritual needs of Catholics in the area was the Jesuit, Matthew T. Sanders, rector since 1852 of the Old Bohemia Mission base that was established in 1704 as St. Francis Xavier's at Warwick, Maryland.

While stationed at Old Bohemia, Father Sanders was responsible for the spiritual care of the Catholics in and around Chestertown, at Eastern Neck below Rock Hall at Willson's, and, in fact, for all of Kent County, Maryland. He was in charge of Elkton where Immaculate Conception Church had been founded in 1849.  He also had a Mission at Smyrna in the state of Delaware, and other missions and house stations in such places as Middletown, Odessa and Dover.

Dennis McCauley was the lay founder of St. Dennis' Parish and the one person chiefly responsible for the erection of the original St. Dennis Church.

Dennis J. McCauley was born in County Donegal, Ireland, on May 14, 1814.  Coming to America as a young man, he first settled at Philadelphia where he became a very successful business man.

On January 31, 1837, Dennis married Mary Gallagher in St. John's Church, on Thirteenth Street, Philadelphia.  Also a native of Ireland, Mary was born at Letterkenney, May 12, 1812.  Their union was blessed with five children, one of whom died at the age of three.

In 1854, at the age of forty, Dennis moved his family to Kent County, Maryland, where he bought a large farm at Lambson's Station, two miles from the town of Galena, which was then known as Georgetown Crossroads.  His interest in this area is said to have stemmed from the trips he used to make to the Eastern Shore to buy hay for his horses; and, if he was in the flour business, also probably to buy grain to make the flour.  Once settled in Maryland, he soon became very successful in his new life as a Kent County farmer.

Typically, Dennis McCauley had been settled at Lambson's Station only a short time when he obtained permission from Baltimore Archbishop Kenrick to build a church on the farm.  Deeding an acre of his best land for this purpose to the Archbishop on September 17, 1855, and ready at any time to give more if needed, Dennis personally contributed a large part of the $3000 total cost of the 50 by 35 feet church, collected some funds from others, and made himself responsible for seeing that the church was paid for.  Some time afterwards, a frame rectory was built next to the church, and the rest of the acre plot was reserved as a parish cemetery.

Regarded in his day as the lay theologian of Kent County, Dennis McCauley was ever conscious of the importance of regular religious instruction. Accordingly, he sent his two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, to study at St. Joseph's Academy, Emmitsburg, Maryland.  It was Mary, incidentally, who made the beautiful needle-point picture of Christ's Agony in the Garden that still can be seen in almost perfect condition just above the inside entrance to the present St. Dennis Church.

The most outstanding of the McCauley children was Bernard Joseph, who was born in the year 1841.  He was eleven years of age when the family moved to Lambson's Station from Philadelphia.  From 1856 to 1860 he attended Mt. St. Mary's College, Emmitsburg. Three years later, at the age of twenty, he took charge of his father's farm, and thereafter he devoted his time to agricultural pursuits, eventually acquiring his own five hundred acre farm.

On January 7, 1864, Bernard married Elmina A. Woodall, of Georgetown, Maryland, a convert to Catholicism, at Nuptial High Mass in the church his father had provided at Lambson's Station, Father Villiger officiating.  Bernard and Elmina had twelve children. The last of the twelve to survive, Teresa McCauley Scott, was buried from St. Dennis Church, June 13, 1966, at the age of eighty-seven. At the present time (this was written in 1970),  among the many descendants of Bernard and Elmina living in St. Dennis Parish, there are five grandchildren-S. Richard and James E. Woodall, R. Thomas and Julian Cochran, and Genevieve Cochran Walsh, and a daughter-in-law, Mrs. S. Herman McCauley.


LAYING OF THE CORNERSTONE
August 29, 1855


Wednesday, August 29, 1855, a day worthy of note.  That incident was the blessing and laying of the cornerstone of a Catholic Church, the first of the kind ever laid in Kent County.  The solemn and imposing ceremony was performed by Father Thomas P. Foley, of the Cathedral in Baltimore, who was appointed for this duty by Archbishop Kenrick. Father Foley was assisted by Father Bernard J. McManus, Pastor of St. John's, Baltimore, and Father Matthew T. Sanders, S.J., rector at Old Bohemia.


DEDICATION OF THE FIRST CHURCH
February 3, 1856


On the first page of the first Baptismal register of St. Dennis' Parish is written the following account of the dedication of St, Dennis Church at Lambson's Station:

"This Church was dedicated to the service of Almighty God, under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, concieved without stain of original sin, and of St. Dennis, on Sunday, the third day of February, 1856 A.D., by the Reverend Thomas Foley, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and the Reverend Bernard J. McManus, Pastor of St. John's Church, Baltimore, who also celebrated the first Mass in it.
Kent Co. State of Maryland
Erected mostly by the zeal of Dennis McCauley, Esq.
of Kent Co. Maryland."

The priest who assisted Father Foley at the cornerstone laying and again at the dedication of St. Dennis' Church was Father Bernard J. McManus.  And it was Father McManus who offered Mass at the dedication--the first Mass in the newly built church.  He also became the first pastor of this first Catholic church in Kent County. He continued to come all the way from St. John's in Baltimore for more than a year to offer Mass and to administer to the spiritual needs of the Catholics in this newly established parish.

It is a reasonable assumption that Father McManus and Dennis McCauley were already well acquainted when Dennis was inspired to build a church on his farm.  It is not even difficult to imagine Father McManus implanting the idea in Dennis' receptive  and spiritually fertile soul. Saddened by the unhappy plight of their fellow countrymen back home in Ireland, it is easy to further imagine both of them envisioning Kent County as a sanctuary of freedom and opportunity where their friends and relatives in Ireland might come to raise their families in peace and where they might have their own parish church in which to worship.

The fact is that many Irish did come to settle in St. Dennis' parish, as is evidenced by parish records of the past and present, listing such names as Duggan--the first recorded parish Baptism, Connor, Donahoe, Dougherty, Dunn, Fitzpatrick, Flanagan, Haley, Laverty, McGugan, McInerny, McKee, Mullen and Quinn.

Five months after the dedication of St. Dennis' first church, Archbishop Kenrick made his first Episcopal Visitation to this new parish in his Archdiocese on Sunday, July 6, 1856.  Having confirmed twenty at Elkton the day before and seventeen at Old Bohemia on Sunday morning,  he was met at Old Bohemia by Dennis McCauley and taken by carriage that afternoon to Dennis' home at  Lambson's Station.  Although there were none to be confirmed on this occasion, the Archbishop preached a sermon in the New church that Sunday afternoon at 5 o'clock on the Primacy of St. Peter.

Father Mcmanus had been pastor at St. John's in Baltimore for almost three years when he received his first assistant-- the newly ordained Father Lyman. And it was Father Lyman from St. John's for the two years from 1857 to 1859 to serve the members of St. Dennis' on the third Sunday of each month. A convert from the Episcopalian ministry, Father Lyman earned the standing of second pastor of St. Dennis.

As the congregation at St. John's became larger and the Baltimore responsibilities of Fathers McManus and Lyman increased, it became necessary to discontinue the missionary trips from Baltimore to Lambson's Station that were so zealously inaugurated by Father McManus and so faithfully continued by Father Lyman.  Thus it was that the Jesuits at Old Bohemia were called upon to take up again where they had left off three years before; and thus it was that Father George Villiger, the incumbent rector at Old Bohemia, became the third pastor at St. Dennis, and, except for a period of about seven months, remained the pastor for the next seventeen years.

Father Villiger was assidious in visiting the outlying districts. Several new stations were begun by him and one or two churches erected. Though it is not known that he erected any churches in our diocese, he did have intentions of starting a couple. In fact, he corresponded with Archbishop Spalding of Baltimore about building a church at Chestertown, and at Willson's on East Neck, or at Reese's Corner between Chestertown and Willson's--all in Kent County.  He was also interested in moving the location of St. Dennis Church from Lambson's Station to Galena.

While Father Villiger was pastor, the Sacrament of Confirmation was administered four times at Lambson's Station: On September 23, 1860, Archbishop Kenrick confirmed eight persons; on November 27, 1865, Archbishop  Spalding confirmed twelve persons and on October 18, 1868, Bishop Becker confirmed 24 persons, six of whom were Willsons from East Neck. Bishop Becker again confirmed at Lambson's Station on May 2, 1875--this time twenty-eight persons.

Three months after he had become Bishop of Wilmington, Thomas Becker wrote Archbishop Spalding of Baltimore  that Father George Villiger, pastor of Old Bohemia "thinks that the Church of St. Dennis or St. Mary's (as St. Dennis Church was first called) on Mr. Dennis McCauley's estate should be taken down and a new dry one  built near Galena which seems to be the best place."  (Archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Becker to Spalding, Wilmington, Delaware, November 10, 1868).


THE SECOND ST. DENNIS CHURCH

Click on photo to see larger image)


It was at this time, in 1881, that the location of St. Dennis' Church was finally changed from Lambson's Station to the town of Galena--a suggestion made sixteen years before by Father Villiger. But instead of building a new and more expensive church, as was talked about at that time, Father Bradford economized by buying the Galena Methodist church and the ground on which it stood for $700. The record of the transfer of thar deed, dated October 22, 1881, reads as follows: "George W. Chrisfield, et al. Trustees of the M. P. Church, called Nicholas Chapel, to the Rt. Reverend Thomas A. Becker, Bishop of Wilmington."  
Dedicated January 15, 1882. This second church continued in use by the parishioners of St. Dennis Parish for fifty-two years.

On February 2, 1884, while still stationed at Dover, Father Bradford paid $833.33 to Sarah Ellen Spry for the parcel of land on which the Galena rectory was built. Having dismantled the church at Lambson's Station, bricks from that church were cleaned and used in building the new rectory.

The entire operation of dismantling the old church, building the rectory, a deep well, a stable, fencing, a chicken house, and even making some improvements to the frame church cost a total of $4560. The debt on the parish, when the rectory was completed and furnished, was an "alarming" $5583.91. Building such a "palatial residence" , as Bishop Becker later called the new rectory, was considered such an extrodinary undertaking at the time that it was sometimes snidely referred to as "Bradford's Folly".

THE FIRST ST. DENNIS RECTORY

Click on photo to see larger image)
While the new rectory was being built, the old frame rectory at Lambson's Station was disposed of by raffle at one dollar a chance. A net total of $492.50 was realized. Mr. Frank Bottomley, a non-Catholic, was the winner for the $1 expenditure. One way or the other, the home came to be owned by Enoch J. Moffet. In 1886, the rectory was disassembled and moved by wagon to Millington. It was then rebuilt on Moffett's land on Cypress Street. In 2005 the rectory was in the process of being restored by a new owner.

When Father Francis J. Connelly moved to Galena in September of 1892, residency at Galena for the pastor of St. Dennis' was resumed after a five and one-half year lapse. It was Father Connelly who brought the artistic iron fence from Chestertown and had it erected around the Galena church property. He remained resident pastor at Galena until 1895.

It also was Father Connelly who ordered the McShane bell that is housed in the St. Dennis Church bell tower. The bell was ordered on March 31, 1892 and shipped via Sassafras River Boat to Georgetown. The 925 pound bell completed its journey by horse drawn freight wagon.


THE PRESENT ST. DENNIS CHURCH



Ground was broken for the third St. Dennis Church on October 16, 1933. The cornerstone was laid Sunday afternoon, December 3, 1933, by Bishop FitzMaurice who also preached the sermon. Assisting the bishop were Father James F. Earner, pastor of St. John's, Newark, Delaware, as deacon , and Father Joseph A. Lee, pastor of Holy Cross, Dover, Delaware, as sub-deacon. Father John J. Sheehy, Chancellor of the Wilmington Diocese, was Master of Ceremonies.

The new St. Dennis Church was dedicated on Monday, May 7, 1934, with Bishop FitzMaurice again presiding. Father Walsh, pastor of St. Dennis, was celebrant of the Solemn Mass.

JOHN J. and HELENA (GREENE) RASKOB
The new church was made possible chiefly through the generosity of John J. Raskob, whose wife's ancestors had lived in the area. Mr. Raskob channelled funds through the Catholic Foundation of the Diocese of Wilmington, Inc., which assumed the entire $60,000 cost of constuction,. The parishioners share in the enterprise was to provide the furnishings and equipment of the building.

Father Edward M. Leinheiser was pastor of St. Dennis from 1943 to 1956. During his pastorate, the remainder of the parish debt was paid off, an educational building fund was started, an Allen electronic organ was purchased, and a valuable parcel of land was obtained across the highway from the church for a much needed parking lot. It was also Father Leinheiser who enlisted the services of the Franciscan Sisters at St. Peter's, New Castle, Delaware, to teach religion classes at St. Dennis. Under the leadership of Mr. James E. Carlin of New Castle, members of the Knights of Columbus took turns transporting two Sisters on Sunday mornings during the school year from New Castle to Galena and then back to New Castle.

Father Joseph C. Horgan was pastor of St. Dennis from 1956 to 1970. During his pastorate, the church purchased in 1881 by Father Bradford, the second St. Dennis, was dismantled. Before construction of the new church in 1933, the old frame church was moved to the back of the property, and for a while after the new church was completed, it had a limited use for social activities. But in more recent years it had been used only for storage purposes. It was dismantled in 1957.

In 1958 the interior of the new church was refurbished. In 1959 and 1960 a new front porch for the rectory was built; an addition was made to the rear of the rectory, providing housekeeper's living quarters above the kitchen and it's new pantry. At this time the kitchen was also modernized. In 1961 the seven and a quarter acre Gilfillan property south of the parish parking lot was obtained; its use as a complete recreation area was envisioned. In 1964 the church sanctuary was redecorated . In 1965 the five-eights of an acre Johnston property north of the parking lot was obtained, and the house on the property was remodeled into a small modern house.