Generosity Starts the St. Margaret’s Legacy
A Catholic man, born in Washington, D.C. of emigrant Irish Catholic parents came to reside in Seat Pleasant, MD. He had been a prosperous foundation contractor in D.C. and decided to reside outside the city, retire from contracting, and engage in a new business, banking. He was responsible for opening the first bank in Seat Pleasant and his name was Francis Simon Carmody.
Troubled with having to go to Holy Name church in the city, Mr. Carmody sought the assistance of St. Teresa’s pastor, Father Bart, in establishing a church in Seat Pleasant. Mr. Carmody also offered to donate the land, pay for the cost of the church, and would also be responsible for running expenses of the church. Father Bart acted without delay in conveying this generous offer to Cardinal Gibbons. Mr. Carmody was invited to visit with Cardinal Gibbons where his offer was accepted, construction began, and the first church completed in 1908.
This new church, called St. Margaret’s, was named after its benefactor’s mother, Mrs. Margaret Carmody. The same year the church opened, a new parish was formed and detached from St. Teresa’s in D.C.
The first priest ordained from our parish was Reverend Edward R. Braham, of St. Matthias in 1923. Father Braham went on to be the pastor of Our Lady of Good Council Parish in Baltimore, MD. The second priest ordained in 1948 was also from St. Matthias, the Reverend Paul J. Barry, S.M., the son of Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Barry, Sr.
The first to become a sister from our parish was Miss Irene Mattingly, of St. Matthias. She entered the Sisters of Charity as Sister Irene around 1920. Two sisters, Misses Lucy and Teresa Palmer, daughters of Mr. Ralph Palmer, of St. Matthias became Sister Lucia of the Sisters of Charity, and Sister Mary Angelina, of the Sisters of the Order of the Holy Cross, respectively. Two other sisters, Misses Petronella and Yolanda Burns, daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Hawley Burns of St. Margaret’s, became Sister Mary Sharon and Sister Mary Laura respectively of the Sisters of Mercy. Another sister from St. Margaret’s is Sister Odile of the Sisters of Charity, who was Miss Agnes Noone. And even another sister from St. Margaret’s is Sister Mary Adrienne of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the former Miss Carol Wells, daughter of Mrs. Joseph Wells.
Educational Stewardship Begins – Sunday School
With the opening of St. Matthias Church in neighboring Capitol Heights – to accommodate the growing congregation and close the distance to St. Margaret’s – the first full scale organized Sunday school started in 1913. Father Schwallenberg had previously conducted a general Sunday school after the 8:30am Mass and a special religious instruction course at 3:30pm on Fridays. Mr. Clinton G. light, Sr., together with a number of lay teachers from the parish, set up classes for boys and girls. Separated in about 10 grades each, regular instruction was provided from the simplest prayers through Bible history. Classes were held in St. Matthias Church, and grades for recitation in assigned lessons and attendance were part of the system, and promotion was dependent on these. Attractive “merit” silver crosses and “excellence” gold hearts, with bars for successive awards, were given at the close of each school year in June. The senior students who successfully completed the final course were awarded diplomas at a formal graduation ceremony. An annual play also served to maintain the interest of the younger set and to bring them together socially.
During the summer, the annual Sunday school excursion to Chesapeake Beach via the old smoky Chesapeake Beach railroad was a gala affair for all members of St. Matthias’ and their friends, with games, contests, and prizes to add to the festive picnicking, swimming, fishing, and carnival concessions of the park.
Sunday school at St. Margaret’s was also held in the church and taught by members of the parish. At the close of the year, all children and their parents looked forward to the annual family picnic in Carmody’s meadow, where a creek ran through the meadow and provided much entertainment. Benefits, such as suppers, euchre parties, and bazaars for St. Margaret’s were held in Collins’ Hall, where the Bank of Maryland used to be.
Before St. Margaret's
The St. Margaret's Parish began with the establishment of St. Teresa's Parish in Southeast Washington D.C. in 1879. Northeast Washington, the territory of the current St. Margaret's, was incorporated into St. Teresa's also. As is the case today, workers in Washington found it more economical to reside in our locality than in downtown D.C. But in 1879, they would have to bring their food supplies home from the city. Soon, these workers opened stores locally Catholic worship and education however, was still located in the Southeast(no roads or bicycles existed at this time). The nearest church was actually Holy Name Church located at 11th Street, N.E.
A New St. Margaret’s Catholic Church and School
Many efforts of the Parish Pastors to provision a school for the children were not immediately crowned with success. A first attempt was made under Fr. Schwallenberg as far back as 1917, when the parish income to support 2 priests and 2 churches was only $2,000 per year. Some thought of making a beginning in the Hall had to be abandoned as impractical. An effort to acquire the home of George Palmer opposite the Rectory failed because the parish was outbid. Success came at last when an ideal site was made available by Mr. Louis H. Bell, a realtor. The tract of 13 acres was the former Seat Pleasant Manor, a site a little over half a mile from the original St. Margaret’s Church.
But questions remained to be answered. How many parishioners were there? Did the parish in fact need a school? Would it need other structure also and how large should they be? How much money was needed and how much could be gathered? With these questions, a census was set for September 14, 1953. Over one hundred parishioners knocked on every door in the area and found that there were 2,978 Catholics, 653 of these children of elementary school age – evidence a school was needed.
A fundraising committee was formed with a goal of $90,000, to match the funds accumulated in the parish treasury. The funds were gathered and a contract awarded to Southern Commercial Construction Company for $356,000. Ground breaking started on February 2, 1953. The construction included a new church, school, auditorium and convent, all to fulfill the overflowing of the current St. Margaret’s and St. Matthias Churches.
Prior to completion of the new school, parish children were sent by bus to Catholic schools downtown. By the Fall of 1954, this had expanded to 2 buses carrying over 150 children. With the planned opening of the new School, 4 busses were acquired and parishioners were enlisted to drive them – 2 serving the city-bound upper grades and 2 to carry the lower grade children to St. Margaret’s own school.
This construction time also found the parish eagerly in search of sisters to teach the school. Four Felician Sisters arrived at St. Margaret’s on Thursday, August 18, 1955, the first Felicians to work in the Archdiocese of Washington. The sisters stayed with the School Sisters of Notre Dame at Mt. Calvary Convent in Forestville until the St. Margaret’s convent was ready.
School Registration for the 1955 school year took place on Saturday and Sunday, August 27 and 28. Two-hundred and thirty (230) children were enrolled in Grades 1, 2 and 3. These were divided into five classes and school began on September 8, 1955. Because the new school was not quite ready, Mt. Calvary granted the use of two classrooms where the first and third grade boys attended school. St. Ambrose in Cheverly also donated two classrooms where the boys and girls of second grade and the girls of third grade attended. First graders attended class in St. Margaret’s old Hall. Finally, on Monday, November 28, 1955 school was held for all students at the new St. Margaret’s Catholic School.
Content above provided by Donna Maria Porpora Marlowe '66 and from the 1955 Dedication - Fr. Timothy N. MacCarthy, presiding.
Altar & Choir Boys
Father Zumbusch, requested as St. Margaret’s assistant pastor by Father Schwallenberg, was talented in music, dramatics and handy with the hammer and saw (helping to build the sacristy at both churches and the belfy at St. Matthias). The parishioners who knew him well always remember him for his greatest accomplishment, his love and guidance of the altar and choir boys. He had about 24 boys in the St. Margaret’s choir and was instrumental in getting a number of them into Catholic School, St. John’s being his favorite. Father Zumbusch was also a strict disciplinarian. The altar boys at St. Matthias had written assignments for serving, promptly learned their responses, and never dared go on the altar in regular shoes. They always had to change into “sneakers”.
St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church
St. Margaret’s Catholic School in the New Era
By 1958, the school entered three (3) first-grade classes with each class enrolling no fewer than 60 students per teacher. School tuition in 1958-59 was $110 yearly, with a $6 per month fee for bus service. Few of the approximate 180 children had attended kindergarten. (There were no PG county public school kindergartens at that time.) However, “ready to learn” first graders were taught by teachers Sr. Josephine, Mrs. Garber, and Mrs. Bukoski, who prepared to develop reading and arithmetic, along withthe Palmer-method writing, the Baltimore Catechism, and countless Bible stories. 1958 was also the year that the school expanded to include eighth grade.The appointment of Ann T. Robinson as principal of the school in 1979 was a landmark, not only for St. Margaret’s, but also the Archdiocese of Washington. Mrs. Robinson, who had taught her first group of students in the 1962-63 school years, was the first African American woman and the first lay principal of the Archdiocesan schools.Pages of history turned while school was in session. Interrupted in the course of their school day, students prayed for the souls of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Challenger astronauts, and countless others who served the nation, the Church, and the school.The school has since changed, from 180 first graders in 1958 to 160 total students in 2004. The school has become more modern and the teaching closer to the immediate all-around needs of students. Principal Mrs. Charon P.W. Hines served for four years, ending in 2006. A graduate of Elizabeth Seton High School in Prince Georges county, Mrs. Hines holds a Master of Arts in Teaching from Bowie State University.The current principal is Dr. Harold P. Belcher, Jr. Dr. Belcher is the first male principal in the history of the 52-year old school. A native of the District who attended Sacred Heart School for elementary school, Dr. Belcher comes to St. Margaret’s after serving for six years as vice principal of Bertie Backus Middle School and 20 years at Francis Junior High School in the District. He holds a Ed.D. degree in Educational Leadership and Management from the United States International University of Califormia.
The true history of St. Margaret’s School can only be told by its students, faculty, parents, and priests. Please, contact us to share your memories and fill the archives of the legendary parish. We welcome your words and photos of your time at the school!