The 210-year history of the Emmitsburg area cannot be told apart from the church congregations it embraces because that is the best part of the Emmitsburg story. The right to worship God according to individual faith and tradition was more important than the economic reasons that drove the first settlers here in the 1730's. English, German, Irish and Scotch poured through the ports of Philadelphia and Annapolis and found their way to the foot of the Catoctin Mountains. One by one, small congregations appeared and in time began to build a town.

The first known church in the area was a log church built on an acre of ground (near the present Tom's Creek Methodist church three miles east of town) in 1757 and belonging to the Lutheran and Reformed congregations. Shortly after that, on the second Sunday of September in 1760, the Presbyterian church was established when the Reverend Robert McMordie was appointed to serve at "Monakasy" (Monacacy). This Tom's Creek Presbyterian church stood about a mile north of Emmitsburg along the Gettysburg Road (US. 15). The adjoining cemetery, which dates to March 11, 1764, still is maintained by the Emmitsburg church. One of the graves is that of Samuel Emmit, known as the founder of Emmitsburg.

The first church within the town itself was built on the square. Legend has it that Father Matthew Ryan from Path Valley, PA suggested to James Hughes that he build a church and gave him ten dollars as the first donation. Hughes built a brick building on the square with one large room reserved for religious ceremonies and Mass said by traveling priests.  This was the start of the present day parish of St. Joseph's founded in 1786. These traveling priests were probably the same Jesuit missionaries who served northern Frederick County known at that time as the Elder Settlement area. 

By 1793, when St. John's in Frederick became a parish, Elder Station (the St. Anthony's area) was attended by St. John's rectors. The first resident priest in the area was Father John DuBois who became pastor of St. Joseph's in 1805 and of a new chapel called St. Mary's of the Mount in 1806. This chapel served the congregation to which St. Anthony’s Shrine became the successor. Father DuBois then founded Mt. St. Mary's in 1808.

In 1797, a group of Methodists under the leadership of Robert Strawbridge purchased the old Tom's Creek log church from the Lutheran and the Reformed congregations and used it until the present structure was built in 1904 (Tom's Creek Methodist). The Lutheran and Reformed congregations came to Emmitsburg (1797) and built the present stone sanctuary known as Elias Lutheran Church.

In 1810, the village of Emmitsburg is said to have had 700 inhabitants, half of them Catholics, "who got on very well with their Protestant neighbors". (Ecumenism had begun.)

The Methodists built their first structure in Emmitsburg in 1833 on West Main Street. They had been worshipping in a house-chapel owned by William Moreland. The current structure for the Trinity Methodists was built in 1897.

On January 23, 1839, the church known as the Tom's Creek Presbyterian church was moved to a structure at its present site within the corporate limits of Emmitsburg. The building was remodeled in 1869 and then torn down to make way for a handsome new brick structure, Gothic in style with an imposing steeple, which was completed in 1879.

On May 6, 1841, a cornerstone was laid and blessed for the new St. Joseph's church at its present site. Some of those attending were Samuel Eccleston (Archbishop of Baltimore), Rev Philip Borgna, C.M. (Pastor), William Grayson (Governor of Maryland), Roger B. Taney (Chief Justice of the United States) and John Tehan (the architect). The church building was completed in 1852 and the Vincentians, priests of the Congregation of the Mission, took over from the priests of Mt. St. Marys.

In 1869, the Reformed congregation, who had been worshipping at Elias, built their church on the current site of the Incarnation United Church of Christ. In the meantime, Presidents of Mt. St. Mary's had been serving as rectors of St. Mary's of the Mount and did so until about 1895. In that year it became apparent the old St. Mary's of the Mount could no longer serve the needs of the people and Father John Manley, its pastor, broke ground for a new rectory and chapel dedicated in 1897 as St. Anthony Shrine Parish.

Since these early beginnings, our church structures have undergone some changes and expansions and in some cases have had to survive major catastrophes. The current Presbyterian church was rebuilt in 1904 after being struck by lightning in 1902 and St. Mary's of the Mount burned in 1913. The current Incarnation church underwent major rebuilding after a fire in 1950. However, there has also been some expansion with the latest being the new St. Joseph's Parish Hall, dedicated on March 22, 1992 by the Archbishop of Baltimore (now Cardinal), William H. Keeler.

Now, a little information about the "Council of Churches". The Emmitsburg Council of Churches was formed in 1966 and its Executive Committee includes the Pastors and two members from each of the local churches. Its purpose, as stated in its constitution, is to "provide the framework whereby the member congregations worship and work together". This phrase "work together" has, we believe, not only brought about some very positive relationships between the community churches but also produced some noteworthy results.

Over the years it has sponsored many community events such as "Community Days" honoring our local doctors, pastors, firemen, the Ambulance Corps and the American Legion and VFW. It initiated the Senior Citizens Group, organized the first Community Choir in 1967 and directs and sponsors the very popular yearly Vacation Church School. It has supported national efforts such as Project Hope, CROP and the Hurricane Hugo Relief Committee. However, its primary efforts and major funding requirements are currently focused on helping those within the community who need temporary help in making ends meet (rent, heat, electricity, etc.).

 As noted above, our constitution also refers to the congregations worshipping together and this we do every Thanksgiving, Easter Sunrise and during the Sunday evenings of Lent. These services rotate between our member congregations: St. Anthony's Catholic Church, Elias Lutheran Church, The Daughters of Charity, Incarnation United Church of Christ, St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Mt. St. Mary’s Chapel, Trinity United Methodist Church, Tom's Creek Methodist Church and the United Presbyterian Church. The uniqueness of these services is that the community aspect is emphasized; for example, pastors preach the homilies at other than their own parish. (The Easter Sunrise Service is always held at the Grotto.) These community services are the primary source of the Council's funds.

In addition to church's, Emmitsburg is also the proud home of Catholic Education Ministries Center. The Catholic Education Ministries Center is a resource center for Roman Catholic parishes in Frederick, Carroll and Washington Counties. In addition to providing consultation and services to those who run religion programs in the 21 parishes and 5 Catholic schools of the region, The Center also provide information and links to parishes in the region on our site.

The Center was formed in 1978 as a joint project of the Central Maryland parishes and the Archdiocese. The role of the Center was to serve as a representative of what was then known as the Department of Christian Formation in Central Maryland.

To learn more about Emmitsburg's rich history,
visit the Emmitsburg Historical Society Section of