St. NICOLAS CHURCH, MARYLAND
St. Nicholas became a military chapel in April 1943 after the commissioning
of the station. The chapel's roots go back to a Jesuit mission in the
early days of Maryland history, more than 350 years ago.
St. Nicholas Chapel has been officially recognized as a historical Maryland site by the Maryland Historical Trust, part of the Maryland State Highway Administration.
Three hundred and nineteen graves surround the chapel, however the head-stones were eventually laid down and covered by earth. A marble tablet embedded in the wall of the present chapel was once part of the original wooden building, and honors Father Sebastian DeRose, a chaplain for the French Navy and veteran of the American Revolutionary War.
A Capuchin Franciscan priest, DeRose was the first full-time pastor of the chapel, and after his death, he was buried beneath the nave of the old church. The earliest church site was established in 1637 as part of the Jesuit mission of Father Andrew White on land given by Chief Macquacomen of the Mattapanient Indians. Today's structure, constructed from cement blocks in 1916 on the site of the original St. Nicholas church, was founded as a Roman Catholic parish and built in 1796 by the Jesuit Superior, Father James Walton.
When the Navy purchased the land that would make up the air station in 1942, St. Nicholas Church, and it was then referred to, was redesignated as the base chapel. The old 1796 church was being used for religious education since the construction of the new church, and was taken down due to disrepair when the Navy took over the property. The final official civilian act in the church was a wedding held the day before the chapel was temporarily closed May 31, 1942. Naval Air Station Patuxent River was commissioned April 1, 1943, and the first Navy chaplain arrived that July.
In 1945, Felix de Weldon, sculptor of the Iwo Jima Memorial, created the chapel's 3,000 pound Vermont marble cruciform. The larger-than-life sized sculpture overlooks the chapel altar. De Weldon accomplished both works while stationed at Pax River as a Sailor during World War II.
Inside the chapel are also a white colonial pulpit acquired from the
Naval Academy chapel in 1943 and 19 French stained glass windows. Eight
of the chapel's 10 windows depict scenes in the life of Christ. They are
entitled, "The Annunciation," "The Nativity," "The Boy Christ Among the
Doctors," "The Presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple," "The Agony
in the Garden," "The Crucifixion," "The Resurrection," and "The Ascension."
The original church bell, donated to Holy Face Church, was replaced with
a 300-pound bell from USS Attu, a World War II aircraft carrier. A carillon
systems complements the bell. The grassy area beside the chapel is a cemetery
with approximately 320 graves
Source: Patuxent River Naval Air Station