A 1960 Account by Gertrude Turner Waters of the Founding of Epiphany Roman Catholic Church
An early photo of Epiphany Roman Catholic Church
[Editor's note: We have decided to keep the language as originally written in 1960 while acknowledging that "colored" and "Colored Catholics" are outdated terms for people of color and Catholics of color, and lack specificity when referring to Black Catholics.]
The beginning of our church is unique as well as being thirty-five years ahead of the thoughts of many intelligent, religious people. The reason for the establishment of our church has long been declared passé and out-moded by our Beloved Archbishop Patrick J. O’Boyle. But, thirty-five years ago a group of colored men and women urged by their children decided to raise funds in order to provide religious education as well as a place to worship, without segregation.
Up to this time, the Colored Catholics of Georgetown attended Holy Trinity Church, 36th and N Streets, N.W. These good people were allowed to attend Mass in the gallery screened off on both sides of the choir. It was very difficult as well as dangerous for the older people to climb the stairs. Then too, the young people refused to attend, being deprived of the Sunday School with its activities attracting to children.
Many parents sent their children to St. Augustine Church . . .
However, under the leadership of good Father Thomas Duffey, S.S.J., the Catholics of Georgetown pledged and gave of their meager earnings until enough money was raised to ask for a church.
Meetings were held at many homes in the area. The first three meetings were held in Trinity Hall. After it was found impossible to meet at Trinity Hall, meetings were held at 1412 36th Street, N.W. Meetings were subsequently held at Mrs. Mary L. Turner’s – 2445 P St., N.W., Mr. and Mrs. Leander Clifford – 2447 P St., N.W., and Mrs. Eleanor Jackson’s – 28th and Dumbarton Avenue, and many other homes. Many of the founders of our church have long since passed, but many of the descendants still attend Epiphany.
First Choir at Epiphany Catholic Church, 1925. (Photograph courtesy of Cynthia Jackson for Black Georgetown Remembered, Georgetown University Library.)
Some of the founders were Mr. and Mrs. Moses Booth, Sr., Mrs. Cecelia Creek, Mrs. Fannie Dodson [our oldest living founder], Mr. Frank Bowman, Mr. William Bowman, Mr. Richard Carter, Mrs. Annie Contee Williams, Mrs. ( --- ) Smith, Mrs. Jennie Morse, Mr. and Mrs. James Penn, Mr. and Mrs. Leander Clifford, Mr. and Mrs. James Smackum, Miss Annie Smackum, Miss Lettie Smackum, Mrs. Mary L. Turner, Mrs. Lucy Williams, Mrs. Cora Morris, and Mrs. Eleanor Jackson. Our first service was held in an old rickety building, formerly a Mortician’s Establishment, 1409 28th St., N.W.
Our good priest, Father Lawrence Schaefer, S.S.J., built the altar and formed a choir. Mrs. Gertrude T. Waters was the first Sunday School Superintendent and services were conducted until our present church was established.
The parishioners gave entertainments and contributed liberally, and at last the great day came for the dedication of the ground at 2712 Dumbarton Avenue, N.W. Father Schaefer lived in a rented house at 2818 P St., N.W. But he was always working and helping the parishioners in their projects and forming parish societies. It was during Father Schaefer’s pastorate that our present church was built. Many friends came to give financial aid. Mrs. Weisner gave the bell for the church and also the Stations. Our altar was made by Father Schaefer from wooden crates, which formerly held the pews. Mrs. Mame Smith and family gave the Baptismal. . . .
By Gertrude Turner Waters on the occasion of the Thirty-Fifth Anniversary of the Founding of Epiphany Roman Catholic Church
Dedication of the Church Bell, 1927. (Photograph courtesy of Cynthia Jackson for Black Georgetown Remembered, Georgetown University Library.)
Patrick A. O’Boyle (1896-1987) was the first resident archbishop of Washington, D.C., serving from 1948 to 1973.
Thomas Duffy, S.S.J. (1874?-1944), was the first pastor of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Washington, D.C.; the parish was founded in 1923.
Mary L. Turner was born in Washington, D.C., around 1865.
Leander O. Clifford, a laborer in the Washington Navy Yard, was born in Maryland around 1862. His wife, Emma, was born in Washington, D.C., around 1868.
Elnora Jackson was born in Maryland around 1895. She owned and operated a beauty parlor in Georgetown which served as a meeting place for members of the Epiphany community.
Moses Z. Booth, a janitor at a police station, was born in Washington, D.C., around 1863. His wife, Elizabeth, was born in Virginia around 1865.
Celia H. Creek, born in Washington, D.C., around 1880, worked as a domestic for a private family.
Fannie Dodson was born in Washington, D.C., around 1875.
William Bowman, a laborer in the building construction industry, was born in Washington, D.C., around 1876.
Richard N. Carter, a cutter in the monotype section of the Government Printing Office, was born in Washington, D.C., around 1877.
Anna Contee, a printer’s assistant in the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, was born in Washington, D.C., around 1888.
Mary Smith was born in Maryland around 1879.
James E. Penn, a janitor and stock clerk, was born in Maryland around 1880.
James B. Smackum, a bakery cashier, was born in Washington, D.C., around 1890, as was his wife Mattie.
Annie Smackum, born in Washington, D.C., around 1868, worked as a domestic for a private family.
Lettie Smackum, born in Washington, D.C., around 1865, worked as a domestic for a private family.
Cora Morris was born in Washington, D.C., around 1875.
Lawrence H. Schaefer, S.S.J., served as pastor of Epiphany Roman Catholic Church from 1924 until 1931.
Gertrude Waters, a public school teacher, was born in Washington, D.C., around 1896.
The dedicatory exercises and the cornerstone laying of Epiphany Roman Catholic Church took place on July 19, 1925. (See “New Epiphany Catholic Church Is Dedicated,” Washington Post, July 20, 1925.)
Actually Frank J. Wissner (1874-1926), a Washington, D.C., attorney and the publisher of The Georgetown Courant.
Mamie Odile Smith was born in Virginia around 1899. Her husband, Ernest C. Smith, was a Baptist minister.
Document Source: Archives of the Society of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, Washington, D.C.