30 Nov 2009

Lost Capitol Hill: St. Cyprian’s Church

St Cyprians map smallWhile in my usual columns about lost Capitol Hill I write about landmarks that are completely lost, it is good to see that I am not the only person trying to remember some of these buildings. Today I write about a place that I found out about only because there is still a small memento of it available: A plaque is mounted at the corner of C Street, South Carolina Avenue and 13th Street, Southeast. It commemorates St Cyprian’s church, which stood across C Street for 70+ years.

The text of the plaque tells most of the story:

St. Cyprian’s Catholic Church.
The parish of St Cyprian was established in 1893 by the Black Catholics of Southeast Washington, under the leadership of Rev. James R. Mathew. In 1894, through the financial sacrifices and physical labor of the parishioners St. Cyprian church was built on this location, 13th and C Streets S.E.

This parish community joined the parish of Holy Comforter to form the church of Holy Comforter – St. Cyprian in 1966. May the memory of St. Cyprian’s history ever remain as a testament to the goodness of the Lord and living faith of the Black Catholics of Southeast Washington.

The plaque is signed by the Very Rev. Robert M. Kearns, who was the pastor when it was erected, as well as Mrs. Doris Edelin, the parish council president.
The text is a bit misleading, as the church was actually built across the street from where the plague is now mounted (The plaque is at the X on the excerpt from the 1903 Baiste atlas, above, while the church is marked “R.C. Ch.”)

St. Cyprians in the early 20th Century. (LOC)

St. Cyprians in the early 20th Century. (LOC)

St. Cyprian church, which was a offshoot of St. Peter’s parish, was soon after its founding a full member of the religious community of Washington DC. In April, 1895, the Washington Times reported of a funeral service that was to be held there, while in December, 1896, the Evening Times reported of a fair that had been held there. In 1904, the Washington Times reported that each congregant of the church had received a rosary personally blessed by Pope Pius X, as part of the feast of St. Cyprian which was celebrated at St. Cyprian’s that year. In 1910, an article in the Washington Herald relates that the St. Cyprian’s congregation took part in a parade in which 5,000 celebrants would act “as living examples of reverence for the holy name of Jesus and as a public protest against the language of the vile.” Sadly, no examples of the “language of the vile” are recorded, so it is unclear what, exactly, was being protested.

In the meantime, the Holy Comforter parish was founded in a pool hall in 1904, and soon after built a church at the corner of 14th and East Capitol Streets. It, too, was an offshoot of St. Peter’s. Holy Comforter and St. Cyprian church merged in 1966.

Today, a row of 1970’s era row houses stands where once stood an important center for Black Roman Catholics.

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  • J

    Thanks! Know the marker well. (Thanks to Molly.)

  • Interesting article. I live by there and went to the Washingtoniana collection at the MLK library to find the newspaper coverage of the opening of the church. Just for fun, I put together a website with some other interesting history on places in that area. See the website at http://southcarolinaavenue.webs.com if you are interested.

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