Saint John the Apostle
From the early 1700s, Catholic’s in Delaware’s lower counties attended Mass whenever possible in individual homes whenever Jesuit priests from Maryland would visit.
In 1808, with the established of the then-Diocese of Philadelphia, priests from New Castle would minister in Kent and Sussex Counties. Then, in 1870, after the Dioceses of Wilmington was erected and Holy Cross was founded in Dover, priests from the new parish cared for the Catholics down state.
Under the care of the priests of Holy Cross and until 1909, a monthly Sunday Mass was said at various locations. On December 8, 1909, Captain George Mahon donated land on what is now Maple Ave to the Bishop of Wilmington for the purpose of building a new church. On June 26, 1910, the Most Reverend John Monaghan, third Bishop of Wilmington, dedicated Saint John the Apostle church and for two years traveled by train to offer Sunday Mass.
The first resident pastor was assigned to Saint John in 1912. With the formation of Dover Air Force Base and an increase in industry in Milford, Saint John’s congregation out grew the church and facility. In 1952, on land donated by Mr. and Mrs. Irwin G Burton, a new church was planned at the corner of Seabury Ave. and School Place. The dedication took place on November 25, 1954. During this time, parishioners from Harrington who had been traveling to Milford for Mass completed a new church, Saint Bernadette, which was dedicated on September 6, 1953. Since then, it has been a mission of Saint John the Apostle.
A Hispanic ministry was established in the mid-1980’s to serve a growing population. Today, there are several hundred families in the parish’s Hispanic Community. In 1990, the parish began an “Oktoberfest” celebration as an annual fundraiser. It has grown into a community-wide event and attracts people from all over Kent and Sussex Counties. In 2005, a new Parish Hall was opened which expanded the opportunities for parish and family life at Saint John. And, as part of the Sustaining Hope for the Future Capital Campaign, plans were made for a new parish Rectory to be built adjacent to the church. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on March 2, 2017 and it was completed later in 2017.
At this time, Saint John the Apostle, together with Saint Bernadette, supports close to 1,400 families in lower Kent County and upper Sussex County and is served by two priests and four deacons.
Before Saint Bernadette Church was built, Catholics in rural areas of Felton, Green wood, and Harrington found it difficult to practice their faith.
Transportation was not as widespread as it is today, and offering Mass for this community in a regular, continuous manner was not easy. Mass was sometimes offered in Harrington at the Newman Hotel, as early as 1900, or in private homes by priests from Holy Cross in Dover. When the first resident pastor was assigned to Saint John the Apostle in 1912, Mass was said monthly in various locations for the residents of Harrington. For a time, instead of bringing the priest to Harrington, a bus was supplied for the people to come to Milford. This arrangement did not last long as the bus fell into disrepair and the number of privately owned cars increased. Still, the faithful of Harrington and its surrounding environs yearned for a spiritual home of their own.
At the time, Catholics were not widely accepted in Harrington and found it difficult to obtain land on which to build a church of their own. They were approached by a local merchant, Mr. Harry Greenberg, who graciously offered to purchase the land on their behalf. True to his word, he secured the twenty-acre property at auction for $4,950 on September 6, 1952. He resold the property to the budding Catholic Community for the same price; Saint John the Apostle supplied the funds for the purchase.
The Most Reverend Edmund J. FitzMaurize, the fourth Bishop of Wilmington, gave permission for a cinder-block building to be erected after the families had promised to erect and pay for the building themselves. Ground was broken on November 23, 1952 and parishioners formed a crew and started digging the foundation. By Easter of 1953, the structure was ready for its roof and roofers were contracted. Until this point, there had been no hired workmen, but parishioners worked together. As most of them were farmers, work slowed during the spring to allow them to tend to their farms.
The church was ready for its dedication on September 6, 1953, one year after the land was purchased. By April of 1954, Saint John’s church was repaid the $4,950 for the cost of the land.
In subsequent years, parishioners erected a hall for social occasions which included classrooms for Religious Education. In 2008, funds were raised for a grotto depicting Saint Bernadette’s encounter with Our Lady of Lourdes. Most recently as part of the Sustaining Hope for the Future Capital Campaign, air-conditioning was installed in the hall.
At this time, Saint Bernadette, together with Saint John the Apostle, supports close to 1400 families in lower Kent County and upper Sussex County and is served by two priests and four deacons.