Closure of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Mount Savage will be a disheartening chapter in local history. I’m glad my mom won’t see it. She would be 99 if still living.
Early church history in Allegany and Garrett counties is Mom’s family history, and she deeply felt that connection. Mom grieved to see her grandchildren stray from the faith that her forebears — the McKenzies and Weimers — worked so hard to build in these parts of the early American frontier.
Many folks measure success by how far from their hometowns they move to make their livings. For our pioneering ancestors, our homelands were those faraway places. The McKenzies (Catholics from Scotland) and the Weimers (Brethren from Alsace) fled religious oppression and migrated, by way of St. Mary’s and Baltimore, to settle Mount Savage, Avilton and Greenville Township and forge freer lives for themselves and their descendants. They were planters, farmers and landowners, and their progeny traveled farther west as the country expanded, but many stayed here, and so have I.
I’m grateful to have been able to work good jobs that allowed me to be a homeowner in my hometown, where William Gabriel McKenzie — with his wife’s family, the Durbins, and the Logsdons and Arnolds — was first to settle. These families composed Arnold’s Settlement and the first congregation of St. Ignatius.
Gabriel McKenzie’s great-granddaughter, Drusilla Anne McKenzie, is my great-great-grandmother — my mother’s father’s father’s mother.
Drusianne married Samuel K. Weimer, great-grandson of immigrant Johannes Weimer (a Revolutionary War veteran). Samuel is buried in Hostetler Brethren cemetery, Greenville Township. Drusianne, buried at St. Michael’s in Frostburg, is the matriarch of our Catholic lineage.
Mom’s dad’s father, Ozias Weimer (Drusilla and Samuel’s eldest son), with his sons Lawrence and John, and Drusie’s father John McKenzie, built the original St. Anne’s church in Avilton (where Mom’s parents were wed). Drusianne’s first cousin, Jeremiah McKenzie and his wife Mary Catherine, donated an acre of land from the Garlitz home place; their son Moses Ignatius McKenzie became caretaker.
The congregation at McKenzie’s Settlement had outgrown the “Church house” that Christian Garlitz (married to Drusie’s aunt Sarah Ann McKenzie) built onto his log home for masses celebrated by a visiting priest from Cumberland. (Samuel M. McKenzie Sr., Gabriel’s son, was patriarch of the Avilton McKenzies.)
Mom liked to tell of Ozias walking as a child with his family from their home near Pocahontas to Sunday mass at St. Ignatius (where Ozias was baptized). Carrying their Sunday shoes, they’d travel the old Turkey Foot Road over Big Savage Mountain, and then spend Saturday night at the Logsdon’s, along present-day Bald Knob Road. Ozias was 18 years old when St. Patrick was dedicated in 1865.
Born at the family home in Greenville Township, Ozias died there at age 93. Mom was born there, too; she died in her home in Mount Savage at 95. Mom’s dad James Henry Weimer, Ozias’ youngest son, bought a Civil War-era farm here when Mom was in second grade; Grandpap wanted his children to attend the best schools. Mom went to St. Patrick Catholic School, and then graduated valedictorian from the original Mount Savage School. She graduated Frostburg Teachers College in 1942.
Mom embodied her ancestors’ pioneering spirit of determination and hard work that equipped her to conquer life’s toughest challenges. She was farmer, gardener, cook, baker, seamstress, homemaker, teacher, traveler. At heart, she was an artist, and a collector of beautiful things.
Mom’s appreciation for life, and her courageous acceptance of death, ran deep into her Catholic roots. She lived fully, and then went joyfully to be with her family again.
Nancy E. Thoerig