Leaders gather for Maryland Day to celebrate state's 380th year

March 25, 2014|By Quinn Kelley, The Baltimore Sun

When Tuesday's Maryland Day ceremony was relocated to the Baltimore Basilica because of the snow, several speakers noted the significance of the location.

As the first Catholic cathedral in the country, in a state with a history of religious tolerance, some said it was the ideal place to gather.

"It's extremely significant to people in Maryland," but also to people across the country, said Mortimer Newlin Stead Sellers, University of Baltimore School of Law professor, after the ceremony. "This was the first place to allow Catholics to practice openly."

"This cathedral was designed to embody the great experiment of religious liberty," said Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori.

This year marks the 380th anniversary of the founding of Maryland. Henry Conley Pitts, governor of the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Maryland, introduced numerous speakers, several of whom recognized state founder Cecilius Calvert for his contributions to both Maryland and the nation's attitude of religious tolerance as a whole.

Pitts said Calvert was "a Catholic in a Protestant land" who encouraged the passage of the Maryland Toleration Act in 1649, which became the first legal guarantee of religious freedom in the U.S. or Britain after the state's General Assembly passed it.

Sellers thanked Calvert as a pioneer of First Amendment rights for the separation of church and state he helped establish.

"The American tradition of religious toleration began with Cecilius Calvert," he said.

"We are proud of the message of inclusion they brought to the colony," added Eugene Bowie Roberts, president of the Society of The Ark and The Dove, an organization that promotes Maryland historical research and commemorates the first families of Maryland.

Several direct descendants of the Calvert family attended the event, said Scott Watkins, an organizer of the event and a member of Colonial Wars. One of the descendants helped carry a flag at the beginning of the ceremony.

Watkins, dressed in early-17th-century armor, boots, cape and sword, read the peerage and grant to George and Cecilius Calvert early in the ceremony, a document written by Charles I that named Cecilius Calvert the rightful heir to land in the New World.

The ceremony ended with the presentation of a 30-by-42-foot flag, a replica of the original Star-Spangled Banner of 1814. The flag, sewn by Maryland Historical Society volunteers in the same style as the original, was blessed by interfaith religious leaders from more than a dozen churches.

The flag was later presented to lawmakers and Gov. Martin O'Malley in Annapolis, and, if weather permitted, was to be raised on the Pride of Baltimore, Watkins said.

"Maryland Day is a very important day for us here in Maryland," said Baltimore City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young. "We need to really recognize all the good things from our past."

Watkins echoed this sentiment, stressing the need to look to historical examples when addressing today's problems. The state's history offers "many lessons in working together," he said.

"We can really learn from the past," he said.


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