Friars Pave Way for the Future & Preserve History with Carrollton Hall Restoration

from Spring 2021 Edition

Nearly 100 years after being aquired by the Franciscan Friars Conventual, historic Carrollton Hall is undergoing a $3.7 million renovation aimed at preserving and honoring its past, while utilizing it to serve the growing ministries of the Friars.

Nestled into the countryside of Howard County, Maryland, the headquarters for the Our Lady of the Angels Province of the Franciscan Friars Conventual resides on a beautiful and sprawling 236 acre campus, which is also home to the Shrine of St. Anthony.

On this campus, in close proximity to the Shrine, stands Carrollton Hall, a manor house originally built in 1832 by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the sole Catholic signer of the American Declaration of Independence. In its nearly 190 years of existence, the house has endured the tragedy of slavery, fallen into disrepair as its ownership changed hands several times, and enjoyed a period of renewal before eventually being acquired by the Franciscan Friars Conventual in 1928.

Today, Carrollton Hall has been set on a course for a new life, as the Friars are in the final stages of a $3.7 million renovation to preserve this historic landmark while creating a modern spiritual retreat and conference center.

The Friars arrived in Ellicott City, following the path of their founder, St. Francis of Assisi, seeking a bucolic setting to train young men wishing to join their growing presence in the United States. Through the years, the site as served the Friars as a novitiate, a house of studies, a Province headquarters, and as a home to traveling preaching Friars.

Following a master plan, conceived 20 years ago, the Friars have steadily upgraded the facilities and grounds to better serve the growing number of visitors. It is now a thriving center of prayer, faith and action. Open 365 days per year, the site receives 58,000 visitors annually, and supports the Gospel work of the Friars around the world. The Friars host daily Mass at the Shrine, retreats, talks and classes, meetings, dinners, concerts, and welcome pilgrims who seek peace in their busy lives.

Charles Carroll of Carrollton, depicted in the above painting by Michael Laty, had Carrollton Hall built in 1832 for his granddaughter. As shown in the inset, Carroll also signed the Declaration of Independence, the sole Catholic to do so.

In anticipation of their 100th Anniversary on Folly Quarter Road, in 2028, and the continued growth of their ministries, the Friars have sought to increase available space for groups, meetings and retreats, as well as the ability to engage people to bear witness to the values of their Catholic faith in society.

The renovations at Carrollton Hall are a major part of meeting this need.

Carrollton Hall, originally a neo-classical-style granite home, is on the National Register of Historical Places. It was designed by William Small, a protege of Benjamin Latrobe, who designed the U.S. Capitol and Baltimore’s Basilica of the Assumption. Charles Carroll had it built for his granddaughter, Emily Caton MacTavish, and many historians consider it “the most significant residence of its time.”

The newly-restored Carrollton Hall will serve as a multi-ministry center offering premium retreat and conference space, permanent and special exhibits, as well as hosting meetings on issues which Franciscans cherish and to which Charles Carroll devoted his life: freedom of religion, integrity and virtue in public discourse, and the pursuit of the common good.

A central part of the history of Carrollton Hall is the history of the people enslaved there. From 1831 through Emancipation in Maryland in 1864, enslaved persons built the house, maintained the grounds, and served the households of the building’s owners. With the help of descendants of the enslaved at Carrollton Hall, the Friars are gaining a fuller understanding of the impact of slavery in the history of the house, and are committed to celebrating the life and accomplishments of the enslaved there.

The Assisi Altar, which marked St. Francis’ tomb for more than 100 years, has been restored to its original magnificance and it will serve as the centerpiece of Carrollton Hall’s period-style home chapel.

Besides sharing the history of slavery at Carrollton Hall as part of the houses’ permanent exhibit, the Friars will establish an archive and resource center dedicated to researching and honoring the enslaved on the property. In addition, an outside memorial recognizing the contributions of the enslaved will be established on the house’s grounds.

A most unique feature of the project will be the construction of a period home chapel. Built after the Revolution when Catholicism was no longer outlawed in Maryland, Carrollton Hall was designed to have a home chapel, a place of worship and an ever-present reminder of the First Amendment right to religious liberty for which Charles Carroll struggled.

The centerpiece of the Carrollton Hall chapel will be the restored 1821 Assisi Altar. After Saint Francis died in 1226, his body was secretly buried beneath the magnificent Basilica which still crowns the hillside City of Assisi, Italy.

A mystery for nearly 600 years, the Friars discovered the long-hidden sarcophagus of Saint Francis in 1818 and built a marble altar facing it which graced the Tomb for over 100 years. In 1926, the Tomb was renovated, and the original Assisi Altar was shipped to our seminary in Massachusetts, where it held a place of honor until the seminary closed in 2002. Because the Assisi Altar suffered damage during transit from the seminary, a team of marble experts and artists are now meticulously restoring the masterpiece. Positioned ad orientem – facing east in the traditional way – the Assisi Altar will once again pulse as a place of sacred worship.

Complementing the altar will be presentation cases displaying the many priceless relics from antiquity to the modern era owned by the Friars.

Renovations taking place in the Heritage Room at Carrollton Hall are sponsored by Historic Ellicott City (HEC), a non-profit group devoted to preserving historic Howard County properties.

As the Friars approach their next century on Folly Quarter, they believe it is time to secure the next generation of Franciscan witnesses to our country and the world.

The Friars believe that through the dedication, passion, and commitment of their members, friends, and Companions, their work will make an impact on society. The ability of the Friars to carry out their mission at Carrollton Hall depends on resources generated from external sources to secure the goal of $3,700,000. Currently the campaign has raised 83% of our goal and we need your support to complete this historic project.

In 2019, Historic Ellicott City (HEC) Board members took a tour of the Carrollton Hall renovations and presented a $30,000 check to Mr. Joseph Hamilton, Director of Mission Advancement for the Franciscan Friars Conventual. When finished the Heritage Room will consist of two parlors housing permanent exhibits detailing the history of the mansion.

We invite you to join us in this effort through supporting The Campaign for Carrollton Hall. Every gift counts and your contribution today will help us reach our goal. Campaign gifts can be made in the form of cash, securities, property, or other mutually agreed planned gift arrangements.

Your gift to this campaign will help guarantee strong ministry in the Franciscan tradition into the 21st century. The time is upon us for this important undertaking to restore Carrollton Hall and to further the cultural evangelization efforts of the Franciscan Friars.

If you have any questions, please contact Joseph Hamilton at †


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