Tuesday, January 16, 2018

St. Mary’s Church, Fairfax Station, and the Founding of the American Red Cross

In 1838, two Catholic families donated a tract of land near what is now Fairfax Station, Virginia in hopes of having a church built and a Catholic cemetery consecrated. A cemetery was created immediately. Irish immigrants became the nucleus of the new parish. Their names are inscribed on the cemetery’s tombstones. St. Mary’s church (seen below) was dedicated in 1860.

St. Mary's Church 

After the Second Battle of Manassas in August, 1862, Clara Barton, a clerk at the Government Patent Office, who had gathered a group of volunteers, nursed the wounded for three days at St. Mary’s Church. Many soldiers died and were buried in the churchyard. There was no official system for identifying the dead. The lucky could rely on friends to write to the family.  In the spring of 1865, Clara Barton established the Missing Soldiers Office in Washington City.  This organization helped provide information about 22,000 soldiers to anxious families.

Clara Barton

As a result of her experiences in the Civil War, Clara Barton went on to establish the American Red Cross.  She began this project in 1873, but was initially told that since the United States would never again face a crisis like the Civil War such an organization was unnecessary. Barton finally succeeded in convincing critics by using the argument that the American Red Cross could respond to crises other than war such as earthquakes, forest fires, and hurricanes. Clara Barton became President of the American Red Cross in May 1881.

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