Memorial Weekend

National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Chapel

Visitors to the Memorial Park will want to spend time in the beautiful and historic Memorial Chapel.

The Chapel and many other buildings on campus are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1997, the site was designated as the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Chapel to denote its special bond to America’s fallen firefighters and their families.

The Foundation formally dedicated the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Chapel to the memory of Chief A. Marvin Gibbons of Maryland in 1998. This tribute reflects the many contributions Chief Gibbons made to the establishment of the annual Memorial Service and the National Fallen Firefighters Monument.

During past Memorial Weekends, families of fallen firefighters attended a private service in the Chapel. Rich in fire service tradition, the service included the reading of each fallen firefighter’s name and the ringing of a fire bell.

In 2003, a new tradition began during the Memorial Weekend. On Family Day, the Chapel is open to the families as a place of reflection. While Honor Guard members maintain a silent vigil, families and friends of the fallen heroes can light candles in remembrance of their loved ones and leave a rose in a Maltese Cross vase in the altar area.

History of the Memorial Chapel

During the early 1800s, Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first canonized American-born saint, established the Daughters of Charity in Emmitsburg. In 1809, she opened a boarding school for girls on this site. The school later became St. Joseph’s College, one of America’s first Catholic women’s colleges. The Daughters of Charity closed the College in 1973, and sold the buildings and more than 100 acres to the Federal Government in 1979.

Mother Seton selected the site for the Chapel before her death in 1821. Construction of the Romanesque Revival-style chapel began in 1839. The exterior is brick set on a stone foundation. Tuscan pilasters with granite capitals and bases, semi-circular stained glass windows, brick dentils, and a wood niche grace the outside of the building. A low, turned rail separates the nave from the sanctuary with its marble altar and massive pedimented niche. The bell that hangs in the steeple came from Spain in 1841.

During the Civil War, the Daughters of Charity went to the nearby Gettysburg battlefield and set up headquarters in the McClellan Hotel. From this base, they went out to several sites to nurse the wounded. Both Union and Confederate troops were on the Emmitsburg campus prior to the end of June 1863. After the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate soldiers passing by the campus in escape were fed.

Dedication of the Memorial Chapel - The Legacy of Chief A. Marvin Gibbons

For over 42 years, Marvin Gibbons made significant and lasting contributions to the fire service at the local, county, state and national levels.

Gibbons served as Fire Chief of the Hillandale Volunteer Fire Company in Montgomery County, Maryland, for 16 years, and as its President for four terms.

He worked to establish an Executive Committee of the Montgomery County Fire Board to develop policy for fire and rescue services. Recognizing that Montgomery County lacked adequate mutual aid agreements, Gibbons helped create the agreements that now exist among Washington, DC metropolitan jurisdictions. While Chairman of the Fire Board, he helped establish the Heart Mobile, the forerunner of the current paramedic program, and was involved with the building of the Public Service Training Academy. Following Gibbons’s death in 1990, Montgomery County dedicated the Fire and Rescue Service Wing of the Training Academy in his memory.

Gibbons served as President of the Maryland State Firemen’s Association (MSFA) and was elected to the MSFA Hall of Fame. He served as both Chairman and Vice Chairman of the MSFA Convention Committee and was a member of the Maryland State Fire Chiefs’ Association.

Gibbons organized efforts to establish a National Fallen Firefighters Memorial on the National Fire Academy campus in Emmitsburg, Maryland. His hard work culminated in the construction of a national monument and the establishment of the annual National Memorial Service, first held in 1982. Today, the National Memorial Service draws thousands of families, firefighters, and officials to the tribute held each October in conjunction with National Fire Prevention Week.

None of this would have been possible without the vision and dedication of Chief A. Marvin Gibbons, who took a dream and turned it into reality. The National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Chapel on the Emmitsburg campus is dedicated to his memory. Future generations will recognize Chief A. Marvin Gibbons as the person who made the national remembrances possible.