Friday, November 6, 2015

RELIGION: Nov. 6–The 1st U.S. Catholic Bishop (Baltimore)

Bishop Carroll by Pennsylvania-born Rembrandt 
Peale, painter acclaimed for portraits of George 
Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
This day in 1789, Pope Pius VI appointed John Carroll bishop of Baltimore as the first Catholic bishop in the United States. I am writing this in the Lord Baltimore Hotel in downtown Baltimore and have reason to note the date.

There is a strong Oxford connection with the American colonies. I have been researching this connection and am visiting the Maryland Historical Society today to consult the Calvert Papers.

Maryland was a proprietary colony (one of only two of the thirteen when the United States became independent) owned by the Calvert family. The first Lord Baltimore, George Calvert, created the colony and was an alumnus of Trinity College, Oxford. He had three sons:
  • Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, a Trinity College, Oxford alumnus who handled the British side of the colonial property.
  • Leonard Calvert, the first Governor of Maryland (1633-1643), another Trinity Oxford alumnus.
  • Philip Calvert, Principal Secretary of Maryland and later Governor of Maryland (1660-1661).
The colony and then State of Maryland was created as a haven for Roman Catholics. It was carved out of Virginia to the south and Pennsylvania to the north, resulting in border disputes on both sides. The northern side of Maryland gave rise to the Mason-Dixon line. Alas, Maryland was on the wrong side of this line. Several black people from Maryland went north to become well-known opponents of slavery – such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.

Carroll was born in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, in 1735. His mother,  from a wealthy family, was educated in France. At age 13, Carroll sailed for France in order to complete his own education at St. Omer’s College in French Flanders. At age 18, he joined the Society of Jesus, and after a further 14 years of study in Liege, he received ordination as a priest at 34.

However, Pope Clement XIV’s decision in 1773 to dissolve the Jesuit order ended Carroll’s European career. Three years after Carroll’s return to Maryland, the need to make allies of French Catholics in Canada created an opportunity for him to join a Congressional delegation dispatched to negotiate with the Canadians.

Benjamin Franklin served on the same delegation, and although the mission failed, Franklin proved an excellent ally to Carroll. In 1784, Franklin recommended to the papal nuncio in Paris that Carroll assume the position of Superior of Missions in the United States of North America, which removed American Catholics from the authority of the British Catholic hierarchy.

As bishop and later in 1808 as the first U.S. archbishop, Carroll oversaw the creation of leading Catholic institutions in the new nation, including the first Catholic university (Georgetown University, 1789) and cathedral (Baltimore Basilica, 1806).

As a legacy from this era and the strong Maryland Catholic tradition, the Catholic Relief Services is located in Baltimore.

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