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Archbishop John Carroll, SJ (1735-1815) First Bishop of the United States of America

August 16, 2015
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Continuing the preparation for the visit of Pope Francis to the United States next month, I offer you this background text on the first bishop of the United States. I have prepared it to provide an historical context to John Carroll’s Jesuit formation and the arrival of the first Jesuit Pope among us.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Much is written these days about the fact that Pope Francis is the first Jesuit Pope. When Pope Francis touches down in the USA on September 22, 2015, he will be visiting a Church whose first leader was also a member of the Society of Jesus. John Carroll, SJ, Archbishop of Baltimore was the first bishop of the United States of America. Born at Upper Marlboro, Maryland on January 8, 1735, he died in Baltimore on December 3, 1815. John was the fourth of seven children of Daniel Carroll and Eleanor Darnall. He attended the Jesuit grammar school Bohemia in Cecil County, Maryland. He then went abroad to St. Omer's College in French Flanders for six years. His father Daniel died in 1750, and in 1753 John Carroll joined the Society of Jesus. In 1755 he began his studies of philosophy and theology at Liège (Belgium), and after fourteen years of studies was ordained priest at the age of thirty-four in 1761. The next four years he spent at St.-Omer and at Liège teaching philosophy and theology. Fr. Carroll took final vows in the Society of Jesus in 1771. In 1773 while Fr. Carroll was in Europe, Pope Clement XIV published the Bull suppressing and dissolving the Society of Jesus.
Carroll John Bishop This sad and painful news reached Carroll on September 5, 1773, and John’s Jesuit life ended. Suddenly he had to provide for his future course of life. The following spring he returned to Maryland to live with his mother. John Carroll began the life of a missionary in Maryland and Virginia. As a result of laws discriminating against Catholics, there was no public Catholic Church in Maryland. Catholics were forbidden public worship. John celebrated daily mass in his mother’s house and built a tiny frame chapel on his mother's estate where he celebrated Sunday mass. He spent his time studying ancient literature.
In 1776, John accompanied Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, and his cousin Charles Carroll on a mission to Canada. The mission was unsuccessful in winning Canada over to the American side in the Revolution. John journeyed back to Philadelphia, caring for an ailing Benjamin Franklin. (Franklin would remember John Carroll’s kindness later when asked by the Vatican to recommend a priest who would become the first bishop of the United States.)
After 1783 John Carroll became a vigorous defender of Catholic rights in the new nation. Carroll also advised the Vatican that the United States needed a diocesan bishop chosen by its own clergy. The Maryland clergy sent a petition to Rome dated November 6, 1783, requesting permission for the missionaries in Maryland to nominate a superior who should have some of the powers of a bishop. The Vatican agreed with the proposal and in 1786 Baltimore was named the first diocese of the United States with John Carroll as its bishop. Fr. Carroll took up his residence in Baltimore (1786-1787), where even Protestants were charmed by his sermons delivered in old St. Peter's church. In 1790 John traveled to England for his episcopal consecration, which took place in a chapel at Lulworth Castle, England on August 15, through the imposition of hands of the Rt. Rev. Charles Walmesley, Senior Vicar Apostolic of England.
John Carroll Founder Georgetown UniversityReturning to America, Bishop Carroll took an active part in municipal affairs, especially in establishing schools, Catholic and non-Catholic, being president of the Female Humane Charity School of the City of Baltimore, one of three trustees for St. John's College at Annapolis, founder of Georgetown College in 1791, (which would become Georgetown University), head of the Library Company, the pioneer of the Maryland Historical Society, and President of the trustees of Baltimore College (1803). For the training of priests he invited the Sulpicians from France, who established St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. Carroll also encouraged Elizabeth Seton to establish the American Sisters of Charity for the education of young girls. Elizabeth Ann Seton was proclaimed a saint in 1975 by Pope Paul VI.
Bishop Carroll appealed to the US Congress for the need of a constitutional provision for the protection and maintenance of religious liberty, and we can be grateful to Carroll for the provision in Article Six, Section 3, of the US Constitution, which declares that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States", and also the first amendment, passed this same year by the first Congress, that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
In 1792 Bishop Carroll interceded with George Washington regarding missions among the Indians; eventually the President recommended to Congress a civilizing and Christianizing policy among the Indians, one result of which was the acceptance of the services of a Catholic priest, to whom a small yearly salary was allowed.
Bishop Carroll conferred the Sacrament of Holy Orders for the first time in 1793 on Rev. Stephen Badin, the first priest ordained within the limits of the original thirteen of the United States. In 1795, Carroll ordained to the priesthood Prince Demetrius Gallitzin who was to add 6,000 converts to his flock. In 1798, Bishop Carroll won an interesting and important lawsuit in Pennsylvania, the famous Fromm Case, which decided: "The Bishop of Baltimore has the sole episcopal authority over the Catholic Church of the United States. Every Catholic congregation within the United States is subject to his inspection; and without authority from him no Catholic priest can exercise any pastoral function over any congregation within the United States."
After the death of George Washington, Bishop Carroll issued a circular to his clergy on December 29, 1799, regarding the commemoration of February 22 as a day of mourning, giving directions for “such action as would be in conformity with the spirit of the Church, while attesting to the country the sorrow and regret experienced by Catholics at the great national loss."
By unanimous vote, the United States Congress in conjunction with the clergy of all denominations and congregations of Christians throughout the United States, invited Bishop Carroll to preach a panegyric (eulogy of high praise) for the deceased President of the United States in St. Peter’s Church in Baltimore on February 22, 1800. It was considered by all present and those who heard about it as one of the most masterful orations ever presented for the first President of the United States.
In 1808, Bishop Carroll became Archbishop of Baltimore, with suffragan sees at New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Bardstown. John Carroll was bishop and archbishop of Baltimore for 35 years. He proved to be an astute leader while facing so many difficulties of establishing the Church in a new, democratic environment. When he was near death, Archbishop Carroll said, “Of those things that give me most consolation at the present moment, one is that I have always been attached to the practice of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary; that I have established it among the people under my care, and placed my diocese under her protection.”
When Carroll died in 1815, there was great mourning and sadness over the loss of such a great shepherd. A Baltimore newspaper of the day said of the funeral ceremonies: "We have never witnessed a funeral procession where so many of eminent respectability and standing among us followed the train of mourners. Distinctions of rank, of wealth, of religious opinion were laid aside in the great testimony of respect to the memory of the man."
Another Baltimore paper said: "In him religion assumed its most attractive and amiable form, and his character conciliated for the body over which he presided, respect and consideration from the liberal, the enlightened of all ranks and denominations; for they saw that his life accorded with the benign doctrines of that religion which he professed. In controversy he was temperate yet compelling, considerate yet uncompromising.”
One hundred ninety-five years after Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus in 1540 to reach people around the world with the Gospel and help them find God in whatever they did and wherever they were, John Carroll entered the world in Maryland. Upon entering the Society of Jesus in 1753, Carroll sought God in all things, all situations and all people, including the painful experience of exile after the suppression of the Society of Jesus. Like Ignatius his spiritual father, Carroll put into practice all that Ignatius taught, and became a great, good and founding shepherd and first Jesuit bishop of the American Church.
When the first Jesuit Pope visits the United States in September 2015, it will be cause for rejoicing and a moment of gratitude that Ignatius’ vision and Pope Francis’ Petrine and Ignatian Ministry have found a home in the United States of America from the very beginnings of this great nation. May the brilliant vision of Ignatius of Loyola and the courageous Petrine ministry of Francis of Buenos Aires help all people to become more thankful and reverent, more devoted to God, and more deeply in love with the Creator.
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