Reconstructed Indian Long House at St. Mary's City, by Harry Connelly, Jr.


The story of the Jesuits of English-speaking America is largely forgotten. They came to Maryland only shortly after their better-known brothers reached Canada and more than fifty years before Eusebio Kino travelled north to California. But they had no romance. The dreams of a new Christian empire, of a European system translated whole onto the American wilderness, were not theirs, nor did they find the heroic martyrdoms of an Isaac Jogues or a Jean de Brébeuf. In their day they published no annual letters, and no historian since has imparted to their story the epic vigor with which Francis Parkman chronicled the Canadian Jesuits.

Yet this small group of men laid stronger foundations for Catholicism in America than did the Spanish in California or the French in Canada. This exhibit, by recapturing some of that forgotten history, offers a glimpse of the world of those gentlemen of Maryland who, but for a few Franciscans, were the whole of the Catholic Church in British North America. British in culture themselves, they made it possible for the Irish and later Catholic immigrants to adopt the Anglo-American culture without leaving their faith. John Carroll, the first national leader of the Church in America, emerged from this group and helped shape its evolution in the early national period.

Catholicism came to Maryland on March 25, 1634, an auspicious day: the Feast of the Annunciation and the first day of the English new year. A small group, Protestants and Catholics mixed, landed on a small island in the lower Potomac near the Maryland shore, and Father Andrew White celebrated Mass to bless the beginning of their colony. The Calverts came to Maryland as the Puritans had come to Massachusetts, for piety and for profit. Seeking a refuge from the Penal Laws, they hoped also to reap the benefits of a bountiful new land.

The Jesuits came to minister to the Catholic colonists, but also with an eye to the conversion of the native population. "Who then can have a doubt," White wrote before leaving England, "but that by this one work so glorious, many thousand souls may be led to Christ?" White and his companions overcame the hostility of some of the tribes, the prejudice of Proprietor and English settlers, and the great barrier of language to convert several tribal chiefs. At St. Mary's City White made of an Indian hut the colony's first chapel. But these efforts were not encouraged; Proprietor and settlers preferred to disperse the Indians. Determined to bring Christianity to them in their own tongue, White laboriously composed a catechism for the Piscataways. The fragment of prayers surviving at Georgetown was probably a draft prepared for another missioner.

The promising seedtime, however, was not to realize the harvest White had foreseen in England. Yellow fever took the lives of White's first companions, John Altham and Thomas Gervase; Ferdinand Poulton was killed in a shooting accident. In 1645 a Puritan revolt displaced the Calverts, and White and Thomas Copley were bundled off to England in chains. Returning some time later with a restored Lord Baltimore, Copley found that the Indians had been driven off, and thereafter the Jesuits' ministry was limited to the English settlers and their servants, among whom were numbered already African slaves.

From the first the Jesuits shared the culture of the new colony. Maryland was unique; granting unprecedented religious toleration, it supported no established church. The Jesuits had to support themselves. Under the Conditions of Plantation of 1636, Thomas Copley obtained 24,500 acres, including St. Inigoes Manor near St. Mary's City. Later purchases and gifts led to the founding of other manors in southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore. The plantations of the Jesuit "gentry" were worked at first by indentured servants, but by the end of the century that source of hands had run dry and slaves gradually filled up the vacancy. A French Jesuit visiting Maryland in 1674 found the lifestyle puzzling, remarking on "two of our Fathers and a Brother, . . . the Fathers being dressed like gentlemen, and the Brother like a farmer."

But the substantial manor houses at St. Inigoes, Newtown, and elsewhere were not for all; many Jesuits lived simply on isolated farms. Joseph Mosley, at St. Joseph's on the Eastern Shore, was proud that he could support himself and his missionary work, but deeply regretted his isolation from his fellow priests. From these farms, which served as mission centers, Jesuits went out as circuit riders to minister to Catholics spread throughout southern and eastern Maryland, frequently travelling on horseback 300 miles in a week. "This, you'll say, is hard," Mosley wrote his sister in London, "it's easy . . . to what it was."

The "Glorious Revolution" of 1688-1689 brought violent change. The Calverts were again unhorsed, and Catholics found themselves under the same Penal Laws which had caused them to flee England. Always a minority, the Catholics were now powerless: unable to vote, to worship publicly, to hold public office. They were taxed to support the Anglican clergy, fined for sending their children abroad to be educated in Catholic schools, and forbidden to inherit property unless they swore the oath of allegiance to the King as head of the Church of England. Catholic priests were virtually barred from the colony under the threat of life imprisonment.

The harshest of these laws were not often applied: Jesuit priests, occasionally arrested, were never imprisoned. But Catholics, deprived of many of their rights, were subject to the arbitrary actions of a Protestant majority which used anti-Catholic feeling as a political tool. A crisis came during the French and Indian War, when the loyalty of Catholics was suspect. A series of repressive measures, including a double tax on Catholics' property, prompted Charles Carroll (the father of Charles Carroll of Carrollton) to petition for the restoration of Catholic rights¾and to advise his son to seek his happiness elsewhere. Not surprisingly, the Jesuits began to look toward Pennsylvania as a new field of endeavor.

Catholics supported the Revolution in disproportionate numbers; they had long familiarity with "taxation without representation," and Charles Carroll of Carrollton was among the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The war brought great changes for the better for Catholics, but the Declaration compounded a crisis begun in 1773 with Clement XIV's suppression of the Society of Jesus. The twenty-three Jesuits in Maryland and Pennsylvania, no longer subject to Jesuit superiors in England and Rome, were, after the Revolution, cut off from the authority of the Apostolic Vicar of London.

Into this vacuum John Carroll returned from Liege, where he had been teaching at a Jesuit seminary. Carroll, more than anyone else, shaped the foundations of the American Church, leading the organization of the Select Body of the Clergy that wrote a constitution for the American Church and elected him its first bishop in 1789. The suppression brought Carroll to America. The Revolution, which freed Catholics from the Penal Laws, made possible the organization of the clergy and the fulfillment of a hope for a Jesuit college that went back to 1640. Land for Georgetown College was acquired in 1787, and four years later it received its first student. John Carroll was its founder. The need for it, as he said, was great: "On this Academy is built all my hopes of permanency and success of our H. Religion in the United States." The ex-Jesuits still had a living to make, and so, under Carroll, they formed the Corporation of the Roman Catholic Clergy of Maryland to protect the estates, which continued to be the main support of their apostolic work.

This planning and activity was carried on with the hope that the Society of Jesus would be restored, and several times during this period former Jesuits considered attempting a liaison with the Jesuits who survived the suppression in White Russia. Finally, in 1802, a year after Pius VII recognized the Russian Province of the Society, seven ex-Jesuits petitioned Carroll to use his influence so that they might be allowed to affiliate themselves with the Russian Jesuits. Although he himself held back from re-entering the Society on this basis, Carroll agreed to make the request, and permission was granted in 1804. The following year five former Jesuits renewed their vows, and Carroll turned over to them the college at Georgetown. Thus began the second era of the Maryland mission of the Society of Jesus; from Georgetown that mission would grow with the nation until it also spanned the continent.

George M. Barringer
Hubert J. Cloke
Rev. Emmett Curran, S. J.
Jon K. Reynolds

AcknowledgementsThe Exhibition