Chronologically, Catholicism first reached these shores at the hands of the French and Spanish; in terms of numbers, the vast majority of Catholic Americans owe their ancestry to French, Irish, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Lithuanian, Croatian, Slovenian, Slovakian, Hungarian, Dutch – and latterly Latin American, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian, and African – immigrants. But there is another variety, intimately tied to the Patrimony, which I had the pleasure of encountering first hand this week, courtesy of Ark and Dove Ventures. Numerically unimportant in comparison to the rest, it is of key historic importance as the milieu wherein arose – for good and ill – our first Bishop in these United States, John Carroll, and from whence arose our very first convents of religious sisters, such as the Visitation Convent in Georgetown, the Carmelites of Port Tobacco, the Sisters of Loretto, and even Mother Seton’s Sisters of Charity (although their foundress was a convert from Anglicanism). So too with Georgetown University. This is the English Catholicism of Maryland, which owes its start (for all that there were crypto-Catholics at Jamestown), to the 1634 arrival of the Ark and Dove at Lord Baltimore’s behest in the Old Line State.
To this day, colonial-era Catholic parishes exist at Newtowne, Chapel Point, Newport, Waldorf, Pomfret, Leonardtown, Medley’s Neck, Bushwood, Morganza, Hollywood, Warwick, and Cordova; the Faith even spilled over into Anglican Virginia. Other congregations could be found in Delaware – the other Penn family colony. The private chapel at Doughoregan Manor, last remaining estate of the Carroll family is a witness to this time when the leading Catholic families of Maryland played roles similar to that of the Recusant nobility and gentry in England, funding churches and preserving the Faith. Meanwhile, the English Jesuits looked after the settlers’ spiritual needs.
When the Wars of the Three Kingdoms fell upon the English colonies, they reacted in different ways. Predictably, New England rejoiced at Cromwell’s victory, and happily swore allegiance to the new regime. Royalist Virginia – called “the Old Dominion” ever since – declared for Charles II, while Lord Baltimore attempted unsuccessfully to convince Cromwell to leave his colony alone. In 1652, a fleet arrived from England to subdue the two colonies – which finally succeeded with the Battle of the Severn; arguably the last battle of the wars, and fought in Maryland. Nevertheless, oppression caused many Cavaliers to emigrate to Virginia and establish plantations; so began the “First Families of Virginia,” who have played such an enormous role in the history of State and Nation since then. The Ark and Dove Society comprises the similar folk in Maryland. Cromwell’s hand lay heavily also over the Royalist English West Indies; there he shipped numerous Scots and Irish as slaves, who became the progenitors of the “Redlegs” of Barbados and elsewhere, and the first settlers of the Irish-influenced island of Montserrat.
Although the Lords Baltimore regained Maryland at the Restoration, news of the so-called “Glorious Revolution” precipitated a copycat revolution in Maryland, and local Protestants seized control: in England William and Mary made Maryland into a Royal colony, and established therein the Church of England; 25 years would pass until the then Lord Baltimore apostasised to regain his land – which was duly granted him. In that time the penal laws were gradually applied, and only Queen Anne’s direct intervention prevented the holders of the Faith from being outlaws entirely. She gave her name to Maryland’s capital (and to Queen Anne’s County in Maryland – as well as to a plant, an architectural style, and Blackbeard’s pirate ship, none of which she can have had any connexion with), and her husband, Prince George of Denmark, his name to counties in Maryland and Virginia.
As the 18th century wore on, conditions for Catholics in Maryland slowly worsened. The result was that in the mid-1770s, many Catholics there began to settle in central Kentucky, on what was then the frontier – a movement that would go on after the Revolution. This region of English-speaking Catholicism, including such centres as Bardstown, Holy Cross, St. Mary, and others came to be known as the “Holy Land.” After independence, Catholic Marylanders would send out a few other colonies, including Locust Grove, Georgia. While the latter was not a tremendous success, it did survive; one of its most noted descendants was Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor.
As noted, a scion of this English-American Catholicism, firmly rooted in the Recusant tradition, was John Carroll. He had been excommunicated by Bishop Briand of Quebec for his wartime efforts to seduce the French-Canadians from their allegiance to George III. Carroll thus, when nominated by Pius VI to be first bishop in the newly independent nation, was forced to go to England to be consecrated, just as the first Episcopalian prelate Samuel Seabury had done six years ealier. As a result, St. Mary’s Chapel at Lulworth Castle in Dorset, seat then and now of the Recusant Weld family and the locale where the ceremony took place, is the cradle of the Catholic Episcopate in these United States (and should be a pilgrimage site in England for Catholic Americans of all liturgical rites as a result). Ironically, George III and his Queen, Charlotte, had stayed there with the Welds the year before.
The decades and centuries have passed; but the English-American Catholic tradition in Maryland, Delaware, and Kentucky has continued with its own distinct flavour in the Archdioceses of Washington, Baltimore, and Louisville, and the Diocese of Wilmington. Moreover, the evangelising efforts of the early Jesuits in Maryland continue to bear fruit in the Indian and black communities of that state whose descendants trace their lively faith to them. Out of the way corners though they may be located in, Ordinariate members who visit these sites will find themselves in the presence of long-sundered co-inheritors of the Patrimony.