April 8, 2008 marks a very special year for the Catholic Church in America, as the Dioceses of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Bardstown, KY celebrate their bicentennial.
The ecclesial terrorities of Boston, New York and Philadelphia were initially part of what was called the "Apostolic Prefecture of the United States", established on November 26, 1784.
The apostolic prefecture was elevated to become the Diocese of Baltimore on November 6, 1789, and later promoted to an archdiocese on April 8, 1808 by Pope Pius VII -- at which time the dioceses of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Bardstown were established.
Bardstown, KY was the first see in inland America, covering all the land from the Great Lakes to the Deep South and from the Allegheny Mountains to the Mississippi River. The see was transferred to Louisville in 1841.
As the Catholic population grew in the United States, smaller dioceses were later carved out:
- The diocese of Boston originally consisted of the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
- The Diocese of New York covered all of the state of New York, as well as the New Jersey counties of Sussex, Bergen, Morris, Essex, Somerset, Middlesex, and Monmouth.
- The diocese of Philadelphia included all of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and 7 counties of New Jersey.
- From Bardstown, KY came more than forty new dioceses, including Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Detroit.
When we consider the hardships and sacrifices Catholics had to face in those years we can only look back with wonder and gratitude at how far we have come. In a December 2007 homily, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston describes the challenges that faced those at the founding of the Catholic Church in America:
In the good ol’ days, here in Boston, there were laws that were very anti-Catholic. Priests were not allowed into this colony. If a priest were to be found, he was to be banished. If he returned, he would be executed. And each year, as people sang, “Remember, remember, the 5th of November,” the pope was burned in effigy on the Boston Common. I am sure that those early residents of the Bay State would be horrified if they had known that Pope John Paul II would one day come to the Boston Common and celebrate the Eucharist there for about 400,000 people.Following are some resources that may be of interest to Catholic history buffs, as we anticipate Pope Benedict's papal visit to the United States, during which time he will recognize and celebrate the bicentennial of the Catholic Church in America.
Yes, 200 years ago, it was not easy to be a Catholic in America. The Jesuit order had been dissolved because of political pressures. The former Jesuit, Father John Carroll was appointed the first bishop of Baltimore in 1787 by Pope Pius VI. The pope was a prisoner of Napoleon at the time and died in captivity. The conclave to elect his successor was held at a Benedictine Monastery in Venice, since the cardinals were not safe in Rome. On March 21, 1800, Pius VII was elected pope. Pius VII was the pope who established the dioceses of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Barnestown in 1808. That same year, Napoleon conquered the Papal States and kidnapped the pope, who was prisoner for six years. In those days, the entire Catholic population of the diocese [of Boston] would not have filled this church. There were about 1,000 Catholics and two priests. ...