Bishop England's Diary

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XX (2) start of chapter

We now turn to the diary, which thus opens:—

On Monday, the 10th of July, 1820, I received in Bandon a letter from the Reverend Henry Hughes, dated June 17, 1820, at Rome, informing me that on the preceding Monday I had been appointed Bishop of Charleston, in South Carolina, and requesting of me, for various reasons therein alleged, to accept of this appointment.

September 21st.—I received the grace of Episcopal Consecration in the Catholic Church of St. Finbarr's, in the city of Cork, from the Right Rev. Dr. Murphy, Bishop of the Diocese, assisted by the Right Rev. Dr. Maram, Bishop of Ossory, and Kelly, first Bishop of Richmond (Virginia), whose appointment was subsequent to mine but whose consecration took place at Kilkenny on the 24th of August. There were present, the Most Rev. Dr. Everard, Archbishop of Mytelene, coadjutor of the Most Rev. Dr. Bray, Archbishop of Cashel and the Right Rev. Drs. Coppinger, of Cloyne and Ross, Sughrue of Ardfert and Aghadoe (Kerry), and Tuohy of Limerick. ....

October 11th.—I having many applications from priests and candidates for places on the American mission, I appointed my brother, the Rev. Thomas R. England, and the Rev. Thomas O'Keeffe, my Vicars-General, for the purpose principally of selecting such of those as I may afterwards want, and if necessary having them ordained. This day was the anniversary—twelve years—of my ordination to the priesthood. On this day I parted from my family to go whither I thought God had called me, but whither I had no other desire to go. Should this be read by a stranger, let him pardon that weakness of our common nature which then affected me, and does now after the lapse of three months. . . .

December 26th.—Found soundings in 35 fathoms water, and on the next day saw the Hunting Islands on the coast of South Carolina, after a very tedious and unpleasant passage. On the evening of the 27th came to anchor off Charleston Bar, and on the 28th crossed it, and worked up the channel, and came to anchor in the evening.

December 30th.—Came on shore in Charleston; saw the Rev. Benedict Fenwick, S.O.I., who was Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Baltimore, who exhibited to me his papers. I gave him my Bulls and Certificates, received the resignation of his authority, and renewed his faculties of Vicar-General for my diocese, as Bishop of Charleston, which he accepted.

December 31st.—Being Sunday, I had the happiness of celebrating Mass, took possession of the church, had my Bulls published, and preached.

Dr. England soon made himself acquainted with the condition of his diocese, which in all respects was far from encouraging. Upon inquiry he found that there was a congregation in the City of Savannah (Georgia), but that it had been deserted, and he took into consideration the necessity of having a priest for that mission. He determined to visit Savannah and Augusta, and Warrenton in Georgia, and Columbia in South Carolina, without delay. Appointing the Rev. Mr. Fenwick his Vicar-General, with full powers until his return to Charleston, and requesting him to purchase ground for a second temporary church in that city, and if possible procure a good site for a large cathedra], he went on board the sloop 'Delight,' and sailed for Savannah on the loth of January, 1821. He found there had been no priest in that city since the previous October; and to repair the evil caused by the want of a clergyman for so long a time, he commenced a vigorous course of instruction, followed by the administration of the sacraments. The following entry affords an idea of his energy, and of the attention which he already excited amongst non-Catholics:—

'January 21.—Heard confessions, celebrated the Holy Mass, and administered the Holy Communion to 27 persons. Grave Confirmation to 15 persons. At half-past ten o'clock I spoke on the erection of the See, on my own authority, and publicly committed the flock of Savannah to the care of the Rev. Robert Browne until I should think proper to remove him; and after Mass I preached to a large congregation, amongst whom were the principal lawyers of Savannah, and many other strangers. In the evening I had vespers, and gave an exhortation and benediction—Church crowded and surrounded.'

The next entry records the same round of duty, with this paragraph added: 'Was asked by the Mayor and others to preach in the Protestant Episcopal Church, which I declined for the present.'

Appointing 'John Dillon to read prayers for Mass on Sunday,' until the return of the Rev. Mr. Browne, whom he took with him on his visitation, the Bishop proceeded to Augusta, which place he reached after two days of hard travelling. After a brief but energetic work in this city, where he administered Confirmation 'to John McCormick, Esq., and 48 others,' he set out for Locust Grove, whose Catholic congregation had not had the benefit of a pastor for several years.

Arrived there at nightfall, and was most kindly received by old and young Mrs. Thompson, to the former of whom great merit is due, before God, for preserving the faith in this country. This was the first Catholic congregation in Georgia; it was formed in 1794 or 1795 by the settlement of Mrs. Thompson's family and a few others from Maryland. Bishop Carroll, of Baltimore, sent the Rev. Mr. Le Mercier to attend them. After eighteen months he went to Savannah, and Rev. Mr. Sujet then remained seventeen months, and returned to France. There was no clergyman there until November 1810, when the Rev. Robert Browne came to take charge of Augusta and its vicinity, and remained until 1815. This place was occasionally visited by Rev. Mr. Egan and Rev. Mr. Cooper.

Like all Catholic priests, Bishop England was particularly solicitous for the welfare of the negroes. The policy of the Church was not to oppose an institution which was Altogether beyond its province or jurisdiction; but its ministers nevertheless did what they could to elevate the moral condition of the slave through religious influences, and also sought to improve their temporal condition by inducing their owners to respect the sanctity and validity of the marriage tie.(30) In Locust Grove, Bishop England found several Catholic negroes, amongst whom were some both 'intelligent and well-instructed.'

There he preached his first open-air sermon. 'The church being too small, and several persons having collected from various parts of the neighbourhood, I preached from an elevation outside to about 400 persons.' At Warrenton, he says, 'I met three Cherokee Indians, viz. Colonel Dick, who could speak a little English, John Thompson, and Sampson, to whom I gave their breakfast. I showed the Colonel my ring and cross, of which he took particular notice, and told him I intended visiting his nation; he said he would know me.'

At Columbia he finds a flock consisting 'of about 250 persons, principally Irish labourers employed in making the canal.' There was no church, and the Bishop 'therefore preached in the Court-house that night to a very numerous and respectable congregation,' mostly Protestants. He makes strenuous efforts to commence a church; and on his committee of collection we see such genuine Irish names as Peter M'Guire and John Heffernan.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America