Bishop England's Missionary Labours

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XX (3) start of chapter

Returning to Charleston, Dr. England addressed himself, with renewed energy, to his great labours. He now commenced a course of lectures which laid the foundation of a fame that ere long spread through every State in the Union, and attracted the attention of the most thoughtful and intellectual. The first was on the Existence of God; the second on the Nature and Necessity of Religion; the third on the Establishment of the Church by Our Saviour; the fourth on the Marks of the True Church, 'exhibited in the Holy Roman Catholic Church, and in that alone.' These discourses, which were continued during Lent, were not without result; for, under date of April 28, there are recorded in the diary the names of several converts, including that of 'a lawyer of eminence.'

In the last week of Lent the Bishop published a catechism, which, he says, 'I had much labour in compiling from various others, and adding several parts which I considered necessary to be explicitly dwelt upon under the peculiar circumstances of my diocese.'

The number of communicants in Charleston in the Easter fortnight (1821) was 250.

'April 26. Established the Book Society, and had the necessary measures taken to establish a general committee, and to have the Society extended throughout my diocese.'

The following passage, though descriptive of the condition of the Catholics of that day in a Southern State, was just as applicable to most other parts of the Union, save where a priest was regularly stationed. Indeed, it as accurately represented the condition of Catholics in a vast number of places in thirty years after it was written. It was written of Wilmington:—

May 16th.—Celebrated Mass at my lodging, and gave an exhortation to those who attended. After breakfast met the Catholics, about twenty men: not a woman or child of the Catholic faith. No priest had ever been fixed here, nor in the neighbourhood. A Rev. Mr. Burke had spent a fortnight here about twenty-five years before, and a Jesuit going to some Spanish settlement spent two or three days in the town about the year 1815, and baptized the children of Mr. ——; but their mother being a Methodist, they were not educated in the faith. The Catholics who lived here, and they who occasionally came hither, were in the habit of going to other places of worship—Episcopal Protestant, Methodist, and Presbyterian—and had nearly lost all idea of Catholicity. I spoke on the necessity of their assembling together on Sundays for prayer and instruction, and of their forming a branch of the Book Society, to both of which they readily agreed, and then recommended their entering into a subscription to procure a lot for a church, and to commence building, as I would take care they should be occasionally visited by a priest. I also exhorted them to prepare for the sacraments.

I received an invitation from the pastor and trustees of the Presbyterian Church to use their building (the best in the town), which upon consideration I accepted. I was waited upon by the Protestant minister, who offered me his church also, which of course I declined, as having accepted of the other. In the evening I preached to a very large congregation, on the nature of the Catholic religion.

Here was a fitting occasion for the zeal of the young Bishop; and we find him daily exhorting his own little flock, and also preaching each evening to large and attentive congregations—'On the nature of Redemption, the Mission of the Apostles, and the Authority of the Church to explain the Scriptures and teach the doctrines of Christ by her traditions.' Nor was his labour without fruit, as he established a branch of the Book Society, raised by subscription 1,160 dollars for a church, and received some converts of note.

Among the entries of May 12th, there is this record: 'Baptized George Washington, aged three years, son of Patrick Murphy and Rebecca Lear; sponsor, J. P. Calhardo.'

'May 20. .... Was requested by some Protestant gentlemen to preach twice this evening, as I was to leave town in the morning. I complied with their request, and preached at half-past three and at seven o'clock, to very full congregations. There was created in Wilmington a spirit of inquiry, and the prejudices which were very general against Catholics were removed.'

In a place near South Washington, we are told that John Doyle, an Irishman, is the only Catholic. In Newbern we find a state of things exactly the reverse of that described in Wilmington. In Wilmington there were twenty Catholic men, and not a single woman or child of the faith; but in Newbern there are 'upwards of twenty Catholics, principally females.' A priest had visited them seven months previously. Here the Bishop baptized two converts, 'men of colour.'

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