June 17, 2016

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Imperiled Church: U.S. Church benefited from European turmoil

John F. Fink(Tenth in a series of columns)

The past nine columns have told the story of the way the Catholic Church was so imperiled that it seemed to be disappearing, especially in England and France, but in other parts of Europe, too. The picture wouldn’t be complete, though, without telling about a place that actually benefited from all the turmoil in Europe.

That place was the United States.

Three columns ago, for example, I wrote about the suppression of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) throughout the world. The United States benefited from that in various ways.

First, Father John Carroll was a Jesuit priest born in Maryland who had been ordained in Europe, and then taught in Flanders for four years. After the Jesuits were suppressed in 1773, he decided to return to the United States. He foresaw the American Revolutionary War, and was resolved to cast his lot with America. He went on, of course, to be the first American Catholic bishop and archbishop.

He wasn’t the only Jesuit in America, of course. In 1773, there were 24 priests in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and they were all Jesuits. After the Jesuits were suppressed, the priests were supposed to be subject to the local ordinary. But that was, in the case of these priests, the vicar apostolic of London, England, since England didn’t have any dioceses at the time. After the Americans won their independence, the English vicar apostolic wanted nothing to do with the American priests. So they petitioned the Holy See for a constitutional ecclesiastical organization. The Holy See responded favorably and appointed Father Carroll prefect apostolic, and then, eventually, the first bishop.

In Mexico, the suppression of the Jesuits meant the closing of 16 Jesuit missions. The Franciscans were ordered to replace the Jesuits. Thus it was that Franciscan Father Junipero Serra became the president of the missions in Baja Calif., and from there he went north to establish nine missions along the coast of California.

The Church in the United States also benefited from the French Revolution, when between 30,000 and 40,000 priests were sent into exile. Many of them came to the United States.

In 1817, every Catholic bishop in the United States except one had been born in France. The first four bishops of the Diocese of Vincennes, which eventually became the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, were born in France.

The first of those four bishops, Simon William Gabriel Bruté de Remur, recruited another Frenchman to come to the United States. He was Holy Cross Father Edward Sorin, who founded the University of Notre Dame in 1842. And Bishop Bruté also sent Father Celestine de la Hailandiere back to France in 1838 to find a congregation of nuns willing to come to Indiana. A group of the Sisters of Providence, under the leadership of Mother Theodore Guérin, did so. She has been canonized as St. Theodora.

Another American saint who experienced the terrors of the French Revolution was Rose Philippine Duchesne. She risked her life to help priests who were in hiding. She eventually became the American superior of the Society of the Sacred Heart in St. Louis.

God has a way of turning tragedies into good. †

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