This year marks the 200th Anniversary of the death of the Most Reverend John Carroll S.J. (1735-1815), the first Bishop of the First Diocese (Archdiocese of Baltimore – the Premier See) of the United States of America. He was selected by the clergy of the USA (by a vote of 24 out of 26) in April 1789, approved November 1789 by Pope Pius VI, consecrated on August 15, 1790 (the Feast of the Assumption) and installed on December 12, 1790. Many of his older relatives played key roles in establishing the state of Maryland and the United States as a whole, but it is his younger cousin, Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832), who became a household name, as the only Catholic and the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence (1776).
What does this all have to do with our friars?
Part of one of our ministries in Ellicott City-MD is Carrollton Hall Cultural Center that in January of 2015 was officially entered into the National Register of Historic Places. This property is not only an important part of American and Maryland establishment history, it is an important part of the history of the Catholic Church in the USA. The property was once owned by Charles Carroll and gifted to his favorite granddaughter, Emily Caton McTavish. Carroll’s descendants still own over 1000 acres of historically preserved land in Ellicott City, but the friars of our province now own Carrollton Hall.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton was a man of great faith. His family’s heritage of religious tolerance played a major role in the design of our nation’s long tradition of religious freedom. Beginning with his great, great, great grandfather, George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore and his experimental tolerant colony, free of religious oppression. He named this paradise in honor of the Virgin Mary (Maryland), the patroness of his Catholic Queen, Henrietta Maria.
Lord Baltimore’s great great great grandson, Charles Carrol of Carrollton, did not meet religious tolerance in America but was instead, just as all Roman Catholics of the day, stripped of his governmental authority, restricted in practicing his Catholic faith publicly, forbidden to send his children to church-run schools, was unable to vote and barred from practicing law or holding public office, unless he swore allegiance to the Church of England. Catholics in Maryland had to build small family chapels in their homes where priests would take great risks to celebrate Mass. Charles Carroll was eventually able to serve in the US Senate from 1789 to 1792, and in that position Carroll participated in the joint Senate-House committee that approved and finalized the wording for the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution. Intolerance of religion and unjust laws in that respect were abolished in the First Amendment of the nation’s Constitution (1787).
The property of Carrollton Hall, in Ellicott City, changed hands a few times before ending up with our friars. It was there that our friars in formation studied until a new Novitiate was build in what is now the Shrine of St. Anthony. The property itself is reputed to have been used as part of the Underground Railroad, offering a temporary haven for slaves seeking freedom to the North. A short distance from the house a private chapel with a steeple and belfry was built for the use of the family and servants on the spot where the Shrine of St. Anthony now stands. The Provincial House, housing the offices of the Minister Provincial, Vicar Provincial, Provincial Secretary and Treasurer, is also on the property of Carrollton Hall and the actual Manor House is being renovated as a historical site. Although not yet open to the public, the Shrine of St. Anthony is and the friars there would love for you to visit, walk along the wooded paths and feel Maryland and Catholic history come alive.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore is preparing to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the death of America’s first Bishop, the Most Reverend John Carroll S.J., at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, during the 10:45 a.m. Mass on December 6th. We also would like to remember the generosity of example, spirit, faith and fortune given to we modern day American Catholics, by the entire Carroll Legacy.