16. Latin America    17. French America     18. Anglo-Saxon America     



§16. LATIN

 Bishop Juan de Zummaraga



A. The Spanish Colonial System






The Spanish patronage system—and that of Portugal was similar—had certain precedents in the privileges granted to Spanish princes for their crusades against the Moors and their colonial activities in the islands, such as the Canaries. In 1493 Alexander VI had entrusted to the Spanish rulers the exclusive selection of missionaries for the Americas, and in 1501 he conceded to them the use of all the tithes from these colonies. Pope Julius II in 1508 authorized King Ferdinand to appoint to all benefices within the American colonies, subject alone to papal confirmation. The Spanish rulers utilized these concessions tenaciously and jealously: no priest might enter America without their leave; no church or school might be erected without sanction from the Spanish rulers; even the transfer of a sacristan had to be referred to them. Their decision was regarded as so final that sometimes sees were established and filled before the Holy See knew of their existence. The royal organ for the exercise of this real patronado was the Council of the Indies, resident at Seville, which from 1600 was supplemented by the Camara de Indias. Caesaro-papism demanded that all communications between America and Rome pass through Spain, and despite papal protests, the crown intercepted episcopal and conciliar reports from the New World and presumed to decide whether papal documents ought to be promulgated or not. Papal desires for the formation of a native clergy were consistently thwarted.5

Horatio dela Costa, S.J., “Native Clergy,” Theological Studies, June, 1947.


Spanish-American relations. As a rule, the early monarchs provided quite generously for the missions, both in men and supplies. By 1800, it is estimated, Latin America had a population of fifteen million of whom some seven million were in New Spain. There were three hundred [p. 94] thousand peninsulares or native Spaniards, about three million Creoles (colonists of Spanish descent), one million Mestitsos of mixed blood, ten million Indians, and eight hundred thousand African-Americans. Their spiritual needs were served by ten metropolitan provinces and thirty-eight dioceses. But the hierarchy was almost exclusively Spanish, and all lucrative and honorable posts were nearly always held by Spaniards. The vastness of the territory often made episcopal visitation difficult, and this combined with the isolation of parishes set up on feudal haciendas weakened clerical discipline. Though the secular clergy were numerous, many of these did not have the care of souls. The regular clergy frequently quarreled with the hierarchy, and some were better known for routine administration of wealthy institutes than for missionary zeal. A native clergy was discouraged: the Third Provincial Council of Mexico (1585) and the Second of Lima (1591) made few exceptions in a flat prohibition of ordination of those lacking pure Spanish blood. Seminaries were few and mediocre. Popular piety tended to be exuberant and lavish, but also superficial and negligent, even to the extent of omitting Easter duties. But all these flaws must not blind one to the tremendous achievement as a whole, the evangelization of large portions of two continents by citizens of a European country scarcely numbering ten million people.

Indian missions were of two kinds: the doctrinas were largely separate national parishes for the more civilized natives, conducted by both the regular and secular clergy; the reductiones were reservations, especially those undertaken by the Jesuits from 1610 to 1761. These were planned cities, administered by a perpetual and minute clerical paternalism that strove to protect Indians from colonial rapacity and provide for their every spiritual and temporal need. The Indians, although not slaves and legally equal, were deemed minors under custody, and were to be obliged to work and study for their own good. This “Christian Communism,” the material success of which is now universally recognized, was destroyed by the regalism of Pombal and Aranda, culminating in the expulsion and suppression of the Jesuit Order from Spanish and Portuguese dominions. On the whole, the missionaries’ greatest obstacles ever lay in governmental meddling and colonial rapacity and bad example. The patronage system made for a rapid and widespread evangelization, but one that was too often superficial and dependent.

B. New Spain: Spanish North America


Settlement, after a half century of effort, was achieved by Don Pedro Menéndez in 1565. The first permanent mission was founded at St. Augustine, and on September 8, 1565, the Mass of the Blessed Virgin, [p. 95] said by the secular priest, Padre Martin Mendoza, inaugurated the first chapel and parish within the subsequent territory of the United States.

Development. Menéndez invited further missionaries, and Dominicans and Jesuits responded. A native renegade led an uprising in 1571, however, and all the Jesuit missionaries were slain. In 1577 Padre Alonso Reynoso revived the Florida mission with his fellow Franciscans, who remained the chief missionaries in this area down to 1763. In 1597 another Indian relapse, the Guale Island revolt, claimed the lives of five Franciscans, but others were saved by warnings from friendly Indians. After a visitation by Bishop Altamirano of Santiago de Cuba in 1606, more missionaries were sent out. From 1633 the friars began to penetrate the present state of Georgia and won five thousand converts within its confines. At its zenith, the combined Florida-Georgia mission is believed to have had forty-four missionaries, thirty-five mission stations, and thirty thousand converts. There is record of thirteen thousand confirmations by the Bishop of Santiago during his tour of 1674.

Decline. English colonists in the Carolinas, however, incited the Indians against the Spaniards. In 1702 Governor Moore of South Carolina took advantage of the War of Spanish Succession to invade Florida. Though the citadel of St. Augustine held out, the city, church, and library were destroyed, and many mission posts along the Georgia coast pillaged. Moore wreaked further havoc on another raid in 1704, during which many missionaries were slain. Catholic Indians were reduced to a few hundred in the vicinity of St. Augustine. The mission was further weakened by the English colonization of Georgia, followed by Oglethorpe’s raid in 1740. Auxiliary bishops of the Diocese of Santiago, sometimes resident in Florida, tried to revive the mission, but with the cession of Florida to the British in 1763 and British violation of the stipulated religious toleration, all missionaries and most Spanish colonists departed. Catholic practices died out among the natives, though in 1768 Dr. Turnbull set up a plantation at New Smyrna to be worked by immigrants from Mediterranean lands. For their sake he secured the services of two priests, Fathers Camps and Casanovas, and the former, transferred to St. Augustine, remained until the recession of Florida to Spain in 1783. But the Spanish crown provided no further missionaries or subsidies for Florida, and the surviving Catholics had to obtain religious ministrations from New Orleans until the American annexation in 1819.


The government of New Spain, after several governors had failed to give satisfaction, was entrusted to Don Antonio de Mendoza as first viceroy; he ruled until his transfer to the new viceroyalty of Peru in [p. 96] 1550. His able and just rule at last brought order to the country, and his successors continued to administer Spanish North America until Juan O’Donoju surrendered to the Mexican rebels in 1821.

Ecclesiastical organization properly began in 1527 when Friar Juan de Zummaraga was named first bishop of Mexico City by the emperor, though because of the sack of Rome papal confirmation was not forthcoming until September, 1530. The bishop-elect--he was not consecrated until 1533—arrived in 1528, defended the Indians against Nunez de Guzman and the Second Audiencia, and sustained Juan Diego in his account of an apparition of Our Lady at Guadalupe, December 9, 1531. This vision, which some Spaniards at first scorned, was delightedly accepted by the Indians, and became an important factor in Mexico’s rapid conversion. Zummaraga returned to Spain in 1532 to defend his conduct before the Council of the Indies. He was exonerated, consecrated bishop, and returned in 1534. Unassuming, ascetic, zealous, he was a saintly pastor. In 1546 he was named archbishop and labored until his death two years later. In his pioneer organizing work he was ably seconded by the former lay official Quiroga, who became bishop of Michoacan from 1537 to 1565. He set up the Seminary of San Nicolas in his diocese, as well as schools and institutes of charity. The second archbishop, Alonso de Montafur (1553-72), opened the University of Mexico in 1553, and witnessed the introduction of the Inquisition (1569) . But the Mexican Inquisition did not apply to the Indians, and there is evidence that it was less severe than the Spanish. Archbishop Pedro Moya (157291) was an able organizer. He presided over the Third Provincial Council whose legislation was long normative for New Spain. Subsequently, however, Old World disputes of governors and prelates, of bishops with their chapters, and of seculars versus regulars, were unfortunately transplanted to form wearisome chapters in Mexican history. On the other hand, by the end of the first century after the conquest, Mexico had a well-endowed and solidly established metropolitan province with ten suffragan sees.

Evangelization followed speedily upon the conquest. By mid-century there were some four hundred missionaries, financed by the crown. A campaign for destruction of idols began in earnest in 1525, while baptisms multiplied with great rapidity: a million are reported by 1531. Some of the early methods were superficial and criticized by Pope Paul III, but there is no reason to assume that the faith of the Indians, especially after the Guadalupe apparition, was not sincere. Missionaries ever extended the Faith: Gonzalo de Tapia was slain in 1594 in the northern province of Sinaloa, and the native Mexican, Friar Philip de Las Casas, was martyred in 1597 in Japan where he had been shipwrecked. [p. 97] His holiness has been officially recognized as well as that of the lay brother, Blessed Sebastian de Aparicio.

Education was generously provided by Church and state in Mexico. The University of Mexico, chartered in 1551 and opened in 1553, was but one of ten universities in the Spanish colonies at the end of the colonial period—not to mention fifteen colleges. After the arrival of Pedro Sanchez and the Jesuits in 1572, schools, already begun, multiplied. A printing press had been set up in 1534, and books were plentiful. The missionaries taught agriculture and the practical arts to the natives, and music and painting were enlisted in the catechetical program. Literature was chiefly theological or historical, though the native Mexican, Sor Juana de la Cruz, was an original poet, and Alarcon y Mendoza, while producing his works in Spain, was Mexican born and educated. But training of the natives for the clergy was discouraged, on the grounds that they would lack both prestige and stability. Latin America would long regret this policy.


Exploration. Interest in the Rio Grande region was aroused by survivors of Narvaez’s Florida expedition when Cabeza de Vaca reported “Seven Cities of Cibola,” probably the Pueblos. Fray Marco de Nizza sighted the district from a distance in 1539 and his report fanned the Spaniards’ enthusiasm to undertake an expedition under Coronado in 1540. This proved a disappointment, but one of the missionaries, Padre Juan Padilla, O.F.M., remained behind to preach to the Quivira Indians. He was slain somewhere in Kansas during 1544, first known missionary martyr within the confines of the United States. Soon after, two lay brothers, Juan and Luis, were killed south of this area. Another attempt by Padres Lopez and Santa Maria and Brother Rodriguez encountered a similar fate near Albuquerque between 1580 and 1582.

Occupation commenced in 1598 when Don Juan de Oriate reduced the Pueblo tribes to subjection and opened headquarters at San Gabriel, transferred to Santa Fe about 1605. Father Martinez headed a band of Franciscans accompanying Ofiate, and they were periodically re-enforced. Conversions, slow at first, increased after 1620 until forty thousand to eighty thousand are reported by the middle of the seventeenth century.

Revolt nonetheless followed by reason of the harshness of secular rule, dismay following famine and epidemic, and Apache raids. Under the medicine man Popé, the Pueblos rose at Santa Fe against the Spaniards in 1680, and killed 22 priests, 3 lay brothers, and 380 laymen before Governor Otermin fought his way to El Paso. Reconquest efforts [p. 98] began in 1691 under Diego de Vargas, but the rebellion was not entirely crushed until 1697, for five more Franciscans were killed in 1696.

Stability was then achieved by the New Mexican missions, and by the middle of the eighteenth century they were again flourishing. In 1800 there were still thirty-four Franciscans and numerous Indian converts, but from the beginning of the Mexican revolt recruitment fell off and the missions were paralyzed by ecclesiastical and civil jurisdictional conflicts. Father Rascon, visiting the territory for the bishop of Durango in 1830, reported that the missions were then in ruinous condition. The zeal of Bishop Zubira of Durango, who visited New Mexico in 1832, 1845, and 1850, did much to sustain the Faith, until the nomination of John Lamy as vicar apostolic in 1850 opened American administration.

Arizona, part of New Mexico under Spanish-Mexican rule, was first known as Primaria Alta. Father Kino, S.J., worked out of Sonora in the region near Tuscon between 1691 and 1711, built churches, and made many converts. This mission lapsed at his death in 1711, but was revived in 1732 by his Jesuit confreres, Keler, Segesser, and Grasshoffer. When the Jesuits were expelled by the Spanish government, Franciscans replaced them. The Indians were long irresponsive: in 1750 they killed two Jesuits and the Franciscan, Father Garces; others were slain in 1781. Arizona shared the vicissitudes of the New Mexico mission during the Mexican revolution and the American wars, and most of the Spanish clergy were expelled for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to Mexico. After American annexation and the Gadsden Purchase, the Arizona area became part of Bishop Lamy’s jurisdiction.


Early contacts. Although Coronado and other explorers of New Mexico passed through Texas, Spain showed little inclination to annex the area until information was received of La Salle’s explorations on the lower Mississippi and French designs on Louisiana. Indians had requested missionaries as early as 1590, when the legend of the “Blue Lady” was heard of for the first time. It is reported that several tribes of the Southwest displayed some familiarity with Christianity and claimed to have been instructed by a woman attired as a nun. Some have attributed this bilocation to the mystic, Maria de Agreda (1602-65), whose reputed revelations remain a matter of dispute. If the incident demands a supernatural explanation, an apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe is proposed. Spasmodic missionary contacts were had with New Mexico in the visits of Father Salas in 1629, and of Salas and Ortego in 1632. About 1670 Father de Larios founded the mission of Coahuila among the Tejas Indians and was assisted by Father Dionisio in 1675. [p. 99]

Spanish occupation commenced with the expedition of Don Alonso de Leon in 1688. He was accompanied by the Franciscans under the leadership of Father Damian Mazanet, who established a number of missions among the Asinai and Tejas Indians. Pre-eminent among the newcomers was Venerable Antonio Margil, whose zealous labors were pronounced heroic in 1836. He founded missions among the Nacogdoches and Adayes, and penetrated Louisiana to set up a station called San Gabriel de Linares. Missions founded along the San Antonio River from 1717 eventually coalesced into the present city of San Antonio, which was the Texan administrative center in Spanish days. For ecclesiastical jurisdiction these missionaries were subject to the see of Guadalajara. Bishop Tejada of that diocese, familiar with conditions, visited Texas in 1759 to administer confirmation. In 1777 Texas passed under the rule of the Mexican see of Linares and Bishop Marin-Porras of that diocese was diligent in visiting Texas until expelled from his see during the Mexican Revolt.

e Ralph Bayard, G.M., Lone-Star Vanguard (St. Louis: Vincentian Press, 1945).

Troubled times followed. In 1817 one Mier, bogus “Bishop of Baltimore,” deceived some, while secularization of the missions by Mexico in 1825 and expulsion of the Spanish clergy in 1828 deprived Texas of priests. Irish-American settlers brought a priest, Michael Muldoon, in 1829; he was reputed quite liberal in baptizing immigrants to comply with Mexican land laws. What remained of the missions was destroyed during the Texan revolt against Mexico, and Father John Timon, C.M., sent by the Holy See in 1838 to investigate, found only two priests in Texas, and these not of exemplary character—though the worthy Friar de Leon had been murdered at Nacogdoches in 1834. Father Timon was named prefect apostolic (1839-41) and in that capacity introduced American missionaries and salvaged what Catholic property he could. When the Vatican recognized Texan independence (1840), the Texan Congress legally confirmed to Timon surviving mission churches. In 1841 Texas was made a vicariate-apostolic for Timon’s aide, Father Odin, C.M., and in 1847, after Texan admission to the American Union, he was named first bishop of Galveston.6


Lower California. Indian hostility long rendered California unattractive to the Spaniards. Though missionaries accompanied Viscaino’s explorations in 1596 and 1602, no lasting mission was established. This became the work of the Jesuits, aided by a subscribed “Pious Fund” (1697) . In 1697 Father Juan de Salvatierra, with whom Father Kino cooperated, opened the mission of Loreto. He and his successors, among whom Father Juan de Ugarte is prominent, founded more than sixteen [p. 100] stations before their expulsion in 1768. Then Franciscans, headed by Fray Junipero Serra, were assigned to take over the Jesuit missions.

Upper California, however, became the chief scene of Padre Serra’s labors when Spain decided to avert Russian expansion by occupying the region to the north (1769-86) . Father Serra went with Don Portola on his first expedition, and on July 16, 1769, inaugurated the famous California mission system by his foundation at San Diego. Before his death in 1784, Father Serra founded eight other mission stations: San Carlos (1770) ; San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771) ; San Luis Obispo (1772) ; San Juan Capistrano and San Francisco (1776) ; Santa Clara (1777) and San Buenaventura (1782). Though the Santa Barbara mission had been planned by Father Serra, it could not be set up until the administration of his successor, Father Lasuen (1784-1803), who saw the establishment of Santa Barbara (1786), La Purissima (1787), Santa Cruz (1791) , Soledad (1791), San Jose, San Juan Bautista, San Miguel, San Fernando (1797), and San Luis Rey (1798) . Missions subsequently founded were Santa Inez (1804), San Rafael (1817), and San Francisco de Solano (1823) . Of these, only the Santa Barbara Mission has been continuously in Franciscan hands.

The Indian missions in California were a triumph of grace and zeal over native inertia, rated by anthropologists as exceedingly primitive. There are records of the baptism of over fifty thousand of these Indians and of their incorporation into the life of the missions. Not only were they instructed in faith and morals, but also taught how to cultivate the soil and support themselves by local products. The converts were kept comparatively isolated from the colonists under missionary supervision; if there were defections from the ideal, they usually arose from the clash of ecclesiastical and secular jurisdiction.The Franciscans were not allowed sufficient time to work out their civilizing function and after their removal the life went out of the missions and the Indians were dispersed.

Transition began with the Bonapartist invasion of Spain, which cut off supplies, and the Mexican Revolution, which brought anticlericalism into power. The Mexican Government sequestered the Pious Fund and took the California missions from Franciscan control under pretext of confiding them to the secular clergy. Actually few clerical replacements were provided and much property was taken by the secular authorities. Government of California by religious under the discipline of their Order had minimized the disadvantages of its subjection to the distant see of Sonora. To remedy this in part, Friar Garcia Diego Moreno was named bishop of both Californias in 1840. His administration was one of retrenchment, overshadowed by the approach of war with the [p. 101] United States. The bishop died in 1846, and his see remained vacant until after American annexation when Bishop Alemany, O.P., inaugurated a new era.

C. Peru: Spanish South America


Organization. Dissension followed Pizarro’s assassination until the Emperor’s deputy, Padre Pedro de Gasca, reconciled factions and subdued the rebels. In 1550 Antonio de Mendoza arrived from Mexico to introduce the viceregal system into South America which he had so successfully initiated in Mexico. Although death quickly removed him, his successor Francisco Alvarez de Toledo (1569-81) established the new regime after a new period of disorder. Until 1821 the viceroys of Peru were the chief deputies of the Spanish crown in South America. Ecclesiastical organization followed soon after nomination of Lima as the Peruvian capital in 1541. The Dominican Hieronymus de Loaysa was the first bishop (1541-75) and archbishop (1545) . His zeal was continued by his successor, St. Toribio de Mogrovejo (1580-1606), whose missionary visitations turned the tide of conversion and whose seminary provided for clerical recruitment. St. Rose of Lima (1586-1617) , first canonized saint of the Americas, received her vocation during his pontificate.

Evangelization proceeded apace. Though perhaps a majority of Indians had been converted by 1700, missions continued throughout the colonial period as more remote regions were opened up to Spanish penetration. For instance, Father Baraze (d. 1702) and other Jesuits baptized forty thousand among the Moxos and Canichanas. During the eighteenth century Franciscans labored among the Chiriguanes of the Cordilleras, erecting seventeen missions, most of which were destroyed during the revolutions of the following century. Though as usual hampered by conquistadorial brutalities, the missionaries found the Incas’ superior religion rendered them more amenable to Christianity. Brother Matteo of Xumilla, preaching with skull in hand, was especially successful in gaining converts from sun worship.


New Granada was the Spanish name for the northern coast of South America—Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. Though search for pearls brought explorers early in the sixteenth century, this region was at first regarded as merely an area to be exploited. In 1528 German merchants undertook the colonization of Venezuela, and until the Welser patent was revoked in 1556 an unparalleled story of enslavement and exploitation [p. 102] was unfolded. In 1549 the area became an audiencia subordinate to Peru; in 1718 and 1740 New Granada attained autonomous viceregal rank.

Missions. Padre Francisco de Cordoba, O.P., had preached in Venezuela in 1512, but he and his companion were slain in retaliation for the conquistadors’ abduction of Indians to Haiti. Similar fates befell Dominicans and Franciscans who preached along the coast during the next years. Though twenty Dominicans accompanied the Alfinger-Welser colony in 1529, their work was hindered by the corporation’s gross injustice in treatment of the natives. Extraordinary evangelical work, however, was performed by Bartolomeo de Ojeda, Luis Vero, and St. Luis Bertrand among the Indians, and Alfonso de Sandoval and St. Peter Claver among the African-Americans. The latter reported baptizing three hundred thousand. By 1600, it is estimated, two thirds of the natives had been baptized. During the earlier period the region was under the jurisdiction of the diocese of Panama, but a see was erected for Venezuela in 1531 and for Colombia in 1534. Bishop Tomas de Torres of Cartagena vigorously promoted destruction of paganism in the area, and the same policy was continued by his successors, De Loaysa and Gregory of Beteta.


The La Plata region included Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. Explored as early as 1526 by Sebastian Cabot, it was opened to colonization by Pedro de Mendoza in 1535. The usual rivalries of conquistadores went on until about 1580, when Buenos Aires was founded. These territories remained part of the viceroyalty of Peru until 1776, when they were organized into an autonomous viceroyalty.

Missions. Franciscans accompanied Pedro de Mendoza into the La Plata region and proved exceedingly active, along with the Dominicans, throughout the entire area. Bernardo de Armenta and other Franciscans went into Paraguay in 1538. In this region St. Francis Solano, who died in 1610, was an outstanding missionary. Though priests accompanied Valdavia into Chile in 1540, the Mercedarian, Antonio Correa (1548), is considered the pioneer apostle to the pagans of that region.

The Paraguay Reductions call for special notice. In existence between 1610 and 1767, the reduction system had about one hundred mission stations. An estimated million Indians were baptized and at one time there were 120,000 natives located on thirty reductions. These were villages composed exclusively of Indians in order to ensure their more rapid conversion and to protect their material interests from the colonists. The Spaniards naturally opposed this altruistic program on the ground that the number of serfs was thereby reduced. Missionaries taught the [p. 103] natives how to cultivate the soil and build houses. They were initiated into practical trades, and were eventually manufacturing firearms with which they could repel any who threatened to dispossess them. General granaries ensured against times of famine. When Bishops Palafox and Cardenas opposed the system on the ground that the Jesuits were usurping episcopal jurisdiction, Pope Innocent X sent an investigating commission which (1646-47) substantially vindicated the Jesuit administration. The reductions continued to flourish for another century until they were destroyed by the masonic secularism of Portugal’s Pombal and Spain’s Aranda.

D. Portuguese America


Exploration. Though the Spanish captain Pinzón sighted Brazil in 1500, it lay within the latitude awarded to Portugal by papal arbitration. And indeed, the Portuguese followed close behind, for several months later Pedro Cabral, guided by Bartholomeu Diaz, put in from Lisbon at Pôrto Seguro. On of the Franciscans aboard, Padre Henry of Coimbra, celebrated Mass on Easter, April 26. Cabral, however, refused to allow any of the friars to stay. In 1501 Amerigo Vespucci sailed by under the Portuguese flag, although he left behind little beyond a glowing report which won him the naming of the new continent. Temporary Franciscan missions were founded in 1515 and 1523.

Settlement properly began with the arrival in 1531 of an expedition led by Martim de Souza. He erected a fort and in 1532 founded the colony of Sao Vicente. Franciscans came to the colony and began to preach to the natives, while others under Diogo de Borba landed at Bahia in 1534. But the early system of feudal “captaincies” proved financially unsuccessful for private capital despite exploitation of the natives. In 1547 the king named Thome de Souza the first governor-general. He was accompanied to Brazil in 1549 by Manoel Nobrega and the first band of Jesuits to come to the New World. Within five years they had founded as many missions. Souza made Bahia the capital and material conditions improved during the governorship of Mem de Sa (1558-72), who founded the future metropolis of Rio de Janeiro.

Jurisdiction. During 1514 Leo X had founded the Portuguese patronage system by giving the crown privileges of nomination over all sees and benefices in its overseas dominions. This grant was extended by succeeding popes until in 1551 Julius III authorized the king to appoint all bishops, collect ecclesiastical revenues, and even receive canonical cases on appeal. Portuguese sees held jurisdiction over Brazil, even after the first diocese had been established at Bahia in 1551; not until 1671 did Brazil become a metropolitan province. The first bishop, Pedro Sardinha [p. 104] (1551-76) , was an incompetent prelate who brought with him a clergy ill-adapted to missionary hardships, and disposed to interfere with existing missionaries. But the bishop was about to return to Portugal to defend the cause of the Indians when they captured and ate him. The Portuguese patronage system had its advantages, though in general it was not administered with as great a regard for ecclesiastical interests as the Spanish.


Evangelization was undertaken by Franciscans and Jesuits, as well as the secular clergy. Between 1553 and 1597 the “Apostle of Brazil” par excellence was Padre Anchieta, who attracted the natives to the Faith and won hearts by his heroism during the epidemics of 1577 and 1581. His Casa de Misericordia at Rio provided for needy persons of every description.

Foreign rule. The Spanish occupation of Portugal from 1580 to 1640 brought Brazil under the Spanish crown, but also exposed the colony to Spain’s enemies. The Dutch occupied certain portions of Brazilian territory from 1624 to 1654. This was a critical period for the missions, but the Capuchins in particular upheld the Catholic and Portuguese loyalties of the Brazilians. Eventually the Dutch themselves tried to conciliate the natives by bringing Breton Capuchins to Pernambuco.

Restoration of normal Portuguese administration led to a general reorganization of the colony and its missions. The natives were defended by the “Las Casas of Brazil,” Padre Vieria, who in 1655 procured a decree reducing slavery and alleviating working conditions. But planters continued to evade the antislavery legislation, and the abolition of the reductions exposed new Indians to exploitation. Border clashes with the Spaniards and raids by the French were frequent misfortunes for the Indian missions. Suppression of the Jesuits reduced missionary strength, but Capuchins, Oratorians, Carmelites, and Mercederians did what they could to step into the breach.





  St. Jean de Brébeuf
    and the North American Martyrs



A. General Aspect of New France






Discovery of Newfoundland by John Cabot in the service of Henry VII of England was the precarious Anglo-Saxon claim to Canada that ultimately prevailed by force of arms. As far as France was concerned, in 1524 Verrazano coasted the Atlantic shore from New York to Maine. Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence region between 1534 and 1541, distributed rosaries, and witnessed the baptism of an Indian chief by his chaplains. The Huguenot Wars in France hindered that country’s [p. 105] pursuit of its claims to part of the New World until 1603 when Samuel Champlain, “geographer royal,” opened the continuous period of exploration and settlement. The French domain in America included Acadia or Nova Scotia, Canada proper, the original Northwest Territory of the United States, Louisiana, and the Antilles, which alone survived British triumph. Trade was the initial and prevailing motive for the private companies which exploited the St. Lawrence to Gulf waterway. Before it succumbed to Great Britain in 1760, New France had attracted some seventy-five thousand Frenchmen, and at least in Canada, their cultural influence proved lasting.


Jurisdiction in New France, once the rule of the private trading companies was assumed by the crown in 1663, was shared among the governor, the intendant, and the bishop, all subjected to minute regulation by the royal bureaucracy. Ecclesiastical jurisdiction for the early missionaries was presumptively obtained from the Archbishop of Rouen at the port of embarkation. With the co-operation of Queen Henrietta of England, a prefecture apostolic was erected for Acadia and New England in 1630, but it ceased with English occupation in 1654 and does not seem to have been revived. But from 1647 there is explicit evidence of missionary superiors in Canada enjoying delegation from Rouen: both the Jesuit superior at Quebec and the Sulpician superior at Montreal were empowered as vicars-general. In 1658 the crown, with the concurrence of the Holy See, erected the vicariate apostolic of New France. The first episcopal vicar, Monsignor Laval, found his jurisdiction still challenged by Rouen, and ambiguity was not removed until 1674 when the diocese of Quebec was erected directly subject to Propaganda. Until 1763 all of French America was subject to this jurisdiction, though there were often vicars-general for the Illinois country and Louisiana.

The French mission encountered less numerous but more warlike and barbarous Indian tribes than the Spanish. Preclin and Jarry estimate the total number of native converts in 1763 at less than five thousand.’ The heroism of the missionaries is not questioned even by secular historians; rather their missions were hindered by their “apparently inextricable alliance with political and temporal undertakings, and, definitely, their emphasized identification with French interests, which all too frequently lent to the missionaries the character of emissaries of the colonizing power behind them.” a Colbert’s mercantilist policy of making the Indians French was a poor substitute for ample colonization and evangelization, and Bourbon preoccupation with the Old World cost them the New. [p. 106]

7E. Preclin and E. Jarry, Histoire de l’Église (Paris: Bloud & Gay, 1955), XIX, 599.

8 Schmidlin, op. cit., p. 451.

B. French Canada


Missionary foundation. Acadia is here taken in its original meaning of the territory between Montreal and Philadelphia; later the term was restricted to Nova Scotia. De Monts, one of the proprietors of a royally chartered fur-trading company, and Champlain made the first French settlement in 1604 on Saint Croix Isle, just within the present Maine boundary. Here in July the secular priest, Nicholas Aubrey, erected a chapel and said the first Mass. But the next year the colony was moved to Port Royal near the present Annapolis, Nova Scotia. The Huguenot De Monts brought out Protestant as well as Catholic chaplains, and religious disputes disturbed the early settlements. Father Aubrey returned to France in 1605, but was replaced in 1610 by Father La Fleche, whose efforts were hampered by lack of knowledge of the Indian dialect. In 1611 Madame de Guercheville bought out the Huguenot proprietors and subsidized the mission of the Jesuits, Biard and Masse. They preached among the Abnakis in Maine and established Saint Sauveur mission on Mt. Desert Isle at the mouth of the Penobscot. But in 1613 the English captain, Samuel Argall, made a raid from Virginia, destroyed the mission, and deported the priests to France.

Missionary revival was undertaken in 1619 by Recollect Franciscans who in turn were forced out by the English in 1628. But in 1630 Anglo-French accord was reached on a prefecture for New England and Capuchins set up stations along the Kennebec and Penobscot. From Quebec the Jesuit Druillets visited the Abnakis in 1646, and came as trade envoy to Boston in 1650. During 1654-55 the Cromwellian Government seized Port Royal and deported twenty-three Capuchin priests and nine brothers, although Père Joseph escaped to die among the Abnakis. Aside from occasional visits by Canadian missionaries, the Acadian mission languished until the 1680’s. About 1694 the zealous Father Sebastian Râle set up a mission at Norridgewock, Maine. After repeated menaces and raids, the Massachusetts colonists killed Father Râle and destroyed a chapel on the Penobscot (1724) . Though deprived of resident pastors, the Abnakis remained faithful to Catholicity. French missionaries made intermittent visits from Canada until in 1785 the new American prefect apostolic, Father Carroll, was able to send them Père Ciquard as their pastor.

Acadia, meanwhile, had undergone the vicissitudes of a frontier in the Anglo-French duel for America. Irate English colonists saw all “French [p. 107] and Indians” as their foes, and often their hate was vented on the missions. Restored to France in 1670, Acadia was recaptured by the English in 1710 and definitively ceded to Great Britain in 1713. Though the Treaty of Utrecht guaranteed the Acadians freedom of religion “as far as the laws of England do allow the same,” this meant little, for the penal laws were still in force in England. Priests were arbitrarily imprisoned or deported, and oaths of allegiance proffered to Acadians which they could not in conscience take. For their part, the American colonists accordingly suspected the allegiance of the Acadians and in 1754 the Albany Congress seconded the design of the Governor of Nova Scotia to deport them. In 1755 and following years fifteen thousand Acadian Catholics were deported to the English colonies with little or no regard for religious or family ties.


Quebec. Once Port Royal had been established, Champlain continued his explorations and in 1608 founded a settlement on the rock of Quebec, which became the citadel of New France. Until his death in 1635, he was its governor, charged with the promotion of the fur trade for the company. French commerce with the Hurons and Algonquins prepared the way for missions, but Champlain’s raid on the Iroquois who controlled the waterways to the Great Lakes made them lasting antagonists of all things French. In 1614 Champlain invited Franciscan Recollects to provide missionaries, and in March, 1615, Fathers Jamay, Le Caron, and D’Olbeau arrived. The latter two began missions among the Hurons and were subsequently assisted by nine others. Père Le Caron baptized 140 Indians, but was hindered by Huguenot settlers. In 1625 the Jesuits Lalemant, Masse, and St. Jean de Brébeuf arrived, but they and all the priests were soon deported during the English occupation of Canada (1629-32) . Cardinal Richelieu recovered Canada by treaty and banned Huguenots from the restored colony. For some reason the Recollects were also barred, but Fathers Le Jeune and Noué reopened the Jesuit mission which by 1637 numbered twenty-three priests and six brothers. Jesuits founded a school at Quebec in 1634, though native clerical recruitment failed by reason of the Indians’ incorrigible restlessness. In 1640, moreover, the Ursulines founded a hospital.

Montreal, founded by Mainsonneuve in 1642, became another Canadian center. With powerful clerical and lay backing in France, Joan Marce and Margaret Bourgeois founded the Notre Dame Society which set up the hospice of Ville-Marie at Montreal. Father Olier, besides assisting the Notre Dame Society, sent some of his Sulpicians to the New World in 1657. Here they opened a seminary and also occupied themselves [p. 108] with missions to Indian reservations on which they eventually settled the converts whom their fellow tribesmen would not permit the practice of Christianity.

The Huron mission was resumed by St. Jean de Brébeuf in 1634 with the aid of other Jesuits. For forty years during the seventeenth century France was informed and inspired by the Relations of erudite and heroic missionaries among these primitive tribes. Though Père Lalemant’s plan of a native seminary proved premature, Père Le Jeune’s reservation of St. Joseph de Sillery, near Quebec, was quite successful. Founded in 1637, it had four hundred families by 1648, and in 1651 land was given these in legal proprietorship. Unlike the Paraguay Reductions, which were independent Jesuit protectorates excluding Europeans and only subsequently affiliated with the Spanish crown, the Canadian reservations were subordinate to the French secular authorities, some of whom were too well disposed to provide “firewater.” Other missions were those of Tadoussac among the Montagnis near the mouth of the St. Lawrence (1640), and Three Rivers between Quebec and Montreal (1633) . About 1640, an Indian convention, the Huron “Festival of the Dead,” brought Chippewas and other tribes from the Great Lakes region to Sault Sainte Marie. Responding to an invitation, St. Isaac Jogues and Père Raymbault attended and celebrated Mass in the presence of some two thousand Indians. This was the germ for subsequent missions in the Northwest Territory, but for the moment the crisis of the Canadian mission prevented its culture.


The Huron War. The latent animosity between the Iroquois and the Hurons and their French allies broke into the open in August, 1642, when St. Isaac Jogues and the lay oblate René Goupil were seized and tortured by the Iroquois, and a number of Huron converts slain. The Frenchmen were taken to the Iroquois camp at Ossernenon, the modern Auriesville, New York. There Goupil was martyred, but St. Isaac was helped by the Dutch to escape to Fort Orange (Albany). Well-treated by the New Netherlanders, he was allowed to return to France. At his own request, he returned to Montreal in 1644. In the same year Père Bressani was also tortured, though ransomed by the Dutch. Meanwhile the Iroquois preyed upon the Huron settlements, eventually almost annihilating that tribe.

American martyrs. Despite his treatment, St. Isaac braved the Mohawk camp a second and third time as peace commissioner. Prospects were not entirely hopeless, but on October 18, 1646, he was tomahawked along with Jean le Lande by an irresponsible warrior who, nevertheless, was later converted. The Iroquois bloodlust was roused anew and [p. 109] brought martyrdom in 1648 to Daniel and Garnier, and in 1649 to Jean de Brébeuf and Gabriel Lalemant. Together with Noël Chabanel these martyrs were canonized by Pius XI in 1930. Besides these Jesuits, other priests and lay brothers were killed and numerous Catholic Hurons tortured and slain rather than yield the Faith. The few surviving Hurons withdrew to the protection of the French forts, but even these seemed incapable of survival, for by 1650 the Huron missions had been abandoned and eight Jesuits returned to France. The French colonists, estimated as no more than a thousand at this time, were driven within their fortifications until Governor Maisonneuve of Montreal brought from France military re-enforcements that saved the city. Balked of easy victory, the Iroquois negotiated peace in order to combat other Indians.

The Mohawk mission grew from this bloody seed. Out of the visits of missionaries as peace commissioners there developed a mission among the Onondagas that maintained a precarious existence (1655-58; 1660-61; 1667-87). After the Mohawks had been defeated by De Courcelles in 1666, the fiercest of the Iroquois tribes admitted missionaries and eventually Jesuits were working among them all. Noteworthy converts were Chief Garaconthe, Sachem Assendose, and the latter’s niece, Catherine Tekakwitha, “Lily of the Mohawks.” Eventually, as in her case, it was found necessary to transfer converts to reservations near French Canadian settlements to preserve them from persecution. One of these havens that became renowned was Sault Ste. Louis (Caughnawaga). In the course of the Mohawk mission, some two thousand may have been baptized, though many of these were moribund. After the French General Denonville’s treachery in 1687, Iroquois animosity was aroused anew and the missionaries were forced to retire. Père Milet remained behind in captivity until 1694, but the mission in New York was at an end. Jesuit attempts to resume it (1702-9) were halted by the English colonists, and the same fate befell another attempt in western Pennsylvania about 1755. From 1749 the Sulpician, Père Piquet, labored among the Iroquois at Ogdensburg, New York, along the St. Lawrence, but his promising reservation was a casualty of the British conquest of Canada in 1759.


Hierarchical establishment. The revival of the Church in New France after the Great Huron War was due in large measure to the erection of a vicariate-apostolic in 1658. After his consecration in France, Bishop Laval arrived in Canada in 1659. This first bishop (1658-88) was ascetic, zealous, and firm, though perhaps somewhat too meticulous and tactless. His contests with Governor Lauzon regarding juridical etiquette and liturgy were frequent, and his well-advised protests against sale [p. 110] of rum to Indians unpopular. With the Jesuits, whose missionary labors he enthusiastically seconded, he got along well. His episcopate was a period of rapid growth for the colony and the mission. In 1674 Monsignor Laval was named bishop of Quebec, directly subject to the Holy See. He utilized the Jesuit college at Quebec as a minor seminary and erected a major seminary which was also to serve as a clerical retreat house and hospice. Bishop Laval resigned his see in 1688 but lived until 1708, providing episcopal ministrations during the captivity at London (1700-13) of his successor.

Episcopal supervision was hindered by the frequent absences of Bishop Laval’s successors: Bishop St. Vallier (1688-1727) was confined in London thirteen years; De Mornay (1727-33) never went to Canada; and there were two short-lived successors until the zealous Bishop De Pontbriand (1741-60) who died shortly after the surrender of Quebec to the British. This regime led to assumption of excessive independence by existing groups and institutes, thus provoking unfortunate rivalries. Episcopal government tried to produce a replica of France, and discipline was strict, if not Jansenist. There were few diversions and the fact that all instruction was in the hands of the Church prevented Rationalist infiltration from France. By 1765 there were eighty-eight parishes with a recorded membership of fifty-five thousand. The clergy were recruited from Europe or the colonists; no natives were ordained to the priesthood. Despite the number and quality of the missionaries-320 Jesuits alone went to the Canadian mission—they met great difficulties in the Indians’ debased morals, which were not improved by contact with the traders. But if France lagged behind Spain in converting the Indian, she no less indelibly imprinted her mark on America.


Anglo-French duel for empire in America had begun with Argall’s raid on Acadia in 1613 and increased with the years. Count Frontenac, governor of Canada for much of the period between 1672 and 1698, intended to carry out Colbert’s plan of hemming the English colonists behind the Alleghanies. Not merely did he occupy and fortify the Ohio Valley, but he abetted Indian attacks upon the English settlements. These aroused the undying enmity of the Americans who henceforth linked “French and Indian” in opprobrium. Unfortunately much of this odium fell on missionaries who frequently were chosen to act as envoys. Queen Anne’s War (1702-13) resulted in the cession of Acadia and Newfoundland. King George’s War (1740-48) saw the capture of Louisburg on Cape Breton Isle. The decisive struggle, the French and Indian War (1755-63), began when the French refused to retire from territory claimed by Virginia upon delivery of an ultimatum by Colonel GeorgeWashington. In alarm the American colonies formed their first union at the Albany Congress (1754) which took measures for the common defense and demanded deportation of the Acadians. But no effective union resulted, and Americans co-operated inadequately with British expeditionary forces unfamiliar with colonial conditions of warfare. Disastrous British defeats, however, were at length retrieved by Wolfe’s capture of Quebec (1759), followed by Murray’s taking of Montreal (1760). The Treaty of Paris in 1763 formally delivered Canada to Great Britain.

Canadian transition. By the terms of this treaty, “His British Majesty consents to grant the inhabitants of Canada the liberty of the Catholic religion,” but the fine print qualified this “insofar as the laws of England permit.” An official unfriendliness was seconded by the bigotry of English and Scottish colonists who now entered Canada. English law was introduced and frequently misused by adventurers to defraud French inhabitants who did not understand its intricacies. It was not long before the British newcomers, though a minority among seventy thousand Frenchmen, had taken complete possession of the local government and even strove to introduce the English penal laws against Catholics. Religious were directed to dispose of their property to English subjects and depart, so that Canada was left to the ministrations of 146 secular priests, including twenty-eight Sulpicians. Though the Jesuit college was closed in 1768, the Sulpicians were able to keep a sort of seminary going and the Ursulines were allowed to remain. The see of Quebec remained vacant until 1766, when Monsignor Briand was recognized as “superintendent of the Roman Church in Canada.” British officials insisted upon interfering in all temporal concerns of the parishes and in passing upon nominations for benefices.

The Quebec Act. These conditions continued until Sir Guy Carleton, a prudent administrator, took charge. In view of the approaching contest with the American colonies, he wished to conciliate the French Canadians. In 1774, then, he sponsored the Quebec Act which provided that henceforth the governor would be assisted by an advisory council of Canadians chosen without restriction of religion or nationality. English law was to be confined to criminal cases, but French jurisprudence restored in civil matters. Full toleration was extended to the practice of the Catholic religion, and continuance of the tithe guaranteed. In 1775 Bishop Briand wrote: “Religion is perfectly free. I can exercise my ministry without restrictions.” Although all difficulties were not yet surmounted, the bishop proved influential in securing French loyalty to the British crown during the American Revolution. The French Revolution, moreover, indirectly benefited the Church in Canada in providing the land with the services of thirty-four émigré priests. But an accessory [p. 112] clause of the Quebec Act aroused trouble in another quarter. This annexed the Northwest Territory to Canada, thereby affronting the American Colonies whose charters gave them claims to the Mississippi and beyond. Hence, the Quebec Act, the first concession of religious toleration to Catholics under the British flag, incidentally added fuel to the resentment of the American rebels, and contributed to the eventual division of the North American continent between two large political entities.

C. Louisiana


Ottawa mission. The Lake Superior Indians renewed their request for a “blackrobe,” first made to St. Isaac Jogues about 1640. Père Garreau was slain by Iroquois on his way to this region in 1656, but in 1660 Père Menard succeeded in reaching Keweenaw Bay where he founded St. Theresa’s mission. He died about a year later on a journey in Wisconsin. He was replaced in 1665 by the outstanding pioneer of this field, Père Claude Allouez, named vicar-general for the West by Bishop Laval in 1667. He founded Holy Spirit Mission at Chauamignon on Ashland Bay, and after a discouraging beginning won over a hundred Indians. But the Ottawas provoked the Sioux and had to flee, so that another mission was founded for them at Sault Ste. Marie. Here and at Mackinac the Jesuits fixed their headquarters.

Illinois mission. Already in 1669 Père Allouez had founded St. Xavier Mission at Green Bay, Wisconsin, for the Mini, Foxes, and kindred tribes. Subsequently he went south to found a post named St. Jacques in 1672. Père Marquette, who had assisted Allouez since 1668, accompanied Joliet on his explorations through modern Wisconsin and Illinois. They followed the Mississippi to the Arkansas—where a dying baby was baptized—and returned by the Illinois River (1673-74) . In 1675 Père Marquette returned to work among the Kaskaskia Indians near the mouth of the Illinois, but died the same year. Père Allouez replaced him until his own death in 1689. During 1678-79 La Salle passed through with several Franciscans. Of these Père Ribourd was apparently slain by Indians, and Père Hennepin carried by the Sioux to the upper Mississippi, before being released. Père Gravier, successor of Allouez as vicar-general for the Illinois country, founded Fort St. Louis and saw the establishment of Cahokia and Kaskaskia (c. 1700) before his death in 1708. Guardian Angel Mission was erected on the site of Chicago in 1696 but abandoned three years later. Despite Fox restiveness until mid-century, by that period most of the Mini had been converted. Meanwhile the Commandant Cadillac had founded Detroit in 1701, and sought to gather the Indians for trading purposes irrespective [p. 113] of religious considerations. The Franciscan Friar Delhalle served as chaplain until slain by Indians in 1706. The Jesuits Recardie (1728-43) and Portier (1743-81) later carried on the work among the Indians. French occupation and evangelization extended into Indiana where Vincennes was founded about 1735; around the same time the French crossed the Mississippi to settle Ste. Genevieve, Missouri.

American transition. The last act of the French Canadian secular administration was to deport the Jesuits from Illinois, though Père Meurin was permitted to stay until his death in 1781. British persecution induced some French settlers to cross to Ste. Genevieve and to found St. Louis (1764) , where they could have the occasional services of Spanish missionaries. In practice, Quebec jurisdiction continued in the Illinois country and in 1768 Bishop Briand sent Pierre Gibault to assist Père Meurin. Gibault incurred the bishop’s displeasure by espousing the American cause during the Revolution and inducing the French inhabitants to co-operate with George Rogers Clark.


Origins. French explorers and missionaries who had penetrated into the Northwest Territory soon pushed on down the Mississippi River. In 1682 Cavelier de La Salle, accompanied by Franciscans headed by Père Membre, reached the Gulf of Mexico. He returned in 1684 and tried to found a colony at Matagorda Bay. This attempt was abandoned after La Salle’s assassination (1687), and the murder of three missionaries by the Natchez Indians. The French were nonetheless resolved to check the advance of both the English and the Spanish frontiers, and new efforts were made by the Lemoyne family. In 1698 Pierre Lemoyne, Sieur d’Iberville, returned to the Gulf and established Fort Biloxi in 1699. His brother Jean, Sieur de Bienville, became governor of the lower Mississippi area and held the general direction of the colony until 1743. New Orleans, founded in 1718, became its capital and metropolis.

Missionaries were at first provided by the Quebec Seminary. Pères Montigny, Davion and Buisson came with Iberville in 1698 and labored among the Natchez, Yazoo and Taenza Indians, while Père Bordenave became chaplain at Fort Biloxi. Father Davion survived until 1716, but other seminary priests met violent death at the hands of Indians: Père Foucault in 1702 and Père Buisson in 1706. The Jesuit Du Ru had begun a mission to the tribes around Biloxi in 1700 and other Jesuits undertook the Natchez field. The Natchez tribe revolted in 1729, slew Pères Poisson and Souel, and was in turn almost exterminated by the French. But Father Beaubois continued to work on past mid-century among these Indians. [p. 114]

Ecclesiastical jurisdiction long remained a tangled problem in Louisiana. Its distance from Quebec necessitated a vicar-general whose jurisdiction was not always readily accepted by the various groups of missionaries, pastors, and military chaplains of different religious communities. From 1707 to 1713, Varlet, future Jansenist schismatic bishop, served as vicar. In 1713 Monsignor De Mornay became coadjutor of Quebec and vicar-general for Louisiana, but since he remained in Europe, deputies had to be named. The Capuchins were introduced into Louisiana and by 1722 a rough division into three districts, each with its vicar-general, was reached. The Jesuit Beaubois became vicar for the Indian missions in 1726: it was he who introduced the Ursulines in 1727 to begin a school, hospital, and orphanage. Jesuits were often named vicars in New Orleans as well, to the occasional resentment of the Capuchins. Expulsion of the Jesuits and transfer of Louisiana to Spain in 1763 left seven Capuchins in charge of some six thousand Frenchmen. The Capuchin superior, Père Dagobert, challenged the authority of the Spanish Capuchin Cyril of Barcelona, named vicar-general by the bishop of Santiago. Fray Cyril prevailed, however, and was made auxiliary bishop in 1781. He continued to be the resident superior of the Louisiana area until his abrupt recall in 1793 when Penalver-Cardenas was made bishop of the new see of Louisiana-Florida, then containing twenty-seven priests and forty-three thousand Catholics. His transfer to Guatemala in 1801 coincided with the secret cession of Louisiana to France. At his departure, the bishop named Fathers Walsh and Hasset administrators, and the former ruled until his death in 1806 when Bishop Carroll of Baltimore assumed general direction of the new American territory.





§18. A

  Bishop John Carroll



A. General Aspect of the English Colonies






Discovery of Newfoundland by John Cabot in English service in 1497 was not followed by settlement for nearly a century. New England is a term which in a sense could be applied to all of the American colonies along the Atlantic coast, for the settlers regarded themselves as transplanted Englishmen basically equal to their fellows in the mother country. The first American representative assembly dates from 1619, and other colonies would eventually insist on Virginia’s resolution that “the inhabitants of this colony are not bound to yield obedience to any law or ordinance whatever designed to impose any taxation whatsoever upon them, other than the laws and ordinances of the General Assembly aforesaid.” It would be long before these became fighting words, but the realistic democracy of the American frontier would gradually form a new American nation. Paradoxically, however, the first importation of slaves also is recorded in 1619 to belie the universality of democratic theory and practice.


Colonizing efforts were first made by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in execution of a design of Sir George Peckham and others to provide a haven for persecuted English Catholics. A patent issued by Queen Elizabeth I on June 11, 1578, authorized colonization despite the “statutes against fugitives,” and assured prospective settlers that they “shall not be restrained,” provided they did nothing against the “true Christian Faith” —phrases which seem to have been designed to admit Catholics without giving them any formal governmental sanction. Gilbert did bring three ships with 260 colonists to Newfoundland in 1583, but abandoned the bleak settlement the same year. He died on the return journey, assuring his sinking shipmates that “we are as nigh to God by sea as by land.” His half-brother, Sir Walter Raleigh, colonized and named Virginia in 1584, but this settlement was also soon deserted. Weymouth’s exploration of New England (1602-6) seems to have been preparatory to another Catholic colony, which was discouraged by Father Persons. Though actual settlement began at Jamestown in 1607 under Protestant auspices, Calvert’s Avalon and Maryland colonies for Catholics came soon afterwards.

Ecclesiastical jurisdiction for Catholics in prospective English colonies would have emanated either from the prefect of the English mission, Cardinal Allen, or his successors, the archpriests (1598-1621) and vicars apostolic (1622-1850). Actually the vicariate was in abeyance from the retirement of Bishop Smith to Paris in 1631 and the appointment of Bishop Leyburn in 1685. Meanwhile the Jesuit missioners in Maryland presumably had faculties from their superiors, emanating from the Holy See. The first explicit record of their subjection to the vicars apostolic of the London district dates from a mixed marriage dispensation by Bishop Gifford in 1715. His successor, Bishop Petre, had some doubt of his jurisdiction, and in 1757 Propaganda Fidei expressly extended his faculties to the colonies for six years. These were presumably renewed for Bishop Challoner (1758-81) down to the erection of the American prefecture apostolic for Father John Carroll in 1784.

B. Individual Colonies


Jamestown, founded in May, 1607, began continuous English colonization of America. Under private management until 1624 the colony’s history was tumultuous as economic adventurers sought gold rather than Virginia’s true wealth in its soil. After the London Company’s charter had been revoked in 1624, Virginia became a royal colony. [p. 116]

Religious persecution, as contemplated by this first of the colonies, was unfortunately typical of the majority. The Virginia Charter (1609), by requiring the Oath of Supremacy of prospective settlers, barred conscientious Catholics. The few Catholics and Puritans who strayed into Virginia were forbidden the exercise of their religion by Governor Berkeley in 1641-42. The English “Glorious Revolution” and the Toleration Acts of 1689 altered the status of Protestant dissenters in the homeland, and Virginia adopted a similar statute in 1699 which licensed Protestant nonconformist chapels. But all “popish recusants” were deprived of the right to vote under penalty of five hundred pounds of tobacco. In 1705 they were declared incompetent as witnesses. English penal laws against owning arms or horses were also enforced. Catholics in Virginia were few and priestly ministrations from Maryland rare and secret. Yet in 1745 Lieutenant-Governor Gooch of Virginia ordered the arrest of priests who were crossing the Maryland border into Fairfax County. Gooch indeed imagined Jesuits everywhere, and in 1756 it was considered needful to demand anew the taking of the Oath of Supremacy. Before 1776, then, there was no toleration for Catholics—nor Pietists—in Virginia.

Religious toleration. During the eighteenth century, nevertheless, anti-Catholic feeling diminished in Virginia as in England. Proximity of war with England and the desire to conciliate Catholic allies on the one hand, and increasing indifference toward an Anglicanism whose colonial parsons gave bad example on the other, led to toleration. On June 12, 1776, Madison secured passage of this Declaration of Rights: “Religion, or the duty we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love and charity towards each other.” The bill had been given its final form by Madison who had rightly contended that a former reading had conceded toleration by state indulgence, whereas religious liberty was a right beyond the power of a state to confer. This Virginia resolution, made several weeks before the Declaration of Independence and fifteen years prior to federal constitutional guarantees of religious liberty, set a pattern for the nascent Republic and its component states by the early “Mother of Presidents.”


Calvert proprietorship. George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, secretary of state under King James I, had long planned a colony where all settlers might enjoy religious liberty. In 1625 he declared his conversion to [p. 117] Catholicity and resigned his office. His colony of Avalon in Newfoundland was unsuccessful, though Fathers Longvill and Smith erected a chapel and said Mass. King Charles I, however, consented to authorize a new colony to be named after the Catholic queen, Henrietta Marie. The proprietor of Maryland was to enjoy the feudal palatinate rights of the bishopric of Durham: quidquid rex habet extra, episcopus habet intra. When George Calvert died just before the royal signature (1632), the king delivered the charter to the heir, Cecil, second Lord Baltimore. Lord Cecil formed a company of two Jesuit priests, Andrew White (1579-1656) and Altham (d. 1640) , Brother Gervase, twenty gentlemen, and some two or three hundred commoners, and embarked them on the Ark and the Dove, November 22, 1633.

St. Mary’s was founded by these colonists who landed from the Potomac on March 25, 1634. The colony got off to a good start under an able governor, Leonard Calvert (1634-47), while the artisans and laborers who constituted the bulk of the settlement quickly adapted themselves to life in the New World. Father White said the first Mass on the Feast of the Annunciation, 1634, and a Catholic chapel was erected at least by 1638. In that year Father Copley-Fisher asked Lord Baltimore for a privilege for it, although the Jesuits in charge of the mission were granted no endowment nor exemptions lest bigotry be aroused. They held title to property as individuals, and served their flocks openly. When some friction arose with the proprietor, he applied to Propaganda for secular priests, and two arrived in 1642. Most of the liberty-loving colonists had occasion to object to Calvert’s feudal powers, and Lord Baltimore, if not avaricious, was not liberal. A fair treaty was made with the neighboring Indians who readily took to the preaching of Father White and his aides. Chief Chilomacon of the Piscataways was baptized in 1640, and most of the Patuxet tribe had been converted before Protestant rule ruined the mission.

Religious liberty had been enjoined by Lord Baltimore in his first instructions to his brother, Governor Calvert, and the gubernatorial oath required since 1636 pledged: “I will not by myself or any other ... trouble, molest, or discountenance any person professing to believe in Jesus Christ for, or in respect to, religion. I will make no difference of persons in conferring offices. .. .. This would seem to exclude Jews, but in practice the Jew, Doctor Jacob Lumbrozo, served as juryman without challenge. In 1638 the Catholic, William Lewis, was fined five hundred pounds of tobacco for offensive speech to two Protestant indentured servants, and in 1642 another Catholic, Thomas Gerard, was similarly penalized for taking away the key and books from the Protestant chapel. From the beginning of Catholic control, then, religious liberty existed in Maryland, and only when it had been challenged by [p. 118] Protestants did an act of 1649 codify existing custom: “No person within this province professing to believe in Jesus Christ shall be in any way troubled, molested, or discountenanced in his religion, or in the free exercise thereof.”

Persecution, nonetheless, was to afflict Maryland Catholics for a century. During the English Civil War, Virginians seized the opportunity to invade Maryland. Father White was sent back to England in chains—there he was acquitted on the ground that he had not entered the country freely. Other priests were either deported or fled. A Maryland assembly dominated by Puritans met in 1654 and excluded from religious toleration “popery, prelacy, or licentiousness of opinion.”

Proprietary restoration followed in 1658 when Lord Baltimore gained recognition of his rights. Catholics regained toleration under the proprietor’s son, governor from 1661 to 1675, and proprietor until 1692. Father Fitz Herbert reopened the Jesuit mission and Franciscans carne to the colony between 1672 and 1725. Between 1700 and 1777 some seventy Jesuits labored in Maryland, loyally staying on after the suppression of their Society. They had begun a classical school in 1677, and this survived in one form or another until 1765.

Renewed discrimination against Catholics followed upon the “Glorious Revolution” in England. In 1692 Calvert’s charter was revoked, and Maryland was ruled by royal governors until 1720. Catholics were at once excluded from civil rights and priests were threatened with imprisonment. In 1702 the British Toleration Act of 1689 was extended to Maryland, and in 1704 St. Mary’s Chapel was confiscated. Queen Anne did mitigate this legislation to the extent of permitting Catholic services in private homes, and the Jesuits, continuing to own property as individuals, were able to carry on. In 1720 a Calvert heir regained the proprietorship at the expense of apostasy, so that the change helped Catholics but little. Catholics remained under various disabilities, therefore, down to 1774 when Maryland responded to an appeal of the First Continental Congress to cease discrimination. Catholics in the colony then numbered about fifteen thousand, and included statesmen prominent in national affairs.


Intolerance was the prevalent note in New England, with a few rare exceptions. The Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620 and there followed other groups, mostly dissenting Protestants. Their settlements later coalesced into the colonies of Massachusetts (and Maine), Connecticut, New Hampshire (and Vermont), and Rhode Island. In all but the last of these colonies the Congregational sect was established and a puritanical theocracy prevailed. In 1631 the General Court of Massachusetts [p. 119] decreed that “no man shall be admitted to the freedom of this body politics but such as are members of some of the churches within the limits of the same.” Catholics were officially barred from entering any of these colonies save Rhode Island, and in the latter colony the famous 1663 charter of toleration was not interpreted in favor of Catholics.

Catholics were nonetheless to be found in small numbers in New England. Visits by some of the settlers to French Canada periodically were suspected of Catholicity. Shipwrecked mariners, impressed Irish seamen, and after 1755, Acadians, wandered in from time to time, but as they had neither priests nor churches, many intermarried with Protestants to avoid the bar of illegitimacy for their children, who were soon lost to the Faith in the compulsory Congregationalist schools. In 1659 the celebration of Christmas was banned as savoring of “popery.” John Adams probably sums up the Catholic status in New England well enough when he declared in 1765 that “Roman Catholics are as scarce as a comet or an earthquake.” Burning of the pope in effigy continued at Boston down to General Washington’s prohibition in 1775.


The Dutch (1633-64) established Calvinism in New Netherland, but did not treat badly a few Catholic stragglers. Governor Kieft gave asylum to St. Isaac Jogues in 1642, and the latter found a few Catholics living quietly at New Amsterdam, though without any formal religious guarantees.

The English after 1664 administered the colony under the direction of James, duke of York, later King James II. This Catholic prince, while imposing a tax for Anglican support, decreed that “no person shall be molested, fined, or imprisoned for differing in judgement in matters of religion, who professes Christianity.” Catholics are known to have resided at Albany and New York. Brockhalls, deputy governor from 1674 to 1683, was a Catholic, as was Governor Thomas Dongan (1683-88) ; and the latter had a toleration statute enacted in 1683. Jesuits from Maryland opened a temporary chapel and school, but were deported after Jacob Leisler’s anti-Catholic uprising. Though Leisler’s irregular rule was terminated by King William III’s officials, the Whig type of toleration introduced in 1691 expressly denied the “Romish religion” any share. In 1700 Governor Bellomont extended the penal code to New York. Catholics had to go underground. In 1741 the dissident minister, John Ury, was hanged on the suspicion—false—that he was a priest. Yet a genuine priest, the German Jesuit Steinmayer, visited New York Catholics secretly under the alias of Farmer, and Catholics met for worship in a private house on Wall Street, as yet without financial implications. [p. 120]

New Jersey, separated from New Netherland in 1664, experienced some discrimination under its proprietors, Berkeley and Carteret. From 1682 to 1702 the Quakers gained a controlling interest, and Catholics shared the benign regime of Pennsylvania. When royal government was introduced in 1702, it allowed “liberty of conscience to all persons, except papists.” Yet here also Father Steinmayer labored, along with Father Schneider.


The Quaker regime in these two colonies allowed Catholics unqualified and universal religious liberty. William Penn, the founder, who arrived in 1682, had been in correspondence with the Jesuits, and entirely endorsed the ideal of religious freedom. Irish and German immigrants were well received, and the latter were visited by Franciscan missionaries at an early date.

Royal intervention suspended Penn’s proprietorship in 1692. Though his rights were restored in 1695, a Test Act barring Catholics from public office was imposed over his protests. This remained in force until the constitution of 1776, but the Quakers continued to concede complete religious liberty, preventing the enforcement of the English penal code against Catholics.

Catholic missions in Pennsylvania were, in consequence, second only to Maryland in size. There is report of a chapel in Philadelphia in 1729; one certainly existed there in 1747. This chapel, dedicated to St. Joseph, was the first legally authorized in the English colonies. Another, St. Mary’s, was erected in 1763, and Delaware Catholics had a public chapel in 1772. English and German Jesuits discharged their ministry freely.


Colonial charters of the Carolinas (1663) and Georgia (1732) expressly excluded “papists,” and proximity to Catholic Florida heightened the apprehension in these settlements. Many Irishmen settled in these colonies, and though most of them lost the Faith, they seem in practice not to have been too severe upon their fellow countrymen who preserved it. Anything like religious liberty, however, had to await the formulation of the new state constitutions. Here, as throughout most of the English Colonies, the American Revolution marked the beginning of the end of legal disabilities, so that Catholics were able to emerge from their ghetto.

Conclusion. At the opening of the American Revolution, there were not more than twenty-five priests and twenty-five thousand Catholics in the English colonies. The suppression of the Society of Jesus threatened [p. 121] to cut off the supply of clergy, though for the present the ex-Jesuits continued to labor as secular priests under their former superior, Father Lewis, named vicar-general by Bishop Challoner in 1773. But the Jesuit suppression also brought back to his native land in 1774 Father John Carroll, whom Providence had designated to be founder and organizer of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States of America.



(1492-1776) [25 p]

   16. Latin America    17. French America     18. Anglo-Saxon America     

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