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His father, Daniel, born in Ireland, settled at Upper Marlboro, where he became a merchant, and married Eleanor Darnall, a relative of the wife of Charles Carroll of Carrollton . She was very rich and had been well educated in France. Their first son died in infancy; their second, Daniel, figured prominently in Revolutionary history. John, their third son, was probably baptized at Boone's Chapel, now Rosaryville, Maryland. When twelve years of age, he went to the Jesuits' grammar school at Bohemia in Cecil Co., Maryland, where he was "assiduous in study, pious and amiable". After one year there, he went abroad to St. Omer's College in French Flanders, and for six years pursued a liberal education with "marked capability of mind, attention to studies and docility and kindness of manner". His father died in 1750, and in 1753 John Carroll joined the Society of Jesus. In 1755 he began his studies of philosophy and theology at Liège, and after fourteen years (1769) was ordained priest at the age of thirty-four. The next four years he spent at St.-Omer and at Liège teaching philosophy and theology. During the winter of 1772-3 Father Carroll travelled through Europe as preceptor, with the son of Lord Stourton. Upon his return to England he was, for a short time the guest and chaplain of Lord Arundell at Wardour Castle. This year, 1773, Pope Clement XIV issued (21 July) and published (16 August) at Rome, the Bull suppressing and dissolving the Society of Jesus . This news reached Father Carroll 5 September, and after writing a vindication of the Society he had to provide for his future course of life. In the following spring he returned (26 June) to Maryland and hastened to his mother's home at Rock Creek, with whom and other intimates he had faithfully corresponded while in Europe. As a result of laws discriminating against Catholics, there was then no public Catholic Church in Maryland, so Father Carroll began the life of a missionary in Maryland and Virginia. He built a tiny frame chapel on his mother's estate and here on Sundays (in her house on weekdays) he said Mass when at home. During the next two years he devoted the time left from his devotions to the study of ancient literature and current topics in order to increase his knowledge ; yet he did not neglect his social obligations. Apropos of his support at that time he himself wrote: " Catholics contributed nothing to the support of religion in its ministers ; the whole maintenance fell on the priests themselves. . .the produce of their lands was sufficient to answer their demands."
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In 1776, when a committee composed of Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton was about to be sent by the Continental Congress to seek the neutrality of Canada during the War of Independence, "by a special resolution (Feb. 15) Charles Carroll of Carrollton was requested to prevail on Mr. John Carroll to accompany the committee to Canada, to assist them in such matters as they shall think useful". He accepted the honourable office, and spent the remainder of the winter in Canada ; he found, however (Shea, Life and Times of the Most Rev. John Carroll, New York, 1888, 148-53), that it was too late to discuss the question of union with the revolted colonies, or even neutrality, and returned to New York at the end of May in company with Benjamin Franklin. His influence on his fellow-countrymen even at this period may be surmised from the fact that, though out of the constitutions adopted by the Thirteen States, only four did away with the old Penal Laws and allowed Catholics absolute equality with other citizens, yet these (Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland ) were situated nearest to Father Carroll. During these years he chose to live with his mother, then seventy years old, and refused to accept an assignment elsewhere by Father Lewis, formerly Superior of the Jesuits in Maryland, and now Vicar-General of the Vicar Apostolic of London (or the Western District). Father Lewis, however, did not consider him entitled to support from the income of the property belonging to the Jesuits, although he had to labour very hard, often riding twenty-five miles on sick-calls. (Shea, op. Cit., 85-86); Campbell in U.S. Cath. Magazine, Baltimore, 1844, III, 364,365.)
When the war was over Carroll and five other priests met at Whitemarsh, Md., 27 June, 1783, to discuss ways and means to carry on their missionary work and hold their property intact. They held a second meeting 6 November, 1783, and a third 11 October, 1784, at the same place, when they formulated the draft of the regulations binding all the clergy of Maryland. Thereby every priest was maintained and given thirty pounds a year, and each priest agreed to offer ten Masses for every priest who died there. The adopted the following:"It is the opinion of a majority of the chapter that a superior 'in spiritualibus' , with powers to give Confirmation, grant faculties, dispensations, bless oils, etc., is adequate to the present exigencies of religion in this country. Resolved therefore,
"1st, That a bishop is at present unnecessary.
"2nd, that if one is sent it is decided by the majority of the chapter that he shall not be entitled to any support from the present estates of the clergy.
"3rd, That a committee of three be appointed to prepare and give an answer to Rome conformable to the above resolution."
In response to a petition sent by the Maryland clergy to Rome, 6 November, 1783, for permission for the missionaries here to nominate a superior who should have some of the powers of a bishop, Father Carroll, having been selected, was confirmed by the pope, 6 June, 1784, as Superior of the Missions in the thirteen United States of North America, with power to give confirmation. He was asked to send a report of the state of Catholicity in the United States. This same year a minister named Charles Henry Wharton, a Marylander, an ex-Jesuit, and distant relative of Father Carroll, attacked the Church, and was answered by Carroll in "An Address to the Roman Catholics of the United States of North America". Its aim and spirit may be gauged from one of its passages wherein Carroll said: "General and equal toleration, by giving a free circulation to fair argument, is a most effectual method to bring all denominations of Christians to an unity of faith." The work was published at Annapolis in 1784, and is the first Catholic work written by an American Catholic published in the United States. Father Carroll was, all the while, distracted, personally wishing the rehabilitation of the Society of Jesus and to remain himself a Jesuit. But officially seeing the need of a bishop, and that too an American, he decided to accept the pope's appointment of himself, and forthwith as Prefect Apostolic sent (Feb., 1785), to Cardinal Antonelli , his acceptance of that office, but urged that some method of appointing church authorities be adopted by Rome that would not make it appear as if they were receiving their appointment from a foreign power. A report of the status of Catholics in Maryland was appended to his letter, where he stated that 9000 were freemen, 3000 children, and 3000 negro slaves ; that some of the more prominent families, despite the dearth of priests (there being then only nineteen in Maryland ) were still Catholics in faith, sufficiently religious, though prone to dancing and novel-reading. The pope was so pleased with Father Carroll's report that he granted his request "that the priests in Maryland be allowed to suggest two or three names from which the Pope would choose their bishop ". In the meanwhile Father Carroll took up his residence in Baltimore (1786-7), where even Protestants were charmed by his sermons delivered in old St. Peter's church. He took an active part in municipal affairs, especially in establishing schools, Catholic and non-Catholic, being president of the Female Humane Charity School of the City of Baltimore, one of three trustees for St. John's College at Annapolis, founder of Georgetown College (1791), head of the Library Company, the pioneer of the Maryland Historical Society, and President of the trustees of Baltimore College (1803).
He represented to Congress the need of a constitutional provision for the protection and maintenance of religious liberty, and doubtless to him, in part, is due the provision in Article Sixth, Section 3, of the Constitution, which declares that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States ", and also the first amendment, passed this same year by the first Congress, that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof: (for a more cautious view see SHEA, op. cit., 348).
Church troubles, Trusteeism in New York, and Nationalism in Philadelphia, at this time decided the priests of Maryland (March, 1788) to petition Rome for a bishop for the United States. Cardinal Antonelli replied, allowing the priests on the mission to select the city and, for this case only, to name the candidate for presentation to the pope. Twenty-four of the twenty-five other priests in the meeting voted for Father Carroll. Accordingly on 6 November, 1789, Pope Pius VI appointed him bishop. His consecration took place in Mr. Weld's chapel at Lulworth Castle, England, 15 August, 1790, at the hands of the Rt. Rev. Charles Walmesley, Senior Vicar Apostolic of England. Bishop Carroll returned to Baltimore in triumph, 7 December, when he preached an appropriate and touching sermon in St. Peter's church. Troubles in Boston required him soon to go thither, where he removed much prejudice.
In common with their fellow-citizens, the Catholics of the United States hailed with joy the election of George Washington as first president under the new Constitution. Before the inauguration Bishop Carroll, on behalf of the Catholic clergy, united with the representatives of the Catholic laity (Charles Carrollton, and Daniel Carroll of Maryland, Dominick Lynch of New York, and Thomas FitzSimons of Pennsylvania ) in an address of congratulation, admirable for its sentiments of exalted patriotism ["An Address from the Roman Catholics of America to George Washington, Esq., President of the United States ", London, 1790, fol.; reprint New York, 1865, facsimile and notes; see Shea, op.cit., 349-50, and ibid., the memorable and cordial reply of Washington (12 March, 1790) "To the Roman Catholics of the United States ", in which he says: "I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their Revolution, and the establishment of your Government, or the important assistance which they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic faith is professed." The original of this reply is preserved in the Archives of the Archbishop of Baltimore ]. It may not be out of place to quote here the noble words of Bishop Carroll himself, addressed (10 June, 1789) to a maligner of Catholics : "Their blood flowed as freely (in proportion to their numbers) to cement the fabric of independence as that of any of their fellow-citizens. They concurred with perhaps greater unanimity than any other body of men in recommending and promoting that government from whose influence America anticipates all the blessings of justice, peace, plenty, good order, and civil and religious liberty" (Brent, 97, see below; Shea, op.cit., 153).
On 7 Nov., 1791, he held the First Synod of Baltimore, attended by twenty-two priests of five nationalities. To train priests for his diocese of three million square miles, Bishop Carroll had asked the Fathers of the Company of Saint Sulpice to come to Baltimore, where they arrived in 1791 and started the nucleus of St. Mary's College and Seminary. Bishop Carroll issued his first pastoral letter 28 March, 1792; very practical, yet tender, appealing for support for the clergy by means of the offertory collections. In 1793 for the first time, Bishop Carroll conferred Holy orders, the recipient being the Rev. Stephen Badin, the first priest ordained within the limits of the original thirteen of the United States. In 1795, he ordained to the priesthood Prince Demetrius Gallitzin who was to add 6,000 converts to his flock. In 1798, Bishop Carroll won an interesting and important lawsuit, the famous Fromm Case (Shea, op.cit., 448-5), in which Judge Addison, President of the Court of Common Pleas of the Fifth Circuit of Pennsylvania, decided that "The Bishop of Baltimore has the sole episcopal authority over the Catholic Church of the United States. Every Catholic congregation within the United States is subject to his inspection; and without authority from him no Catholic priest can exercise any pastoral function over any congregation within the United States ." In 1792, says Shea (op.cit., 486-7) he interceded with Washington in regard to missions among the Indians; eventually the president recommended to Congress a civilizing and Christianizing policy among the Indians, one result of which was the acceptance of the services of a Catholic priest, to whom a small yearly salary was allowed. After the death of Washington, Bishop Carroll "issued a circular to his clergy (29 Dec., 1799) in regard to the celebration of the 22d of February as a day of mourning, giving directions for such action as would be in conformity with the spirit of the Church, while attesting to the country the sorrow and regret experienced by Catholics at the great national loss" (Shea, op.cit., 495). Having been invited by the unanimous resolution of Congress, in common with the clergy of all denominations and congregations of Christians throughout the United States, he preached a panegyric of the president in St. Peter's church in Baltimore, 22 February, 1800, which was regarded by all who heard it, or read it in print (Baltimore, 1800), says Shea, (op.cit., 495), as one of the most masterly which were uttered on that day. Episcopal orders were conferred for the first time in the United States by Bishop Carroll on Bishop Neale, his coadjutor, with right of succession to the See of Baltimore. Plans for building his cathedral now occupied Bishop Carroll's mind, and on 7 July, 1806, he laid the corner-stone on ground bought for $20,000, and the seventh design of the architect, B.H. Latrobe, was accepted.
In 1808, Bishop Carroll became Archbishop, with suffragan sees at New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Bardstown. At a meeting held in Baltimore in 1810, Archbishop Carroll, with Bishop Neale and three of his suffragans, drew up some important regulations for the welfare and direction of their clergy and people (See BALTIMORE, PROVINCIAL COUNCILS OF). Owing to ill-health Archbishop Carroll had to decline the proffered honour of laying the corner-stone of Washington's Monument in Baltimore, in the autumn of 1815. His end was now approaching. To a Protestant minister who said to the dying prelate that his hopes were now directed to another world, Archbishop Carroll replied: "Sir, my hopes have been always fixed on the Cross of Christ". A short while after he said, "Of those things that give me most consolation at the present moment, one is that I have always been attached to the practice of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary ; that I have established it among the people under my care, and placed my diocese under her protection." On 22 November he received the last sacraments, after which he made a touching discourse to the priests present. "The whole population of Baltimore ", said a letter from a relative, were "constantly calling to inquire about, and to urge permission to see him." The funeral Mass was offered in St. Peter's pro-Cathedral and the body temporarily laid in the chapel of St. Mary's Seminary till 1824, when the cathedral crypt was ready for the deposit it still guards.
"Archbishop Carroll, though of low stature, had a commanding and dignified appearance", wrote the Rev. Dr. C. I. White . "The configuration of his head, his whole mein, bespoke the metropolite. . . . He wrote them (Latin, Italian and French) not less readily and tersely than his own. He mingled often in gay society, relished the festivities of polished life, and the familiar intercourse of both clergy and laity of the Protestant denomination. He was wholly free from guile, uniformly frank, generous and placable; he reprobated all intolerance. . . . He ranked and voted with the Federalist party. He loved republicanism. His manners were mild, impressive and urbane."
A Baltimore paper of the day said of the burial : "We have never witnessed a funeral procession where so many of eminent respectability and standing among us followed the train of mourners. Distinctions of rank, of wealth, of religious opinion were laid aside in the great testimony of respect to the memory of the man." Another Baltimore paper said: "In him religion assumed its most attractive and amiable form, and his character conciliated for the body over which he presided, respect and consideration from the liberal, the enlightened of all ranks and denominations ; for they saw that his life accorded with the benign doctrines of that religion which he professed. In controversy he was temperate yet compelling, considerate yet uncompromising.
Brent says he had "sound judgment, real piety and pre-eminent talents". "The discourses from the pulpit, and the pastoral letters of Archbishop Carroll were alike distinguished for their unction and classical taste. His voice being naturally feeble, the exertions which he made to be distinctly heard from the pulpit rendered his elocution less agreeable there than in other situations requiring less force of lungs. His colloquial powers and resources were great and rich, and his kind and benignant feelings always prompted him to apply them to the best of advantage. There was an irresistible charm and elegance indeed in his conversations."
The archives of the Baltimore cathedral contain the original Brief making Father Carroll Superior of the Missions in the United States and erecting the See of Baltimore and appointing Bishop Carroll, copies of the Briefs raising Baltimore to an archiepiscopal see and conferring the pallium on Bishop Carroll, also very many of his official and private letters, etc.
- Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- The Angelus
- Unfailing Prayer to St. Anthony
- Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary
- The Apostles' Creed
- The Our Father
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