Monday, July 12, 2010


http://worldchristianchurches.blogspot.comIn order to get a clear picture of the influences behind the current American biblical scholarship, it is important to understand the history of Catholic settlers and the Jesuit missionary priests in the United States from the colonial period.

Meanwhile, French missionaries focused mainly in what is today Canada, but as time went on their work extended to areas south and west, including the Illinois and Louisiana. They took formal possession of the western country in 1671. However, European opinions and actions were often reflected strongly in the American colonies. The Jesuits in France, considering themselves bound by their profession to combat vice, made enemies for themselves, and although by attaining great strength and influence, also acquired many powerful enemies among members of the Enlightenment and the slackers and mistresses of the nobility. In 1762 there began the systematic suppression of their society, and in the following year the order was supressed in the Illinois country. All their property was sold at auction and the chapels demolished.

The first English colony was actually established by the Catholic convert. His father having died before he could realize his dream, Cecilius Calvert became the Baron of Baltimore. In view of the anti-Catholic laws of the mother country and the overall hostility towards the Catholics, the baron encouraged the erection of churches that were to be dedicated according to the ecclesiastical laws of England. He also preserved a religious toleration for all Christians the the minority. For example, in Maryland in 1634 there were little less than 3,000 Catholics out of a population of 34,000. In Pennsylvania in 1757, there was less than 1,400 Catholics out of a population of about 200,000. Even in 1785 when the entire United States are contained nearly four million people, there was little more than 25,000 Catholics - and no bishop.

In 1649 the Act of Toleration was passed, where "blasphemy and the calling of opprobrious religious names" became punishable offenses, but it was repealed in 1654 and Catholics were outlawed again in Maryland. Puritans condemned ten Catholics to death, plundered houses and estates of the Jesuits, and forced the priests to flee in disguise into Virginia. By 1692, Maryland had become a royal colony, the Church of England was established by law, and Catholics were compelled to pay taxes for its support. They were cut off from all participation in public life and additional laws were introduced that forbid religious services and Catholic schools. Maryland did eventually pass an act of religious toleration by the end of 1776.

The other eleven colonies were left uncounted by Jesuit missionaries because their were few if any Catholics living in those areas. The only other colony with any recognizable population of Catholics was New York.

Finally, by the late 1700's, the establishment of Catholic schools, such as the Georgetown Academy in 1791 began. However, the school was open to every religious profession, and students were given liberty to attend the church of their parents choosing. In 1809, St. Elizabeth Seton founded the first school for girls in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Catholic parochial schools numbered about 200 by 1840. Catholic charitable associations also helped alleviate some of the educational pressure. The Sisters of Charity for example, opened their first St. Joseph's Orphanage in 1814. All of the various charitable groups were extremely beneficial in putting Catholics in a better light, because their charity was not confined solely to Catholics, but to all who were in need. Unfortunately, they could not entirely erase the prejudice that still existed.

Another charitable effort among Catholics was the attempt to educate the newly emancipated slaves. The Second Plenary Council in Baltimore in 1866, headed by 45 bishops, decreed that religious instruction be pursued for all, black and white equally. Unfortunately, the southern Protestant attitude against educating the slaves was so intense that many religious orders shied away from the task for fear of all alienating white patronage. Feuds between the religious orders and non-Catholics often forced black Americans out of the schools. Southern bishops tried again and again to acquire workers and funds to render the apostolate effective, but their extreme poverty crippled most of the efforts they made. A few religious communities were now successful, such as the Oblate Sisters of Providence, founded in 1829, and the Mill Hill Fathers of Baltimore in 1871. Bl. Katharine Drexel was also successful in establishing a network of the schools which served upwards of 25,000 black and Indian children and founded Xavier University in New Orleans, the first predominantly black Catholic university in the Western Hemisphere. But, by the end of 1955, their were only 483,671 black Catholics in the United States out of a population of approximately 16,000,000. 

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