Friday, April 4, 2014

When bishops were Apostles, cont.

Bishop John England
We looked in our last posting at the first generation of American bishops—John Carroll, Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus, Luke Concannen, John Connolly, Michael Francis Egan, and Benedict Joseph Flaget.  None of these were men who were impressed by their being bishops but viewed their vocation in terms of the mission of the Church to spread the Good News and serve the poor and the sick.  They set the pattern and most of the American bishops up until the time of the Civil War were similarly men of great apostolic zeal and personal humility.  John Timon of Buffalo, William Quarter of Chicago, Fenwick of Cincinnati, Lamy of Santa Fe, O’Conner of Pittsburgh stand out for their hard work and apostolic zeal.  Many of them—such as O’Conner—did not want to be bishops and tried to get out of it.  None of them were given to the prelatical luxury that so many of today’s bishops find addictive.  But there are two men who really stand out in this period of American Catholic history: John England and John Neumann.   
In 1827 Pope Pius VII divided the States of North and South Carolina and Georgia from the Archdiocese of Baltimore and named an Irish priest from Cork, John England, as its first bishop.  England was a gifted preacher and teacher as well as a budding ecumenicist who was able to harmonize Protestant and Catholic elements in his native Ireland.   England was consecrated bishop in September 1820 and refused to take the required oath of allegiance to the British Crown, declaring that he would seek citizenship in the American Republic as soon as he arrived.  He embraced the American spirit from the beginning.  He wrote a constitution for his diocese and annually held a convention of clergy and laity to advise him in its administration.  He also instituted the first diocesan newspaper in the country.  Charleston was a challenge as the diocese held approximately eleven thousand souls—7500 in South Carolina, 3000 in Georgia, and 500 in North Carolina.  Many of these were Irish immigrants and it was feared that without pastoral care they would slip away from the Church into Protestantism.  (And many in fact did.)  He had few priests with which to cover the widely scattered Catholic communities that comprised his flock.  England was arduous in conducting regular visitations of his diocese, travelling from town to town and preaching wherever he could—in taverns, town halls,  and court houses.  He himself was a remarkable speaker and was often invited by Protestant clergy to preach in their churches.  In 1826 he became the first Catholic clergyman to be invited to address Congress.  Such a missionary life did not lend itself to comfort much less to pomp and England seemed to have that Irish disdain for folderol.   He reached out to the African American population, bringing in the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy (not to be confused with the Sisters of Mercy) to run schools for both children of the wealthy and African-American girls.  The Ursulines later joined in the ministry of the diocese as well.  In pre-Civil War Carolina, England took a very unpopular stand in the South, opposing nullification.  Every Sunday he preached early Mass to the African American community and preached to them again Sunday Afternoons at Vespers.  Unable to finance the work in this diocese so large in size and small in numbers, Bishop England turned to European sources and the Leopoldinen Stiftung, an Austrian charity established by Archbishop of Vienna Leopold Maximilian Graf (Count) von Firmian in memory of and named after an Austrian Princess, Maria Leopoldina, who had become Empress of Brazil but had died at age 29 in childbirth.  England made a voyage to Europe in search of funds in 1841 and exhausted himself travelling from place to place seeking any help in funds or manpower.  After a very rough return voyage and extensive preaching in both Philadelphia and Baltimore, he returned to Charleston only to collapse and die at the age of 56.    
John Neumann was born in what is now the Czech Republic but was then the Kingdom of Bohemia in the Austrian Empire.  His family were ethnically German, not Czechs.  He came to the United States in 1835 in order to become a priest—there were so many priests in his part of Bohemia that the Bishop would not ordain any more.  Bishop John Dubois of New York ordained him and sent him to work in what is now the area around Buffalo New York where he was an avid circuit riding preacher, going from mission to mission.  In 1840 he entered the Redemptorist Order, at the time an all-German congregation, and professed his vows in 1842.  Neumann was their first vocation in the United States and within six years of his profession was chosen to be their provincial.  He became a naturalized United States citizen in 1848 and four years later Pius IX named him Bishop of Philadelphia.   
The diocese of Philadelphia was growing rapidly as immigrants fled civil unrest in Germany and Italy and famine in Ireland.  Neumann opened a new parish at the rate of one a month.  He also built the first Catholic School system in the United States—growing from one school in the diocese to over 200.  Bishop Neumann, an immigrant himself, was sensitive to the plight of immigrants and opened national parishes where people could hear preaching in their own language and where the children could be educated bilingually.  To aid in his educational program he brought the School Sisters of Notre Dame from Germany as well as organizing a new religious congregation, the Sisters of Saint Francis of Philadelphia.  The Philadelphia congregation in turn founded Franciscan communities in Buffalo and Syracuse.  He also supported the work of the Oblate Sisters of Providence who are a congregation of African American religious Sisters and whose work is among African Americans.
Neumann was noted for his austere personal frugality.  His clothes were inevitable threadbare and when people would give him new clothing—they never gave him money as he would use it for the diocese and not himself—he would pass the clothing on to the priests of his diocese whose needs were even greater than his own.  He wore out the soles of his shoes countless times, but would never buy a new pair.  He died at age 48—collapsing in the street worn and exhausted.   Neumann and England are two more examples of the early American bishops who were driven by mission and not by a personal need for power, recognition, pomp or wealth.   This was the norm in the American Church up through the time of our Civil War—but things were to change and not change for the better. 

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