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Religious Leaders of America's Past--Bishop John Carroll-what did his views do for the Catholic church?

Updated on January 8, 2015
Bishop John Carroll
Bishop John Carroll | Source

Church Reformer

 Carroll  (January 8, 1735-December 3,1815) has been one of my favorite figures in American Catholic History. He instituted many reforms in the Church and envisioned some of the reforms that did not take place until The Second Vatican Council 200 years later; He especially wanted to have the liturgy in English.

 Carroll wrote articles for publications defending Catholic traditions and criticized  the idea of establishing Protestantism as the State church. He   treated non-Catholics with respect, insisting that Protestant and Catholics work together to build the new nation. He thought that lack of understanding of the role of the Vatican and the Latin in liturgy was a major obstacle to unity.

He also was for Catholic education and helped establish Georgetown University

Note on Sources

I have gleaned information from Wikipedia and an old article from Catholic Digest of Jan. 1956. Pictures are from Wikimedia and all public domain because the copyrights have run out.

Early Life

He was born to Daniel Carroll, a native of Ireland and Eleanor Carroll at the family home in Darnell’s Chance in Upper Marlboro; Mayland He was educated in France at St. Omer in French Flanders. His cousin Charles of Carrollton also attended.

First Catholic Bishop

 John Carroll who was the first bishop and archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. His cousin  Charles Carroll of Carrollton  was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. His oldest brother, Daniel, became one of only five men to sign both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution of the United States. John Carroll is the founder of Georgetown University, which is the oldest Catholic University in the United States.

In 1791 Carroll convened a diocesan synod the discussed among other things Baptism, Confirmation, penace and liturgy.

In 1808, Pope Pius VII made Baltimore the first archdiocese in the United States. Making Carroll the first archbishop

Lulworth Castle Interior where John Carroll was consecrated
Lulworth Castle Interior where John Carroll was consecrated | Source

Church and State

 In 1776 members of the Continental Congress wanted to persuade the Catholic colony of Canada to resist tyranny and wanted the help of a Catholic priest who was a friend of civil liberty. They found John Carroll. Along with his Cousin Charles Carroll, Samuel Chase, and Benjamin Franklin traveled to Quebec in the attempt to persuade the French Canadian population to join the revolution.  The Canadians  declined because they felt the Americans were anti-Catholic. Although the project was unsuccessful Carroll became well known by the new government. According to Wikipedia, the local Bishop of Quebec, Jean-Olivier Briand, excommunicated Carroll.

The Continetal Congress said it would not interfere with election of a Bishop with loyalties to Rome.  It was the Vatican that was hesitant to hesitated when the American Catholics asked for a Bishop. Benjamin Franklin spoke for Congress when he said there was no need to sound out Congress at all. The American Government did not claim control over strictly religious matters. This surprised Rome and they allowed the priests to choose their own Bishop. This had not been done for centuries in the Catholic Church.

When George Washington was elected Carroll wrote to him to remind him that Catholics had been in the armies that won the Revolution. He asked that Catholics be given equal rights as citizens, referring to many anti-Catholic laws in various states.

When Washington died Carroll ordered Masses in all the Catholic churches for Washington. He preached a eulogy for the dead president in Baltimore.

In my opinion this is the way Church-State relations were meant to be: cooperation in mutual goals. Respect for the realm of the other and non-interference.

First American Bishop of the Catholic Church


Carroll was a member and a leader in the Society of Jesus, known as the Jesuits. In 1773 the order was suppressed. It was this that brought Carroll to come back from Europe where he’d been teaching. The reason he went overseas was that Catholic higher education was forbidden in Maryland and other colonies. He went to France where he studied for six years at St. Omer’s college in French Flanders. He joined the Jesuits and was ordained at Liege.



Although Carroll did not agitate for elimination of slavery he did call for humane treatment and religious education of slaves. He had two black servants, one of whom was a slave. He released him from slavery in his will and left the servant a generous inheritance.


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Religion and politics are subjects which people feel deeply about. at least I hope they do. Sometimes they are subjects to avoid discussing with people who might may have sharp disagreements on the subject.Thanks for commenting.

    • Seakay profile image

      Seakay 7 years ago from Florida

      Interesting read. However, I always get nervous when religion is a topic of conversation.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I agree that we as that Christians should recognize the Jewish or Hebrew religion as the roots of our own. The Torah, which we call the Old Testament,is part of our faith. Fundamentalist Protestants, I think,emphasis it too much while liberal Christians maybe not enough.I don't know if Bishop Carroll would recognize the Jesuits of today.Thanks for commenting.

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 7 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      da, I did not know the story of this man, though my kids attended a Jesuit high school. Thanks for informing me! It is funny how Catholics were once scorned. Let's see, the current Christian movement came out of the Protestant movement which came from the Catholic or Orthodox movements which are based in part on Jewish beliefs. When attacking people of these faiths, we are really attacking our ancestors, right? Strange folk, human beings.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I glad you like it. thanks for commenting.

    • twentyfive profile image

      twentyfive 7 years ago

      Thanks for sharing a glimpse of Caroll's interesting life :)

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks, Tom. I appreciate your comments.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 7 years ago from Moundsville, WV


      Thank you for a very informative Hub on an early American Catholic Bishop who espoused American values. Great Hub!!!!!!!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Your comment is much appreciated.Thanks for reading.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      As always, I learn something new from one of your Hubs. Very interesting.