Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.
The Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. From October 11, 2012, to November 24, 2013, we are invited to open the door of faith and re-value our U.S. Catholic origins and catechetical efforts.
After the American Revolutionary War was settled in favor of the colonies and the new nation formed its independent government, John Carroll was appointed the first Bishop of Baltimore. He was ordained bishop on August 15, 1790, and soon after named his cathedral church for Mary’s Assumption.
John Carroll, a native of Maryland, was ordained to the episcopacy on the feast of Mary’s Assumption in 1790 in St. Mary’s Chapel at Ludworth Castle in England. This was the Weld family’s ancestral home. The Weld family had been staunch Catholics for centuries before, during, and after the Protestant Reformation. John Carroll of Maryland chose this historic setting, and Bishop Charles Walmsley was the ordaining prelate.
The new diocese included the entire U.S.A., and Bishop John Carroll became shepherd for about 35,000 Catholics in a national population of four million. Catholicism began to flourish in many areas.
For the next quarter-century the new bishop set the pattern for the growth of the Catholic Church in the United States. He shaped a creative and dynamic role for Catholicism in a new type of country guided by a new form of government.
When the new diocese was a year old, Bishop Carroll convened a synod, a formal meeting of his clergy. The diocesan synod addressed the pastoral needs of the faithful and set pastoral policies. Twenty priests gathered at the bishop’s house in Baltimore on November 7, 1791. The first session of the diocesan synod dealt with policies for administering Baptism and Confirmation. The following four sessions
developed guidelines for admitting children to First Holy Communion and Reconciliation, faculties for the priests of the diocese, Matrimony, and religious education. This synod was acclaimed a success both at home and abroad. Its organization and manner of governance influenced the provincial and plenary councils of the nineteenth century and beyond. Already the seeds were being sown for the Baltimore Catechism. Bishop Carroll’s commitment as an attentive, teacher, bishop, and shepherd was clearly evident.
In the ensuing years Bishop John Carroll continued to promote the establishment of Catholic schools, the institution of religious congregations, and the creation of new parishes and dioceses. He was effective in molding a healthy Church in his far-flung diocese, which included the original thirteen states, the Northwest Territory, and the vast Louisiana Purchase. He is rightly credited with building a firm foundation on which the American Church would grow.
When Pope Pius VII established in 1808 the dioceses of Boston and Bardstown, Baltimore became an archdiocese and John Carroll the first archbishop in the U.S.A.
In 1815 Archbishop John Carroll died. Catholicism had grown steadily. The number of faithful increased fourfold, and the clergy doubled in number. Carroll had established three seminaries, three colleges for men, and several academies for women. He encouraged religious congregations to spread to the frontiers, and they flourished across the country. Archbishop Carroll had guided the infant Church in the new republic with faith, wisdom, and kindness.
This Year of Faith affords us a special opportunity to recall and appreciate our past history, and to review and renew our baptismal commitment to the present and future. In celebrating this year the twentieth anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, let us value also the contribution of the Baltimore Catechism to our early religious education.