Reflections in history: week two by father edward quinlan
Pastoral care for Catholics settling in the original 13 colonies was first entrusted to Jesuit priests from England and later some from Germany. Parishes and missions were under the supervision of the Diocese of London as these were English colonies. With the end of the Revolutionary War and our official separation from England, as memorialized in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the time was ripe for the formal foundation of the Church in our new country. Pope Pius VI in 1790 will create the Diocese of Baltimore and appointed Father John Carroll as the first bishop. The diocese included all of the United States at the time. The new diocese was estimated by Bishop Carroll to have 25,000 Catholics and he had 25 priests to serve them. The US population was about 4 million at that time.
The new country was open for business and by 1830 began to grow rapidly. Immigration was slow at first then significantly increased in the 1830’s. Many Germans were among those arriving in this wave. By 1845 large numbers of Irish were coming to the US to flee starvation in their native land. With succeeding decades the new arrivals were coming from central and southern Europe as well. This was significantly increasing the Catholic population in the country.
By 1808 Pope Pius VII creates Baltimore as an Archdiocese, dividing it to form the dioceses of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Bardstown (Ky). Philadelphia at this time encompasses the whole state of Pennsylvania. Our central Pennsylvania homeland is part of this early diocese, and we are blessed to be able to account as one of our bishops, Saint John Neumann. By way of note, his relics are encased in our main altar. In time, the state will see other dioceses created from the western counties, Pittsburgh (1843) and Erie (1853).
On March 3, 1868 Pope Pius IX will direct that the dioceses of Scranton and Harrisburg be created from the territory of Philadelphia. A young priest, assigned as the rector of the minor seminary in Philadelphia, will be appointed as the first Bishop of Harrisburg, Father Jeremiah Shanahan.