First bishop of Charleston, S.C., author, orator; b. Cork, Ireland, Sept. 23, 1786; d. Charleston, April 11, 1842. He was the son of Thomas and Honora (Lordan) England. He completed his primary education at Cork and then apprenticed himself to a barrister. After two years, however, he entered (1802) St. Patrick's College, Carlow, where, while still a student, he taught and also preached a Lenten series at the cathedral. By dispensation he was ordained before the prescribed age on Oct. 11, 1808, by Bp. Francis Moylan at St. Mary's Cathedral, Cork. As a priest in Cork he became lecturer at the cathedral; chaplain to the North Presentation Convent, the Magdalen Asylum, and the city prison; inspector of the Catholic poor schools; and teacher of philosophy, and president (1812–17) at St. Mary's College.
During these years he took an active part in the Veto Question, opposing, particularly through the pages of the Cork Mercantile Chronicle, of which he was a trustee, any program that would give the British government the right to interfere in the appointment of bishops. He was parish priest at Bandon, 16 miles from Cork, from May 1817 until he resigned in August 1820, when notified that he had been named bishop of Charleston.
Ordinary of Charleston. England was consecrated in St. Finbar's Church, Cork, on Sept. 21, 1820, and arrived in Charleston, Dec. 30, 1820, to take up the administration of a diocese more than 140,000 square miles in area, with about 5,000 Catholics. His first act, after notifying the archbishop of Baltimore of his arrival, was to issue a pastoral letter to the faithful, the first such letter in the history of the American Church. He made a visitation of the Carolinas and Georgia, the three states within his diocese. England was particularly conscious of the need for education and prepared a missal and a catechism to help and instruct his flock. They were printed, not without objections from other U.S. bishops, and distributed.
To combat attacks upon the Church made in the press, he began a newspaper, the United States Catholic Miscellany, the first Catholic newspaper in the U.S. It was published weekly, with occasional short lapses, from 1822 until 1861. England wrote the greater part of the material, edited, and even assisted in printing the paper. His writings have been collected from copies of the paper and published on three occasions—one edition running to seven volumes. "Everything," wrote his successor Bp. Ignatius Reynolds, "which Dr. England published,… is worthy of being preserved and read by posterity." His statement of the Catholic's duty as a citizen has retained its relevance for more than a century.
His newspaper continued publication with very little support from the rest of the hierarchy. England's ideas were frequently considered radical and at times seemed to be opposed because they were his. Thus, when his diocesan constitution called for an annual convention of the clergy and lay delegates representing the parishes, the program was labeled "democratic" by his archbishop, a term that carried a bad connotation in the early 19th century. The constitution was designed to forestall trusteeism by ensuring an agreeable method of handling temporalities. The only church in Charleston was so entangled by its vestrymen that to make it a cathedral would have been unwise. Accordingly, a procathedral was occupied until an adequate building could be erected.
It was the bishop's hope that the Philosophical and Classical Seminary of Charleston, which began operating in January 1822, would attract vocations to the clergy. St. John the Baptist Seminary, which he opened in 1825, soon provided trained priests for the diocese, four of whom became bishops. In 1829 he organized a diocesan community, the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, to catechize poor children and to care for orphans and the sick. At his invitation, the Ursuline nuns from Blackrock, Cork, opened an academy in 1833. Under England a social welfare program of the Brotherhood of San Marino, the first Catholic society for workingmen in the U.S., undertook the support of a small hospital, staffed by the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, to aid the poor in the fever epidemics. The society and the hospital were short-lived. The bishop's concern for blacks irked the slave owners who blocked his effort to operate a school for slaves.
National Leadership. In 1833 he was appointed apostolic delegate to Haiti for the purpose of improving the status of the Church there. He was the first U.S. bishop to be chosen by the Holy See for so important a diplomatic mission. It proved, however, to be the one great failure of his career. Nevertheless, Gregory XVI, as a mark of his personal esteem, named England an assistant to the pontifical throne.
His attempt at peacemaking in the Hogan schism in Philadelphia was misinterpreted; his offer of 1822 to accept Rev. William Hogan into the Charleston diocese only served to bring him into disfavor with several U.S. bishops. This experience, and a similar one in connection with the nomination of a successor to Bp. John Connolly of New York, made England press ardently for the calling of a council to achieve a proper understanding among the bishops of the nation. It was almost his insistence alone that finally initiated the Councils of Baltimore.
England visited the chief cities of the Union and traveled to Europe four times, seeking aid in money, vestments, books, and candidates for his convents and seminary. On Jan. 8, 1826, while visiting Washington, D.C., he was invited to address the Congress, the first Catholic clergyman to do so. It was but a month before he received his final papers as a citizen of the U.S.
Pressure of work moved England to request a coadjutor but the choice of William Clancy of St. Patrick's College, Carlow, Ireland, proved unfortunate and Clancy obtained a transfer in 1838, within a year of his arrival. When England died in 1842, the diocese had 14 churches, with three more under construction; 20 priests; and a Catholic population of about 12,000.
Bibliography: p. guilday, Life and Times of John England, 2 v. (New York 1927). s. g. messmer, ed. The Works of the Right Reverend John England, First Bishop of Charleston, 7 v. (Cleveland 1908). p. clarke, A Free Church in a Free Society: The Ecclesiology of John Ireland, Bishop of Charleston, 1820–1842: A Nineteenth Century Bishop in the Southern United States (Hartsville, SC, 1982).
[r. c. madden/eds.]
The Irish churchman John England (1786-1842) was a controversial figure in Ireland and America. The first Roman Catholic bishop of Charleston, S. C., he founded the first American Catholic newspaper.
Born in Cork on Sept. 23, 1786, John England was educated in a Protestant school, where he was ridiculed as the only "papist." He trained for the priesthood at the College of St. Patrick. Ordained at Cork in 1808, he served there until 1817. His labors as chaplain, educator, preacher, and writer earned favorable attention, but his political agitation displeased leaders of both Church and state. Finally, in what seemed an attempt to get him out of the way, he was appointed bishop of the new diocese of Charleston, S. C.
Arriving in America in 1820, England discovered among the disorganized flock of Catholics spread throughout the Carolinas and Georgia a strong element of "trusteeism"—that is, laymen preferred to select their own priests. He proposed to correct this by creating a democratic constitution for the diocese that would provide for conventions of priests and laity but abolish parish trustees. Though his people accepted this compromise, it was viewed unfavorably by northern bishops. In Philadelphia and New York, England attracted Irish Catholic loyalties; this was regarded by local bishops as meddling and increased England's unpopularity with the hierarchy.
During 1822 England created a seminary, where he did much of the training of priests himself. He also started publishing the United States Catholic Miscellany (1822-1861), the first distinctly Catholic paper in America, which sought to defend the faith against outside attacks, explain Catholic doctrine, and convey internal Church news. It stands as his greatest achievement, even though episcopal jealousies kept it from becoming a national journal.
Through the Miscellany and his numerous controversies, and as a preacher and speaker, England became nationally famous. In 1826, as the first Catholic to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress, he spoke for 2 hours on Catholic beliefs. Yet his anticipated appointment to a more prestigious diocese never materialized. Meanwhile, partly because of his extended absences from the diocese, his constituency failed to enlarge. A steady burden of debts and growing fatigue led to prolonged illness; he died on April 11, 1842.
The standard source is a critical edition of England's works, The Works of the Right Reverend John England, First Bishop of Charleston, edited by Sebastian G. Messmer, Archbishop of Milwaukee (7 vols., 1908). Peter Guilday, The Life and Times of John England, First Bishop of Charleston, 1786-1842 (2 vols., 1927), remains the authoritative biography. See also Dorothy Grant, John England (1949). For background see Thomas T. McAvoy, A History of the Catholic Church in the United States (1969). □