Delaware, Catholic Church in

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Delaware, named after Thomas West, Lord De la Warr, colonial governor of Virginia, was discovered in 1609 by Henry Hudson in Dutch employ. After an initial unsuccessful settlement by the Dutch West India Company at present Lewes (1632), a permanent establishment was made (1638) by the Swedes at Christianaham, the present Wilmington. The colony was named New Sweden. In 1655 the Dutch regained control of their colony, calling it New Netherlands, and established themselves at New Amstel, present New Castle. In 1664, however, the Dutch in turn were forced to acknowledge the prior claims of the British, and in 1682 Delaware was included in the grant made to William Penn by Charles II. It then became known as "the Three Lower Counties on Delaware" and from 1704 was permitted to have its own legislative assembly at Dover. On Dec. 7, 1789, Delaware, the first colony to ratify the U.S. Constitution, became the first state. During the Civil War Delaware officially sided with the Union cause; but Kent and Sussex were Confederate in their sympathies. Delaware had the smallest slave population of the slave states.

Catholics in Delaware were not tolerated under the Swedes or the Dutch. After it became an English colony, they were theoretically under the same legal and civil disabilities as their coreligionists in England; but, as part of Penn's grant they benefited by his de facto toleration. However, this did not extend to their enjoyment of full civil rights for they could not qualify to vote or to hold office without first taking the heretical Test Oath. The legal and teaching professions were closed to them. Possibly because of their small numbers, no outstanding incidents of friction or open hostility are recorded. Throughout the colonial period the Catholic communities at Lewes, Laurel, Murderkill, Dover, Appoquinimink (Odessa), New Castle, and Mt. Cuba were served by the Jesuits from the nearby Maryland missions.

The largest concentration of Catholics during the colonial period developed in the southwest corner of present-day New Castle County. The Jesuits from Cecil County, Maryland, founded a mission there in the Forest of Appoquinimink (now Blackbird) in 1740. Joseph Weldon began this chiefly Irish community in 1701. A second Jesuit mission was established south of Dover in 1747 in the area known as Willow Grove. This community consisted mainly of the Cain, Reynolds, and Lowber families, and was served by the Jesuits until 1785. A third Jesuit mission was established in 1747 in upper New Castle County at Cuba Rock, where Mass was first offered in the home of Con Hollahan, and then at White Clay Creek, where the Jesuits purchased property in 1772.

Early National Catholic Background. The first Catholic church in Delaware was named in honor of St. Mary of the Assumption and was completed at White Clay Creek by 1788. In the 1790s numerous French exiles settled in the city of Wilmington. Two French priests, the first priests to live in Wilmington, offered Masses there on French Street at the home of Colonel John Keating. Two Augustinians, John Rosseter and Matthew Carr, and a Capuchin, Charles Whelan, ministered to the French and Irish in upper Delaware until 1804, when Patrick Kenny, a diocesan priest from Dublin, arrived to begin a thirty-six year long ministry. His church and home were at Coffee Run at White Clay Creek in Mill Creek Hundred. From Coffee Run he served Catholics in Wilmington, New Castle, and some missions in Pennsylvania.

In 1808 Delaware became part of the newly established diocese of Philadelphia. Kenny had laid the cornerstone for a church in New Castle the previous year, and in 1816 he laid the cornerstone for the first Catholic church in Wilmington that was to become a transept of the Cathedral of St. Peter. In 1829 the Rev. George Carrell was assigned to Wilmington, and by 1830 he had promoted the completion of the church of St. Peter in New Castle, and had secured the services of the Daughters of Charity from Emmitsburg, Maryland, to found an orphanage for children of victims of the Du Pont Company explosions. They also began an academy for girls and a parochial school at St. Peter Church in Wilmington. Father Carrell was replaced by Father Patrick Reilly in 1834. In 1839 Father Reilly opened a school for boys at St. Peter, which was so successful that it developed into St. Mary College in 1847. The college prospered until the Civil War and was forced to close in 1866. Father Reilly was appointed pastor of a new parish, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception on the eastside of Wilmington, in 1858. On Dec. 24, 1841, a new church was dedicated near the Du Pont mills on the Brandywine River that was named in honor of St. Joseph. Reverend Bernard McCabe was its first pastor.

Diocese of Wilmington. On March 3, 1868, Pope Pius IX established the Diocese of Wilmington as a suffragan see of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The new diocese encompassed the entire Delmarva Peninsula: Delaware and the Eastern Shore counties of Maryland and Virginia. In 1972 when the Bay Bridge and Tunnel were completed, the two counties of Virginia were returned to the Richmond diocese.

The first Bishop of Wilmington, Thomas Andrew Becker, was consecrated on Aug. 16, 1868. In 1878 Bishop Becker in a published reply refuted the accusations made against the Church by Alfred Lee, the Episcoplian bishop of Delaware. During his 18 years as bishop of Wilmington, the number of churches doubled and the number of priests in the diocese almost tripled. Despite the noticeable advances of the church in Delaware, Becker asked to be transferred because of what he considered a lack of progess. When in 1896 Becker moved to Savannah, he was succeeded by Alfred Allen Curtis who ministered to the Catholics of Delaware until 1887.

The next two bishops of Wilmington, John J. Monaghan (18971925) and Edmond J. Fitzmaurice (19251969) guided the church in Delaware for more than 60 yearsthrough two world wars, a depression and great expansion into the suburbs. Both built churches and schools to serve the immigrant population that continued to grow. Bishop Michael W. Hyle, who had been consecrated coadjutor-bishop in 1958, took over leadership of the diocese in 1959. He supported the civil rights movement and attended the first three sessions of the Second Vatican Council, but it was largely left to his successors, Bishops Thomas J. Mardaga (19691985), Robert E. Mulvee (19851995) and Michael A. Saltarelli (1995) to implement the renewal called for by the council.

The people of Delaware are predominantly Anglo-Saxon and Celtic in origin, together with considerable numbers of Germans, Italians, Poles, and African-Americans. In 2000 the population of Delaware was 783,600 of which 18% (205,000) was Catholic. Most of those who identify themselves as Protestants are Methodists, Episcopalians and Presbyterians. There are also many Lutherans, Baptists, Friends, and Jews, with Greek and Russian Orthodox in fewer numbers. Wilmington was once called a Quaker town.

Bibliography: h. c. conrad, History of the State of Delaware from the Earliest Settlement to the Year 1907, 3 v. (Wilmington 1908). a. f. dimichele, comp., Coffee Run 17721960: The Story of the Beginnings of the Catholic Faith in Delaware (Wilmington 1960). d. devine, "Beginnings of the Catholic Church of Wilmington, Delaware" Delaware History 28 (19992000): 323344. c. a.h. esling, "Catholicity in the Three Lower Counties, or Planting of the Church in Delaware." Records of the American Catholic Historical Society 1 (March 1886): 11760. t. j. peterman, Catholics in Colonial Delmarva (Devon, Pennsylvania 1996). The Cutting Edge of Life of Thomas Andrew Becker, the First Catholic Bishop of Wilmington, Delaware and Sixth Bishop of Savannah, Georgia, 18311899 (Devon, Pennsylvania 1982). Catholic Priests of the Diocese of Wilmington, A Jubilee Year 2000 Commemoration, (Devon, Pennsylvania 2000). r. e. quigley, "Catholic Beginnings of the Delaware Valley." History of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, j. e. connelly, ed. (Philadelphia 1976). p. j. schierse, Laws of the State of Delaware Afflecting Church Property (Washington, D.C. 1963).

[e. b. carley/

t.j. peterman]

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