Fenwick, Benedict Joseph
FENWICK, BENEDICT JOSEPH
Educator, second bishop of Boston; b. near Leonard-town, Md., Sept. 3, 1782; d. Boston, Mass., Aug. 11, 1846. Fenwick was the son of Richard and Dorothy (Plowden) Fenwick. He attended Georgetown College (now University), a school newly established by Bp. John Carroll, and in 1806 he was admitted to the Georgetown novitiate of the reestablished Society of Jesus. (see jesuits.) His Jesuit novitiate and studies in theology at St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, Md., prepared him for ordination on March 12, 1808. He was assigned to St. Peter's Church, New York City, where, with Anthony Kohlmann, SJ, he was copastor and cofounder of the New York Literary Institution. In 1817 Fenwick was called to Washington, D.C., to serve as president of Georgetown College. There were, however, warring factions in the Church in Charleston, S.C., and Fenwick was sent there in 1818 as peacemaker. He remained after the arrival of Bp. John England, whom he served as vicar-general. His next appointment, in May 1822, was as minister of Georgetown College and procurator general of the Society. From 1822 to 1825 he again served as president of Georgetown.
Having been proposed for the episcopacy several times since 1814, he was named bishop of Boston and consecrated in Baltimore on Nov. 1, 1825. His diocese, which covered all of New England, had three priests, eight churches (some in bad repair), and the cathedral in Boston, with a Catholic population of 9,000. He arranged for a new location for the Ursuline Nuns in Charlestown, Mass., began a small seminary in his own residence, and started a school for boys and girls at the cathedral. The Ursuline convent was destroyed by a Nativist mob in 1834, but Fenwick generally dealt successfully with anti-Catholic forces. He established (1829) a newspaper, the Jesuit (later the Boston Pilot ) to defend Catholic views, and strengthened his diocese by founding (1834) the Catholic Irish colony of Benedicta in Maine.
Fenwick's major contribution to education was the founding in 1843 of the College of Holy Cross, Worcester, Mass., the first Catholic college in New England. Using land and a building given by Rev. James Fitton, Fenwick turned the new college over to the Jesuits. Aided by funds from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and from the Leopoldine Association of Vienna, he also sent priests throughout New England to build churches and establish parishes. He held the first clerical retreat and the first diocesan synod, both in 1842. During his administration the diocese was transformed from one of the weakest to one of the strongest in the U.S.
Bibliography: r. h. lord et al., History of the Archdiocese of Boston … 1604 to 1943, 3 v. (Boston 1945).
[t. f. casey]