South Carolina, Catholic Church in
SOUTH CAROLINA, CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
The Diocese of Charleston began the 21st century under the leadership of Robert J. Baker, who was appointed as the 12th bishop of the diocese on July 13, 1999 by Pope John Paul II. Baker was consecrated in Charleston on September 29, 1999 and installed in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. The diocese, established by Pope Pius VII on July 11, 1820, comprises the land area of the entire state, and with Richmond, Virginia, was the first diocese created in the South.
At the beginning of the new millennium the diocese included about 122,000 Catholics, representing 3.25 percent of the state's population. The diocese is served by 94 active priests (of whom 34 are members of religious orders), 69 permanent deacons, and 184 religious brothers and sisters serving in 85 parishes, 30 missions, and 10 pastoral centers. The diocese sponsors two hospitals, seven social service centers, a retirement center, 25 parochial schools, and two high schools.
The first act of Christian worship in what is now South Carolina was probably a Mass celebrated by Catholic priests accompanying the explorations of Lucas de Ayllon and Hernando de Soto through the area in the first half of the 16th century; but it was not until more than 250 years later that the Church began to develop in the region. The English Crown gave eight lords proprietors
a charter in the 17th century to develop the colony of Carolina. Charleston, the see city of the diocese, was settled in 1670 when the first English colonists arrived with their slaves from Barbados. The English, reflecting European political divisions, adopted a policy prohibiting the immigration of Catholics and all manifestations of their religion. Carolina's royal governor observed in 1770 that there was religious freedom for everyone in the colony "except Papists." The Church took root in the state only after the success of the American Revolution during which the Church of England was disestablished. An Italian priest celebrated the first Mass in Charleston in 1788 as he was passing through the city on a ship bound for South America.
Matthew Ryan was the first priest assigned to minister to the small Catholic population in Charleston. Father John Carroll of Baltimore, the first ecclesiastical superior in the emerging nation, sent the Irish priest to Charleston in 1788. The fledgling congregation acquired a building on Hasell Street in 1789 and established Saint Mary's Church. Charleston was an important seaport on the southern Atlantic coast, and the number of Catholics increased as the city grew with immigration from Ireland and other European nations.
French Catholics arrived in Charleston from the Caribbean after a slave revolution in Haiti led to the flight of many residents from Haiti and Santo Domingo. Among them were two daughters of Admiral le comte de Grasse, a French naval hero of the American Revolution. Both girls died in Charleston in 1799 and their bodies were laid to rest in Saint Mary's churchyard.
Simon Felix Gallagher, an Irish priest with a degree from the University of Paris, came to Saint Mary's in 1793. Gallagher was an important figure in the Charleston community as well as at Saint Mary's during the 30 years he lived in the city. He was a member of the faculty of the College of Charleston, and served as its president
on two occasions. He founded a school called the Athenian Academy, and was a founder of an association of Irishmen called the Hibernian Society that is still in existence.
Both Gallagher and the congregation at Saint Mary's were often embroiled in conflicts with the ecclesiastical authority. The congregational disputes reflected the republican disposition of the young nation and a desire for independence from outside control from afar. The bishop received frequent complaints from Charleston Catholics about Gallagher's personal behavior. Carroll warned Gallagher on more than one occasion about using inappropriate language during services, and for celebrating Mass in an inebriated condition.
The congregation at Saint Mary's decided that it wished to have a voice in the selection of bishops chosen to serve in Charleston as well as elsewhere in America. When its proposals to have a veto power over the selection of bishops were thwarted, the congregation made attempts to recruit a bishop of its own liking from among Old Catholic separatists or from one of the Eastern Orthodox Churches in an effort to establish an "Independent Catholick Church" in America. The mission was unsuccessful, but problems continued until closer ecclesiastical supervision could be established.
Many priests came to America from France to escape the dangerous effects of the French Revolution. Their immigration resulted in a disproportionately large number of French clergy in the American church. Disputes arose within the Church as many Catholics of Irish origin thought that too many French clerics were appointed to positions of authority. The tension was heightened in South Carolina where the Church was predominately Irish from the earliest days, but where there was also a significant French Catholic population.
Carroll, now Archbishop of Baltimore, sent a French priest to Charleston in about 1810 to assist Gallagher. Joseph Picot Limoelan de la Clorivière had been a royalist officer at the beginning of the French Revolution and was forced to leave France. When he returned to France after the Revolution, Clorivière was implicated in a plot to assassinate Napoleon Bonaparte. He escaped execution for his involvement in the affair only because his uncle, the head of the Society of Jesus in France, was able to arrange his secret emigration to America. Clorivière arrived in Baltimore, attended Saint Mary's Seminary, was ordained to the priesthood, and assigned to Saint Mary's in Charleston. He was not acceptable to Gallagher or to many in the congregation, which led to further fragmentation of the parish, and Saint Mary's was placed under an interdict by Carroll's successor, Archbishop Leonard Neale of Baltimore, in 1817.
The Diocese of Charleston was created on June 20, 1820, and John England, a native of Cork, Ireland, was nominated its first bishop. England was consecrated in Ireland on September 1, and arrived in Charleston on December 30 with his sister, Joanna Monica England, and a priest, Denis Corkery. The first Mass celebrated by a bishop of Charleston occurred at Saint Mary's Church on Dec. 31, 1820.
The newly erected Diocese of Charleston comprised three states, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, and covered 142,000 square miles which contained no more than five churches and less than 400 Catholics. Bishop England wasted no time establishing a coherent diocesan organization. He established the Cathedral of Saint Finbar on Broad Street in Charleston, giving it the same name as that of his home parish in Cork. The bishop opened a seminary, Saint John the Baptist, adjacent to the cathedral, and its first student was Andrew Byrne who later became the first bishop of Little Rock, Arkansas. England established the United States Catholic Miscellany, the first Catholic publication of general circulation in the nation. He wrote a constitution for the diocese that enabled lay people to participate in the affairs of church governance through state and diocesan conventions of elected representatives. The bishop and his sister, Joanna, were instrumental in founding a religious order for women known as the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, and he invited a community of Ursuline nuns to Charleston where they founded a non-sectarian school that was perhaps the first such school in the state. England founded schools in Charleston for slaves, free blacks, and mulattos to promote education among the African American population. Saint Peter's Church, established in Columbia, the state's capital city, was one of the first parishes in the midlands of the state. It was dedicated by England on Dec. 12, 1830. Churches were established wherever there were Catholics to support them as the population moved farther into other parts of the state. The Church was firmly established in South Carolina by the time Bishop England's ministry ended with his death at age 56 in 1842. From his first days in America, he preached a message of tolerance among all people, and worked to make Catholicism acceptable in the emerging nation. He appreciated American democracy and endeavored to present it as compatible with the Catholic faith. The essentially Irish character of the Church that emerged in the diocese continued until well into the 20th century.
Ignatius A. Reynolds became the second bishop of the diocese. A native of Bardstown, Kentucky, Reynolds was consecrated in Cincinnati and arrived in Charleston on April 3, 1844. Under Reynolds's leadership the diocese continued to expand beyond the city of Charleston as more Catholics settled in the region. He raised funds to pay debts incurred by Bishop England, and organized plans to build a new cathedral, which was consecrated in 1854. The Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy prospered and opened a hospital in Charleston in 1852. Schools were opened in Columbia where Saint Joseph's Church was established in 1854. The diocese was reduced in territorial size when the Diocese of Savannah, including the entire state of georgia, was erected in 1850. Reynolds served until his death on March 6, 1855.
A local priest, Patrick Neison lynch, became the diocesan administrator upon the death of Reynolds, and was soon appointed the third bishop of the diocese. Born in Ireland, Lynch became the first bishop consecrated in the diocese. Bishop Lynch's episcopate was engulfed by the disruption and turmoil of the Civil War that began when South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860.
A devastating fire struck the city of Charleston on December 11, 1861, that added to the wartime destruction. The Charleston fire destroyed the cathedral, the bishop's residence, the Catholic Institute Hall, the seminary
library, and an orphanage near the cathedral. The state's separation from the Union brought about the change of the name of the U.S. Catholic Miscellany to the Charleston Catholic Miscellany, and its last edition was published on December 14, 1861, three days after the fire. The population of the city was endangered and church property damaged by hostile shelling during a siege by northern forces from 1863 to 1865. The Ursuline convent in Columbia was severely damaged by a fire in 1865. Several Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy joined the war effort as nurses supporting the Confederate Army. During the war, the westward expansion of the diocese continued as more Catholics settled the Carolina back-country.
Lynch became an advocate for the Confederate cause and, like some of the other southern bishops, was a slave owner. He defended the institution of slavery and justified its existence on moral grounds, and felt that the proper treatment and education of slaves by the Catholic Church was necessary to sustain it. Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, asked Lynch to represent the rebellious southern government on a diplomatic mission to the Holy See. The bishop agreed to undertake the assignment and arrived in Rome in June 1864 as a "Special Commissioner of the Confederate States of America to the States of the Church," for the purpose of seeking the diplomatic recognition of the Confederate government by Pope Pius IX. He had an audience with the Pope and presented his credentials as "Minister of the Confederate States," but his petition evidently did not proceed beyond that point. He was unable to return to the diocese because he was declared persona non grata by the United States government. Lynch was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson after taking an oath of allegiance to the United States before the ambassador in Paris on Oct. 14, 1865, thus enabling him to return to South Carolina. The bishop returned to the diocese to find much destruction and the need for substantial funds for rebuilding the fabric of the Church and the community.
A vicariate apostolic was established for North Carolina in 1868, separating it from the Diocese of Charleston and relieving Bishop Lynch of further responsibilities there. Lynch spent much of his time during Reconstruction away from the diocese raising funds in the North for rebuilding. He also developed ideas and plans for the assimilation of former slaves into the Church and society. Economic stability was not achieved in the South until many years after the Civil War, and there was much to be done to restore the spirit of the people and church property when Lynch's episcopate ended upon his death on Feb. 26, 1882.
The period between the Lynch's death and World War I was one of steady growth and progress in the diocese. Henry P. Northrop, the only native of the city of Charleston to be named bishop of the diocese, became the fourth bishop on March 11, 1883. He had been serving in North Carolina as the vicar apostolic. A time of religious and minority intolerance followed the Civil War. The Reconstruction era brought with it the establishment of such organizations as the ku klux klan and the enactment of Jim Crow laws throughout the region. The Catholic Church unfortunately became the target of more than its share of vitriolic language and behavior by many whites.
Another natural disaster visited the coastal area of the diocese when a severe earthquake hit Charleston in 1886. It caused damage to church property in the city and surrounding area requiring renewed fund-raising efforts to repair the damage.
A synod of the diocese, the first since the time of Bishop England, was called in 1887 and attended by 16 priests. A new wave of immigrants from predominantly Catholic European countries and from Lebanon led to a sharp increase in the number of communicants in the diocese around the turn of the 20th century. The Lebanese brought the Maronite Rite with them, but they were soon largely assimilated into the Latin Rite Catholic population. The demography of the diocese began to shift with the new immigration from one of traditional Irish dominance to one with broader cultural diversity. There were about 9,000 Catholics in South Carolina at the turn of the century, and many improvements were made in the fabric of the diocese as the economic hardships of the Reconstruction era began to subside. A cathedral school was opened in 1887, and new churches were established across the diocese to accommodate the increasing numbers of Catholics.
Northrop's episcopate, the longest in the history of the diocese, was marked by steady progress in the development of diocesan institutions. Saint Angela's Academy opened in Aiken in 1900, a branch of the Knights of Columbus was organized in Charleston in 1902, the Holy Name Society was established, and Bishop England High School was founded in 1915. James Cardinal Gibbons, the archbishop of Baltimore, celebrated a Mass of dedication on April 14, 1907, for the reconstructed cathedral on the 25th anniversary of Bishop Northrop's consecration. And in about 1910, a new motherhouse for the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy began operation at Queen and Legare Streets in Charleston.
Northrop's death came on June 17, 1916. He was succeeded by William T. Russell of Washington, D.C. Installed on March 22, 1917, Russell continued the development of mission work throughout the diocese and blessed many new parishes. Saint Francis Xavier Hospital was organized in Charleston where the bishop died in 1927.
Russell's successor was Emmet Michael Walsh, a much beloved native son of the diocese who came from Atlanta and was installed as the sixth bishop of Charleston on Sept. 22, 1927. Walsh served in Charleston until his appointment as coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, in 1949. Catholic hospitals were established in Charleston, Greenville, Rock Hill, York, Columbia, and Dillon. Bishop Walsh founded a Council of Catholic Women, a Council of Catholic Men, and a Catholic Youth Council. Camps for children were organized, and a parish for African Americans was begun in Columbia.
Bishop Walsh developed an innovative program for the development of new church buildings. A standard church building design was developed with the help of a priest at Belmont Abbey in North Carolina to provide the diocese with simple, dignified church buildings of wooden frames on brick pillars with cedar shingles on the outside walls. These simple buildings were designed to include all the necessary furnishings and fixtures down to the curtains for the confessionals. The standard design made it possible to construct identical buildings any place in the diocese where a church was needed at low cost in a minimal time. At least 12 of these structures were put into service, including church buildings at Myrtle Beach, Union, Dillon, Bennettsville, Bishopville, and Saint Patrick's in Columbia.
Mepkin Abbey was established in the diocese in 1949 by the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappist). Clare Booth Luce and her husband, Henry Luce, whose bodies lie at rest on the Abbey grounds, gave the order 3,000 acres of land for the abbey in Berkeley County, just north of Charleston. The first monks arrived at Mepkin in the fall of 1949 under the leadership of Dom Anthony Chassagne. The leadership of Abbot Francis Kline (1990–) continued the tradition of making the abbey and its monastic community an important part of the life of the local diocese.
From the departure of Bishop Walsh in 1949 to 1963 three bishops were appointed to the see of Charleston, and all were transferred elsewhere. John J. Russell was installed in 1950 and appointed bishop of Richmond, Virginia, in 1958; Paul J. Hallinan was installed in 1958 and became archbishop of the new Province of Atlanta in 1962; Francis F. Reh was installed in 1962 and became rector of the North American College in Rome in 1963.
Joseph L. Bernardin, a native of Columbia, was ordained in the Charleston cathedral in 1953 and became Bishop Russell's secretary. He served as a priest in the diocese for 14 years after his ordination until his appointment as auxiliary bishop of Atlanta. A distinguished son of the diocese, Bernardin later served as general secretary to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and cardinal archbishop of Chicago.
A new publication, the Catholic Banner, was inaugurated in 1951 to provide a newspaper for the diocese for the first time in many years. In 1959, the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy moved to a new site on James Island, overlooking Charleston Harbor, and Cardinal Newman High School was dedicated in Columbia in 1961. Upon the departure of Bishop Reh in 1963, Joseph L. Bernardin became the diocesan administrator until the installation of Ernest L. Unterkoefler as the 10th bishop of the diocese on February 22, 1964.
The episcopate of Unterkoefler was marked by a strong voice from the Church on matters of racial justice and social concerns. Unterkoefler courageously led public civil rights marches in the diocese in the 1960s in order to demonstrate the commitment of the Church to the achievement of social justice for everyone in America. He also strongly supported ecumenical activities with other Christian bodies.
David B. Thompson became the 11th bishop of the diocese in 1990 and promptly set about the task of improving the Catholic school system, and took steps to insure a racial balance in all the educational institutions of the diocese. The name of the diocesan newspaper was changed to the New Catholic Miscellany to honor Bishop England's founding of the first general publication for Catholics in the nation.
The church in South Carolina was racially segregated until the mid-1960s. There were several parishes in the diocese, Saint Patrick's in Charleston, Saint Martin de Porres in Columbia, Saint James at Ritter, and others that specifically served the African-American Catholic population. Immaculate Conception in Charleston was a high school for African-American students. Under the leadership of Unterkoefler the parishes, schools, and other diocesan institutions were successfully desegregated.
Bishop Thompson convened a synod in 1995, called the Synod of Charleston, to plan and empower the participation of lay people in the work of the Church. The Synod, involving lay people and clergy, led to the renewal of participation by lay people in the parishes of the diocese as lectors, cantors, eucharistic ministers, and pastoral associates. It also encouraged the development of new religious education and peace and justice programs.
The cultural diversity of the Church in South Carolina continued to broaden as the American population became more mobile in the 20th century. By the end of the millennium the Irish dominance of the Church in earlier times had given way to a Catholic population reflecting the attributes of the rich cultural heritage of America. These changes along with the reforms of the Second Vatican Council have placed the Diocese of Charleston in the mainstream of American Catholicism.
Bibliography: g. accame, producer, "Fire Tried Gold" (film) (Kensington, Md. 2000). the rev. s. j.-a. buchanan, "Catholicism in the Carolinas and Georgia: 1670–1820," Dissertatio ad Licentiam in Facultate Historiae Ecclesiasticae (Rome 1998). p. guilday, The Life and Times of John England, First Bishop of Charleston (1786–1842), 2 v. (New York 1927). r. c. madden, Catholics in South Carolina (Lanham, N.Y. 1985). j. j. o'connell, Catholicity in the Carolinas and Georgia (New York 1879). t. tisdale, A Lady of the High Hills: Natalie Delage Sumter (Columbia, S.C. 2001). Also see the web site of the Diocese of Charleston, www.catholic-doc.org.