Virginia, Catholic Church in
VIRGINIA, CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
The first of the thirteen colonies, one of the four commonwealths in the U.S., bordered on the north by Maryland and West Virginia, on the south by North Carolina and Tennessee, on the east by Maryland and the Atlantic Ocean, and on the west by Kentucky and West Virginia. Richmond is the capital and Norfolk the largest city. The two Catholic dioceses in Virginia, Richmond (1820) and Arlington (1974) are suffragan of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. In 2001 Catholics numbered some eight percent of the total state population of 6.9 million.
Early History. Colonial Virginia was not a friendly place for Catholics. In 1570 eight Spanish Jesuits from Florida established a mission near the future Jamestown, but were betrayed by their Native American guide and massacred. When the Virginia colony was founded at Jamestown in 1607, its charter from James I stated: "We should be loath that any person should be permitted to pass, that we suspected to affect the superstitions of the Church of Rome." Nominally, the Church of England was officially established. In 1634 hostility toward Catholicism increased with the settlement of Maryland under Catholic auspices. In 1642 Virginia enacted laws banning priests and prohibiting the exercise of Catholicism. Despite these restrictions, in 1651 Giles Brent, a Catholic, and his family, moved from Maryland and settled in Stafford County, between the Potomac and Rappahannaock Rivers. Throughout the colonial period, the Brents remained loyal to the Church, and some held public office. Two sisters of John Carroll, the future bishop, married Brents. In 1784 Carroll was named superior of the American mission. In his first report to the Congregation of Propaganda Fide, the missionary arm of the pope, he stated that "there are not more than 200 [Catholics] in Virginia who are visited four or five times a year by a priest."
In 1789 Carroll was named the first bishop of Baltimore with jurisdiction over the entire nation, including Virginia; in 1808, he was named archbishop. By the 1790s Catholics had settled in Alexandria, part of the District of Columbia until 1846, and in Norfolk. In 1791 Jean Dubois said Mass for a small congregation in Norfolk, but then moved to Richmond where he taught school for over a year and established friendships with leading Protestants, including Patrick Henry. Once in Richmond, he received a request from Colonel John Fitzgerald, George Washington's aide-de-camp, to say Mass in Alexandria from time to time. While he never visited Alexandria, he did go at Carroll's request to Emmitsburg, Maryland, where he was one of the founders of Mt. St. Mary's College before becoming the third Bishop of New York. The church in Alexandria was then served—and owned—by former Jesuits, suppressed as an order in 1773 and restored in the U.S. in 1805.
By 1817 lay trusteeism had arisen in Norfolk. Though most of the congregation were Irish, a Portuguese physician, Oliviera Fernandez, was their leader. In a series of long, learned, and tedious broadsides, he rejected the authority of Father James Lucas, appointed to Norfolk by Archbishop Leonard neale, Carroll's successor, and refused to accept the jurisdiction of Carroll's second successor, the French-born Archbishop Ambrose marechal. He argued that the trustees were the heirs to the patronato real and that, just as the pope signed a concordat with a king in a monarchy allowing him to appoint bishops and pastors, he should sign one with the people in a democracy—arguments that could scarcely be persuasive in Rome, which had witnessed the devastating effects on the Church of the French Revolution and its form of democracy. Sending a delegation to Rome, he claimed there was no pastor, and then called Thomas Carbry, OP, to take charge of the church he had built. What exacerbated trusteeism was Virginia's law prohibiting the incorporation of church property, which was therefore held either by lay trustees or by the priest or bishop in his own name—a situation that continued to cause confusion well into the twentieth century.
In 1820, contrary to Marechal's advice, Propaganda established the Diocese of Richmond, which comprised all of Virginia, including the present state of West Virginia, but excluding Alexandria, still subject to the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The first bishop, Patrick Kelly, came from Ireland, but received an icy welcome from Marechal in Baltimore. In Norfolk, he mollified the trustees, but then removed Father Lucas' faculties. Without ever getting to Richmond, he remained in Norfolk and supported himself by teaching school. After less than a year, he returned to Ireland to become the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore. The Diocese of Richmond now fell under the administration of the Archbishop of Baltimore.
In September of 1822, Kelly submitted his final report to Propaganda. Out of a total Virginia population of over a million, he wrote, there were about 1,000 Catholics, served by five priests in three principal regions: Norfolk, Richmond, and the northwestern section around Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry. The congregations in each region would develop in different ways. Norfolk, a seaport, remained the principal Catholic center as Irish immigrants arrived to work there and in the shipyard at nearby Portsmouth, which soon became a separate parish. For some time, a priest from Norfolk also journeyed to Richmond, where the original Catholic congregation was comprised of several wealthy Frenchmen. One Catholic citizen, Joseph Gallego, left a sum of money and a lot for a church to the congregation. Because of Virginia's laws, the bequest remained in litigation for many years.
Richmond's Catholic congregation gained stability only with the arrival in 1832 of Father Timothy O'Brien. Determined to make the Catholic presence visible in the city, he built St. Peter's Church, near the capitol. In 1834 he also succeeded in having the Sisters—later named the Daughters—of Charity open St. Joseph's orphanage and, later, a school, the first of numerous institutions the order would staff in Virginia. Richmond lay at the beginning of the James River and Kanawah Canal, which soon drew Irish and later German laborers. O'Brien used it to travel to Lynchburg, which had a resident priest by the 1840s. Lynchburg gradually became a center from which priests rode circuit and founded parishes in Wytheville in the west and in Lexington and Staunton in the Shenandoah Valley. Martinsburg, a small farming town, had a small Catholic congregation by 1794, but it then evolved into first a center for the C&O canal and then for the B&O railroad. It also served as the headquarters for priests riding circuit to Harpers Ferry, Winchester in the northern Shenandoah Valley, and Bath (now Berkeley Springs, WV).
In 1841 Richard Vincent Whelan, the pastor in Martinsburg, became the second bishop of Richmond. In his see city he opened a short-lived seminary, but, in 1846, moved to Wheeling, where he unsuccessfully attempted to have the Jesuits open a college. To gain priests for his poor diocese, he begged from other dioceses and then became the first southern bishop to recruit from All Hallows College, outside of Dublin. Irish priests were soon working with Irish immigrant laborers on the railroads, particularly around Harpers Ferry and the Shenandoah Valley.
In 1851 at Whelan's request, the Holy See established the new diocese of Wheeling for the section of Virginia west of the Allegheny Mountains and transferred Whelan there. John McGill, a priest of Louisville, then became the third Bishop of Richmond. Within a week of arriving, he had a dispute with Father O'Brien, who held property in his own name until its debt was paid. After nineteen years of service, O'Brien left Richmond. Unlike the North, Virginia never attracted large numbers of immigrants. Many of the Irish who came to Richmond and Norfolk in the 1830s belonged to the merchant or professional classes. A smaller number of Germans also settled in Richmond, where in 1848 they founded the only strictly national parish in the diocese. Austrian Jesuits, who had fled from the revolution of 1848 to the United States, had charge of it until 1860, when Benedictines from Latrobe took over.
In the 1830s and 1840s there were also significant conversions, including the three daughters, wife, and son of Governor John R. Floyd, Sr. These converts and the Irish middle class helped gain acceptance for the Church with Virginia's Protestant establishment. While during the 1850s, therefore, the North was wracked with Nativism and the know-nothings, the Church in Virginia was largely spared the tumult, except in the western part of the state and the port areas around Norfolk. In 1855, moreover, Catholics were heroic during the yellow fever epidemic in Norfolk and Portsmouth and won Protestant admiration. Father Matthew O'Keefe of St. Patrick's Church in Norfolk formed a pact with a Protestant minister to remain in the city and, if either died, the other would have the funeral. He was twice stricken by the fever, but recovered—years later, he did bury his Protestant friend. The Daughters of Charity, already operating a school and orphanage in Norfolk, now began nursing the victims. The following year they opened St. Vincent's Hospital (now De Paul Medical Center), the result of a bequest of Anne Behan Plum Herron, a wealthy Irish immigrant who died while nursing the victims. Yet, such Catholic heroism did not completely overcome Protestant prejudice. At midnight on Dec. 7, 1856, arsonists burned O'Keefe's church. O'Keefe made almost weekly trips to the northeast to raise money for a new church, which was dedicated in 1858 as St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. In 1991 it was elevated to the rank of a minor basilica, the only one in Virginia.
One price of accommodation to the predominantly Protestant culture was that Virginia Catholics, though few were slave owners, opposed abolition. They supported the Confederate cause and many served in the army. Both McGill in Richmond and Whelan in Wheeling supported secession, but, while McGill's see city became the capital of the Confederacy, Whelan found himself in the capital of West Virginia which seceded from Virginia. The diocesan boundaries now crossed state lines.
After the war, McGill was still plagued with a shortage of priests. To supplement his own clergy diminished by death or departures from the diocese, he recruited from the American College in Louvain. One of his first recruits was Francis Janssens, who, after service in Virginia, was successively Bishop of Natchez and Archbishop of New Orleans. Another Louvain recruit was Augustine van de Vyver, who became Bishop of Richmond and recruited both his nephew and great nephew from Louvain for the diocese. In 1866, moreover, Sisters of the Visitation arrived in Richmond from Baltimore to open Monte Maria Monastery and Academy for girls—they later closed the school and later still moved to a more rural location.
As Reconstuction ended in Virginia in 1870, service in the Confederate Army provided the credentials for Catholics to assume prominent positions. In 1870 Anthony J. Keiley, born of Irish parents in New Jersey, but raised in Petersburg, became mayor of Richmond, served for many years as the President of the Irish Catholic Benevolent Union, and later became a judge of the international court in Cairo. James Dooley, son of an Irish merchant in Richmond, served in the state legislature, became a millionaire through railroad and land speculation, and, at his death in 1921, left three million dollars for St. Joseph's Villa to replace the existing orphanage for girls run by the Daughters of Charity in Richmond. Others in high office also had Catholic connections. John W. Johnston served two terms in the U.S. Senate. His wife, Niketti Floyd, was a convert and their children were all Catholic.
In 1872 McGill died. James gibbons, the fourth bishop of Richmond, was a Baltimore native who in 1868 was appointed the first Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina, jurisdiction over which he and his successor in Richmond retained until 1881. In 1875 Gibbons thwarted the efforts of Bishop John J. Kain of Wheeling, a Martinsburg native, to have Rome realign the dioceses of Wheeling and Richmond to coincide with the new state lines, for, he said, this would take away the area around Martinsburg, then the most prosperous section of his diocese. Gibbons also initiated work among the freed African Americans, few of whom were Catholic.
In 1877 Gibbons became coadjutor Archbishop of Baltimore and was named a cardinal in 1886. John J. keane, the fifth bishop, was Irish-born, the first foreignborn bishop of Richmond since Kelly, and had served as a pastor in Washington. Influenced by Isaac hecker, the founder of the paulists, he sought to nourish the spiritual development of his clergy through semi-annual conferences and monthly regional meetings and promoted parish missions for the laity. In the 1880s the southern Shenandoah Valley experienced the greatest Catholic development. In 1882 Roanoke had been founded as a railroad center, but by 1892 it had a school and orphanage staffed by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. Moreover, in 1883 the Josephites opened their first parish for African Americans in Richmond. In 1888 Keane was named the first rector of The catholic university of america, established by the Third Plenary Council in 1884.
The succession to Keane was fraught with the undertones of the ethnic tension characteristic of the American Church elsewhere. Van de Vyver, then the vicar general, was the first choice of both the Richmond priests eligible to nominate and the bishops of the province of Baltimore, but Gibbons sought to gain the appointment of Denis J. o'connell, a priest of Richmond, who had been named rector of the American College in Rome in 1885 and who appeared only on the bishops' list. After Leo XIII rejected O'Connell's appointment because of his service in Rome, Gibbons and Keane tried to prevent the appointment of van de Vyver, who was, however, named bishop in 1889.
In the 1890s, Gibbons, Keane, and O'Connell, together with Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul, took leading roles in the controversies that divided the hierarchy and in the crisis of americanism, condemned in 1899, but van de Vyver remained aloof and concentrated on the internal development of the diocese. During his episcopate the Josephites expanded their work with African Americans to Norfolk, Lynchburg, and Alexandria. In addition, Louise D. Morrell and her sister, Saint Katherine drexel, in 1895 and 1896, respectively, opened high schools for African American boys and girls at Rock Castle. The diocese also received another major benefaction from Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Fortune Ryan, who built the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, dedicated in 1906. When van de Vyver died in 1911, O'Connell, then auxiliary bishop of San Francisco, was finally named to Richmond.
World War I brought the first major increase in the state's Catholic population as the U.S. Navy established the Norfolk Naval Operating Station, and the government located other installations in Northern Virginia. The end of the war temporarily stifled Virginia's Catholic growth, as the United States retreated into isolationism, but these two regions were poised for the growth that followed World War II, when the United States became a super power. In the early 1920s, however, anti-Catholicism also had a resurgence, but the old style of Virginia Catholicism's accommodation with the political establishment initially held fast. In 1920 O'Connell advised against forming a Catholic Laymen's Association, similar to those in other states, since friendly Protestant legislators had prevented the passage of such bills as conventinspection laws. But in 1924 the Ku Klux Klan launched a vociferous but unsuccessful campaign against the reelection of the incumbent state treasurer, John Purcell, a Catholic. In 1925, in what would later be called ecumenism, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia donated land to the Catholics to build a church at Baileys Crossroads in northern Virginia. But the Al Smith campaign of 1928 evoked more anti-Catholicism, after which the diocese formed a Laymen's League to defend Catholic rights.
Forced by ill health to resign in 1925, O'Connell died the following year. His successor, Andrew J. Brennan, formerly auxiliary bishop of Scranton, restructured the diocese along the lines of those in the north. The Bureau of Catholic Charities, which had begun in 1922, was expanded. In 1931, St. Joseph's Villa, a model orphanage for girls made possible by Dooley's bequest, opened with a vast display of the Catholic presence in Virginia—Brennan planned the event just before the annual bishops' meeting in Washington, so as many bishops as possible could attend. But the Depression placed a greater burden on Brennan. In 1934 he suffered a massive stroke that left him unable to speak. In 1935 Peter Leo Ireton, a priest of Baltimore, became coadjutor bishop and, in 1945, succeeded as ordinary when Brennan formally resigned—Brennan died in 1956. While Ireton left much of the diocesan administration to a series of able chancellors, he followed Brennan in modeling his diocese on the larger ones in the north. He actively promoted the Conference of Jews and Christians—later renamed the Conference of Christians and Jews—and established several urban parishes for African Americans. World War II and the postwar years ushered in the period of greatest growth in Catholic population.
In 1936 Ireton reported that the native Virginians moved out of the state far outnumbered those who had moved in. A decade later the situation had changed. Northern Virginia, long a rural outpost of the diocese, rapidly developed into a suburb of Washington. By 1941 one sixth of Virginia's Catholic population was in the area, a percentage that would rapidly increase. In the Norfolk area, military expansion and new housing turned Virginia Beach into one of the state's largest cities. What canals and railroads had been in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the automobile became in the postwar years. Interstates and highways determined the location of new suburban parishes.
Ireton died in 1958 and was succeeded by John Russell, the Bishop of Charleston and a native of Baltimore. Under Russell, the diocese realized a long-time dream and opened St. John Vianney minor seminary in 1961, only to have it close a decade later. In the name of integration, Russell closed many of the Black parishes Ireton had opened. He actively participated in the second vatican council and immediately sought to implement its decrees. He established an ecumenical commission, the second in the U.S., and promoted racial justice. Although only one Virginia priest took part in the March on Selma in 1965, Russell defended the participants. At his retirement in 1973, Walter F. Sullivan, the auxiliary bishop, was appointed administrator. In 1974 Sullivan became the bishop, and, a short time later, the new diocese of Arlington, consisting of twenty-one counties in northern Virginia, was established. Thomas Welch was the first bishop—in 1983, he was transferred to Allentown and was replaced in Arlington by Thomas R. Keating, who died in 1998. In 1999 Paul Loverde, former Bishop of Ogdensburg, became the third Bishop of Arlington. Those counties of West Virginia that had belonged to the Richmond diocese were transferred to Wheeling, while the counties of southwest Virginia, formerly in Wheeling, and the counties on the Delmarva Peninsula, formerly belonging to the Diocese of Wilmington, were ceded to Richmond.
As a result, the dioceses of both Richmond and Arlington coincide with the state boundaries. In 2001 the Catholic population of the Diocese of Richmond was 200,342 out of a total population of 4,555,139; Arlington had 353,367 Catholics in a population of 2,317,773, with the Catholic population in at least three counties in the Washington suburbs exceeding 25 percent.
Bibliography: j. h. bailey, A History of the Diocese of Richmond, the Formative Years (Richmond 1956). g. p. fogarty, SJ, Commonwealth Catholicism: A History of the Catholic Church in Virginia (Notre Dame, IN 2001).
[g. p. fogarty]