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Whelan, Charles Maurice


Pioneer American missionary; b. Ballycommon, Ireland, 1741; d. Bohemia Manor, Md., March 21, 1806. In 1770 Whelan entered the Irish Capuchin novitiate, then located at Bar-sur-Aube, France, because of the Irish penal laws. He received the name Maurice and was professed there in 1771. After ordination he served as vicar of the Barsur-Aube friary, provincial secretary, and novice-master. When Louis XVI asked for volunteer chaplains to accompany the French fleet to America during the American Revolution, Whelan was accepted and assigned to the "Jason." The fleet arrived at Newport, R.I., in 1780 and a year later joined the fleet of Admiral François de Grasse in Chesapeake Bay. When De Grasse was defeated in the West Indies, Whelan was imprisoned for 13 months in Jamaica, where he ministered to some 7,000 French prisoners.

In 1784 he entered upon missionary work in New York City under Prefect Apostolic (later Bishop) John Carroll, and early in 1785 he began building St. Peter's Church on Barclay Street. Another Irish Capuchin, Andrew Nugent, arrived that year and stirred up such discord among the trustees that shortly before the dedication of the church in November 1786 Whelan withdrew to Johnston, N.Y., one of the first victims of lay trusteeism in the U.S. In 1787 Carroll sent him to Kentucky, where, in Carroll's words, he "not only kept alive the spirit of religion amongst the Catholics but in addition he has gained a great increase for the Church of Jesus Christ." He returned to Johnston in 1790 and in 1799 was named rector at White Clay Creek, Pa., from which he visited numerous missions in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, until retiring to the Jesuits' Bohemia Manor in 1805.

Bibliography: m. r. mattingly, The Catholic Church on the Kentucky Frontier, 17851812 (Catholic University of America Studies in American Church History 25; Washington 1936) 3841,55. l. r. ryan, Old St. Peter's, the Mother Church of Catholic New York, 17851935 (United States Catholic Historical Society 15; New York 1935). n. h. miller, "Pioneer Capuchin Missionaries in the United States, 17841816," Historical Records and Studies of the U. S. Catholic Historical Society of New York 21 (1932) 176201.

[n. miller]

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