OUR FIRST U.S. BISHOP
On the Feast of the Assumption in 1790, the first bishop of the United
States was ordained. The event occurred in St. Mary’s Chapel at the Weld
family’s ancestral home, Ludworth Castle, in England. The Weld fam-
ily had been Catholic for centuries, remaining so during and after the
Reformation. Bishop Charles Walmsley was the ordaining prelate. Fr.
John Carroll of Maryland chose this historic setting for his ordination.
John Carroll was born in 1735 to a wealthy, landowning family in
Upper Marlborough, Maryland. He attended a Jesuit school in St. Omer
in France. After his graduation, he entered the Jesuit Order, became a
priest, and taught in France at the Order’s schools. For most of his young
adult life as a Jesuit priest, John Carroll was a teacher of religion and
other subjects. After the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, he became
a parish priest and continued his calling to communicate the Gospel
through preaching and teaching. His love of teaching endured through-
out his life.
At forty years of age, Fr. Carroll returned to his mother’s home in
Rock Creek, and served as a parish priest there as the mounting con-
flict between England and the colonies came to a head. Following
the Revolutionary War, Fr. Carroll was chosen as the first bishop of
Baltimore, Maryland; he was ordained on August 15, 1790. For the next
twenty-five years, he set the direction for the Catholic Church in the
United States. Bishop Carroll forged a creative role for the Church in a
new type of country.
One year after he became a bishop, he convened a synod—a for-
mal meeting of his priests—to address pastoral needs of the diocesan
Church and to make sure that the universal practice of the Church was
being carried out in the United States. On November 7, 1791, twenty
priests assembled at the bishop’s house in Baltimore. The first session of
the synod dealt with rules for administering Baptism and Confirmation.
Another session developed guidelines for the admission of children