Thursday, November 12, 2015

America as a Religious Refuge - Catholics from England to Maryland


Although the Stuart kings of England did not hate the Roman Catholic Church, most of their subjects did, causing Catholics to be harassed and persecuted in England throughout the seventeenth century.

Driven by "the sacred duty of finding a refuge for his Roman Catholic brethren," George Calvert (1580-1632) obtained a charter from Charles I in 1632 for the territory between Pennsylvania and Virginia.


Sir George Calvert (1580-1632), c 1625.  by Daniel Mytens, the elder, court painter to both James I & Charles I.  George Calvert, Baron Baltimore, one of James' Secretaries of State & a Privy Councillor,  converted to Catholicism in about 1625.  He wanted to establish a colony as a refuge from persecution for Roman Catholics, & at first sponsored a small settlement in Newfoundland. Its harsh climate motivated him to obtain land further south. He died before the grant of Maryland's charter (June 1632).

This Maryland charter offered no guidelines on religion, although it was assumed that Catholics would not be molested in the new colony. By 1634, two ships, the Ark and the Dove, brought the first settlers to Maryland. Aboard were approximately two hundred people.


Father Andrew White. Engraving by G.G. Heinsch, 1655, in Mathias Tanner, Societas Jesu apostolorum imitatrix Prague: Typis Universitatis Carolo-Ferdinandeae, 1694.  The "Apostle to Maryland," Father Andrew White (1579-1656), described the celebration of the first mass upon the arrival of the Ark and the Dove, "We celebrated mass for the first time... This had never been done before in this part of the world. After we had completed the sacrifice, we took upon our shoulders a great cross that we had hewn out of a tree, and advancing in order to the appointed place... we erected a trophy to Christ the Savior, humbly reciting, on our bended knees, the Litanies of the sacred Cross, with great emotion." This is the only known 17th-century image of Father White.

Among the passengers were two Catholic priests who had been forced to board surreptitiously to escape the reach of English anti-Catholic laws. Upon landing in Maryland the Catholics, led spiritually by the Jesuits, were transported by a profound reverence, similar to that experienced by John Winthrop and the Puritans, when they set foot in New England.

Catholic fortunes fluctuated in Maryland during the rest of the seventeenth century, as they became an increasingly smaller minority of the population. In 1649, Catholics in the Maryland Assembly passed the Maryland Act Concerning Religion. It stipulated that no Trinitarian Christian "shall from henceforth be any waies troubled, molested, or discountenanced, for, or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof within this Province."  Though this act was not as inclusive as similar ones in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, which brought theists within their purview, it was another in a series of progressive measures taken by early American colonists to emancipate themselves from the European belief in enforced religious uniformity.

After the Glorious Revolution of 1689 in England, the Church of England was legally established in the colony and English penal laws, which deprived Catholics of the right to vote, hold office, or worship publicly, were enforced.

Until the American Revolution, Catholics in Maryland were dissenters in their own country, living at times under a state of siege, but keeping loyal to their convictions, a faithful remnant, awaiting better times.

See The Library of Congress.


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