Cardinal Wuerl Celebrates 225th Anniversary of John Carroll’s Election as First US Bishop

Sunday, May 18, 2014

WASHINGTON – Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, today celebrated Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Bowie, Md., to mark the 225th anniversary of the election of John Carroll as the Catholic Church’s first bishop of the United States. The election took place at Sacred Heart’s Chapel in 1789.

In his homily, Cardinal Wuerl said “The life of Catholics in the New World was not altogether different from some of the distress and tribulations that they experienced it in the old world. Yet even when the Catholic faith was outlawed in Maryland, Catholics continued quietly and privately to celebrate the Eucharist and nurture their faith. Somewhere around 1741 the present chapel – Sacred Heart Chapel – and the predecessor to this parish was built. Perhaps it abutted one of the manor houses of what was called then White Marsh – a plantation owned and operated by the Jesuits.

“It was only with the American Revolution that religious freedom was guaranteed across the thirteen colonies. Thus the Jesuit priests gathered in convocation in 1783 for their first meeting here at what was White Marsh plantation. It was at the chapel that we celebrate today that the priests of the new nation selected John Carroll to be presented to Rome for appointment as the first American bishop. This took place 225 years ago today – May 18, 1789.

“So when we ask what has the celebration of the election of John Carroll at Sacred Heart Chapel to do with us today, the answer is everything. From that first Catholic bishop and diocese at Baltimore the Church in our country spread. In 1808 four dioceses, Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Bardstown (Louisville) were created with Baltimore now being the Archdiocese. John Carroll was now Archbishop. Across this country for 225 years, new dioceses have come into existence as the Catholic Church grew and grew and grew.

“This year, 2014 marks the 75th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Washington created from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. What we celebrate is apostolic continuity, apostolic tradition and apostolic succession. It is precisely because of this unbroken line that you and I can claim to hear the words of Jesus – the Word of God and to do what he commanded us to do.

“The Church of God – the body of Christ – does not hover formlessly around us but is visible and present, audible in the word of God proclaimed in the Church, tangible in the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ that we receive, and visible in all of the faithful that Saint Peter refers to as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart.

“Today then we thank God for the gift of faith, for the blessing of Christ’s Church and for being called to participate in so great a mystery that allows you and me today at Sacred Heart parish in 2014 to reach back over 20 centuries and hear the words of Jesus and receive his body and blood.”

Following the Mass, Cardinal Wuerl led a eucharistic procession through the parish and to the Sacred Heart Chapel.

The Archdiocese of Washington is home to over 620,000 Catholics, 139 parishes and 96 Catholic schools, located in Washington, D.C., and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.

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