Compelling Catholic

Each day on my walking tours, we go by the great Catholic Cathedral on Broad Street, which is the seat of the Diocese of Charleston that once covered three states and more than 140,000 square miles. There were few practicing Catholics in the Charleston area when Pope Pius VIII created the Diocese of the Carolinas and Georgia, and installed Irish-born John England as the first bishop. Bishop England quickly inspired lay people with his insistence on a diocese that was built on collegiality, with all parishes given a degree of independence and input. Bishop England calmed fears among anti-Catholic Protestants with his remarkable gift of oratory, speaking before Congress in 1826 to reaffirm the “distinct and separate” nature of Catholic dogma as not being a threat to the authority of American governing bodies. Bishop England built a diocese that consisted of three priests and a few hundred congregants to one of the most vibrant Catholic areas in America by his death in 1844, and the grand Cathedral of St. John and St. Finbar was built in 1853 as a tribute and a testimonial to his work.

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