December 3, 2015 — Today marks the 200th anniversary of the death of John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop of the United States and founder of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Born in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, in 1736, John was the fourth of seven children of Daniel Carroll and Eleanor Darnall. He was also a cousin of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.
In 1748, John was sent with his cousin Charles Carroll to the Jesuit school of St. Omer in France. He entered a nearby Jesuit novitiate on Sept. 8, 1753, and took his first vows two years later. He was ordained a priest on Feb. 14, 1761, and after nearly a decade of teaching, he took his final vows Feb. 2, 1771.
Carroll would return to live in Maryland until 1776, when he was asked by the Continental Congress to accompany a mission to Canada consisting of Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase and Charles Carroll. He would leave Canada to accompany the ailing Franklin back to Philadelphia.
With the success of the American Revolution, Carroll realized something must be done for the support of the clergy and the protection of their properties in the new nation. He took the initiative in 1783 by calling several priests to Maryland, where a constitution was framed from a plan he had outlined. The pope, at Franklin’s recommendation, named Carroll “Superior of the Mission in the thirteen United States” on June 9, 1784.
On Nov. 6, 1789, Baltimore was made the first diocese of the United States, with John Carroll almost unanimously elected as bishop by the nation’s priests. Archbishop Carroll would guide the church during an era that saw the Catholic population grow from 25,000 in 1789 to approximately 160,000 in 1820.
Carroll understood the importance of education to human flourishing and human dignity, as well as to the growth of the Catholic Church. He invited the Society of St. Sulpice to establish the first Catholic seminaries in the United States (St. Mary’s in Baltimore and Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland), and invited St. Elizabeth Ann Seton to establish the first Catholic school for underprivileged girls. John Carroll University near Cleveland, Ohio, is named in his honor.