Friday, April 26, 2013

Early US Dominican History

Dr. Fr. John Vidmar, OP from Providence College presented the early history of the Dominicans in the U.S, not the Spanish or French Dominicans of 16th and 17th century, but the Irish and English friars who were not officially sponsored by their respective countries, but who went as missionaries.  Even in 1776 the 13 English colonies on the east coast of the U.S. were divided north from south.  North of Maryland the colonies were against slavery, from Maryland south slavery was accepted as fundamental to economic security.  At the time of the war of independence the only thing uniting the 13 colonies was their mutual hatred of the Catholic faith.  Catholics could not vote, could not own property, could not attend school or enter any profession.  They were treated as non-persons.  Catholic priests were exiled if discovered and there was a bounty of 100 pounds for information leading to their apprehension. Maryland was an exception because Lord Baltimore converted to Catholicism and received permission to found a colony based on religious tolerance.  Anglicans sought to achieve the status of state religion in Virginia. In the north Congregationalists held sway.  The National Cathedral built in Washington, DC was intended by the Anglicans originally to be the seat of the national Anglican Church in America.  Eventually the colonies became more tolerant as Catholics fought alongside protestants to achieve independence from England. The first Dominican churches were in northern Massachusetts, southern New Hampshire and Maine.  The first diocese was in St. Mary’s City, later named Baltimore in Maryland.  Edward Dominic Fenwick received permission to establish a new province and a Catholic university in America, money and a library of books to establish the Catholic faith in America.  When Fenwick arrived, the U.S. bishop, John Carroll sent him to Kentucky because there was already a university in the east, Georgetown.  Fenwick walked from Maryland to Kentucky along Daniel Boone’s trail.  Between 1800 and 1810 an estimated 300,000 people followed that same trail to Kentucky.  Fenwick founded St. Rose Academy in Kentucky and a convent for nuns in Somerset, Ohio.  Eventually some of his followers tired of the rural life in Kentucky and Ohio and returned to urban areas in the east taking over existing parishes in Washington and New York, and founded a new House of Studies in Rhode Island that is now Providence College.