IN HIS REVIEW of Paul Johnson's splendid book, A History of the American People, ( 12 December ), Andrew M. Brown poses the question, "But might it not be that they wanted to keep them free from pollution by state interference?" It is a fair question, implying that two distinct, though closely related, revolutions were going on at one and the same time.
That is indeed how a committee of Catholic clergy viewed it in 1783 when in a report to Rome they said, "In these United States, our Religious system has undergone a revolution, if possible, more extraordinary, than our political one. In all of them free toleration is allowed to Christians of every denomination: and particularly to the States of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, a communication of all Civil rights, without distinction or diminution, is extended to those of our Religion". (American Catholics, p.68, by James Hennesey Si).
Brown says that Johnson's central theme is that the Protestant Christian impulse, "was the engine powering the progress of American history". Surely that is how America is generally perceived, as a WASP creation.
But that is to reckon without the influence of one little colony amongst the 13, to which today the 60 million Catholics of America look back with justifiable pride.
When, on 23 October this year, the Cardinal Archbishop of Baltimore, William H. Keeler, welcomed the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church to the Basilica of the Assumption, in Baltimore, to lead, for the first time in the US, a Service of Prayer and Praise, the Cardinal said this, "You come to Maryland, the Free State, where the roots of religious freedom go deeper than anywhere else in the Englishspeaking world. Here, within a few years of their establishing a colony in 1634, the Catholic leadership of the early Parliament, although a minority of the colonists, passed Acts of Toleration. Decades later the majority used its political power to set aside these laws. Nonetheless, Maryland's early posture helped inspire the framers of our national Bill of Rights to guarantee the religious freedom which so blessed so many in this land. It has also provided the setting in which our Catholic and Orthodox communities have been able to flourish side by side with other faiths." (The Catholic Review, Baltimore, 29 October 1997) In our Catholic schools there is almost total ignorance of the wonderful story of Maryland and its tolerant English Catholics, served by the Jesuit Fathers. The Maryland mission was said to be the greatest achievement of the English Jesuits.
So I am surprised that a Stoneyhurst man, while giving a chapter to this book to the English Catholics of Maryland should miss their full relevance to his story, so passionately told. And I was amazed that he barely mentioned the greatest of those Catholics. A Jesuit before the suppression, friend of George Washington, Fr John Carroll, who chose to come to Lulworth Castle Chapel, the Weld family chapel, Dorset, for his consecration as Bishop of Baltimore, and first Bishop in the U.S.A., on 15 August 1790, is the person responsible for the gentle entry of the Catholic Church into the bloodstream of the new nation.
Michael G Murphy Bovey Tracy, Devon