The founding and rise of the Catholic Church in Cincinnati makes for interesting history. Fr. David Endres, Assistant Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at the Athenaeum, recently examined this history–the Bishop John Purcell (pictured) vs. Alexander Campbell public debate, the anti-Catholicism, the great rise in Catholic education here, and so on–at an Old St. Mary’s Young Adult Oratory event on Wednesday, October 1. What follows is the script of his talk.
Introduction: How Old is Your Church?
As Catholics, ours is a history as long as Christ’s presence on earth for we can look to no other founder than Christ himself. We were not founded by a Martin Luther, a John Calvin, or a John Wesley as in the case of the Lutherans, Calvinists, Methodists and their thousands of offshoot congregations that continue to splinter. We are not 100, 500, or even a thousand years old, but nearly 2,000 years old. We are the worldwide Church – the Catholic Church– a church that spans every continent and spans every age since the time of Christ. In a few words, this is the history of the universal church.
An Early Diocese: Cincinnati
But was does it mean to talk about the heritage of the Catholic Church in America, and especially here in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati? Unlike in Europe, where parish churches often celebrate 500 or even 1,000 years of existence, the Church in America is still relatively young. Until 1908, America was considered mission territory. We were not sending missionaries as much as receiving missionaries and mission funds from Europe. The Church in this locality was built by missionaries from Ireland and Germany and the generosity of Catholics in the Old World, especially the Leopoldine Society, the Xavier Society, and the Ludwig Society – all groups of lay men and women sacrificing for the Church in America.
Though it is young by international standards, by America standards, our local Church is quite old. The Diocese of Cincinnati was established in 1821 – only about three decades after America’s first bishop John Carroll was consecrated in Baltimore. Though encompassing a smaller population in comparison, the Cincinnati Archdiocese is older than the dioceses of Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland.
When the Diocese of Cincinnati was founded it encompassed all of the old Northwest Territory, including the entire states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. The diocese itself was created from the Diocese of Bardstown, Kentucky, which at one time was the only diocese west of the Appalachian Mountains.
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