A posting in honour of two priests from New York I met in the Piazza after Mass last evening. Although Westminster Cathedral receives very many American visitors, it has only one formal connexion with America, in the person of Bishop Richard Challoner, buried in St Gregory's chapel.
In the eighteenth century, before the restoration of the hierarchy and the dioceses of England and Wales, the Vicar Apostolic of the London region exercised jurisdiction in the British colonies in North America and the West Indies. In British North America, Catholics formed a tiny and persecuted minority – only about 1% of the population. They lived almost entirely in Maryland and Pennsylvania, with a few in Virginia and New Jersey.
Bishop Challoner give faculties and dispensations to the small number of English Jesuits who worked in the American colonies. Because of his responsibilities in England, he was never able to visit personally, but when in 1756 Rome suggested appointing a Vicar Apostolic resident in North America, Challoner warned that such a move ‘might give offence to the governing part there.’
He reported that the ‘Jesuits, holding faculties from us in Maryland and Pennsylvania, conduct the missions there in a very laudable manner.’ In 1771 again, he warned against moves to create a Bishop in North America, for fear of antagonising the authorities.
In 1784, following the American Revolution, the Vatican authorities removed the jurisdiction of the North American Church from the Vicar Apostolic of London, and established a hierarchy in the United States. In 1789 John Carroll, a former spiritual subject of Bishop Challoner, was appointed Bishop of Baltimore - the first Catholic Bishop of the United States. and Wales,