John England was the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Charleston, South Carolina. He was born on 23 September, 1786 in Charleston. John England studied in Cork and after the graduation, he entered St. Patrick’s, Carlow College. When he was 19 years old, he started to provide instructions in the parish chapel and instructed soldiers from the local garrison in a zealously manner. Further, he established female reformatory and combined female and male poor schools on the same level. In 1809, John England was appointed as the lecturer at the cathedral, and he was very popular among people who came to hear his sermons. He also published Religious Repertory and established a circulating library in Shandon. In 1812, John England won the elections and was appointed as the president of the new diocesan College of St. Mary. John England had a great impact on the agitation concerning the Catholic Emancipation. He was the most influential in this sphere after O’Connell. In order to extend the influence of the Catholic Emancipation, he founded “The Chronicles”, which he edited till he left Ireland. Few years later, he was appointed to a new position, and this time, he became the priest of Bandon. On June 17, 1820, John England was asked by Pope Pius VII to travel to America and becoming the bishop of diocese centered in Charleston, SC. England became the bishop during the significant changes and the important events in the American Catholic Church. Many native citizens did not accept the faith that England brought from Ireland, and in response John England established the first Catholic newspaper in the New World. England was one of the first catholic bishops who condemned the slavery of black people. No priest before had ever judged the usage of domestic slavery. Nevertheless, England argued the existence of slavery and believed that it was wrong and contradicted to the Catholic religion. The contribution of John England in the rights of African Americans was the starting point in the events that followed after the Civil War.
John England made first steps to give at least basic knowledge to slaves. In 1830, he established the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. This school was targeted on providing the education to the middle class society. Colored girls received the opportunity to visit the school for free and to receive religious instructions; besides, the school provided help to the sick. The school extended and soon its branch houses were established in Wilmington, Sumter and Savannah. In these conditions, England could not cope with his innovations alone and thus, he requested to send him a coadjutor. In 1835, William Clancy arrived in America to help England, but the year later, he asked to transfer him to another field. The new coadjutor did not share John England’s views and goals and thus, he could not work under his authority. Nevertheless, John England did not lose heart and asked to send him another coadjutor, and in this time it was Paul Cullen. As a result, both bishops could find a common language in order to provide noticeable changes in the American society. As it was mentioned before, John England cared much about African Americans; he believed that it was his duty to provide the spiritual care of this nation. Every Sunday, he celebrated an early mass for them in the cathedral. John England had to deliver two sermons to the parish; one for rich and cultured people, the other is for African Americans. If England could not deliver both sermons, he preferred to disappoint rich people rather than to refuse African Americans. Many of people disliked them for such preferences and could not understand his willing to help slaves, but in the circles of African Americans population he had the incontestable authority.
John England provided help to African Americans not only on the spiritual or social levels, but also with medical treatment. The epidemic of those days was the common phenomenon and people suffer from them, especially those classes, which could not help themselves with necessary medicines. John England believed that the faith that bishops bring to their lambs should not be limited only by advices and prayers, but it should also contain some visible help, such as the cure of those people who require medical treatment. His priests as well as the Sisters of Mercy provided medical services for those who were infected with cholera and yellow fever (the most widespread illnesses of that time). They did all possible to relief sufferings of people who came to the church without distinction on their race or class. John England stated that all people are equal in the face of God and it is not right to treat somebody better than others only because he is a white person or he could charge more. The goal of the church is to help people, and bishops are only those who provide this help.
John England spared neither trouble nor expense in order to help all those who were in need. His personal poverty could be compared with the state of a common homeless or a beggar. He was often met walking the streets of Charleston with the bare soles of his feet. He worked hard to help his people and there were several cases when his excessive fatigue endangered his health state. The desire to help his people was so strong that John England visited all chief towns of America four times. In 1841, he visited Europe for the last time, and when he was coming back to America, he became seriously ill. After his arrival in Philadelphia, his health state became worse, but still John England did not refuse from his duty, and he continued to preach during 17 days. Nevertheless, he refused to give up his obligations and continued to work till his death. His successor, Bishop Reynolds, was searching and collecting all his various writings in order to find all his works and introduce them to the wide audience. John’s sister helped with this task, and she published the majority works of her brother in the columns of the United States Catholic Miscellany. In 1908, Archbishop S.B. Messm?r of Milwaukee published a new edition of John England’s works. In 1915, the school in Charlestown was named in John England honor, and it received the name Bishop England High School.
John England was the bishop with unordinary perception of the religion and its role in the people’s lives. During all his life, John England was trying to provide help to those people who required it. When he was appointed to go to America, he did not refuse, though it was a difficult task during that period of time. John England was the first bishop who raised the issue of African Americans in the New World. He did not accept the idea of slavery and believed that it contradicted to the Catholic’s principles. Many other bishops did not share his vision on this issue and thus, John England had little support in providing changes to the Catholics traditions. His biggest contribution is the establishing of Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, which provided help to all people, including slaves. England made the first steps towards the education of African Americans population. Moreover, he preferred to preach to black people rather than rich ones. This position caused numerous dissatisfactions from white population and the disagreement from other priests and bishops. The wellbeing of the church depended on the oblation from the parish. The material support of rich people was necessary in order to provide the church with everything that it needs. Black people could not contribute much to the church, or they could not contribute at all. Thus, white population was the major source of material support in that time. Nevertheless, John England stated that there was no difference for him whom to preach and thus, he believed that African Americans who were in worse conditions than other people required his help more than others. John England was reminded as a bishop who dedicated his life to the religion and promoting the best qualities of the Catholic Church. His contribution in the development and innovating of the religion was presented in his numerous works that were edited and published after his death. He did not amass a fortune, because he spent all his money to help poor people and to extend the influence of the Catholic Church in the New World. Even during the last days of his life, John England continued to preach, because he considered it was his duty to provide help for those people who really needed it.
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