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Religion and American History

Roman Catholics


Although the Stuart kings of England did not hate the Roman Catholic Church, most of their subjects did, causing Catholics to be harassed and persecuted in England throughout the seventeenth century.

Driven by "the sacred duty of finding a refuge for his Roman Catholic brethren," George Calvert (1580-1632) obtained a charter from Charles I in 1632 for the territory between Pennsylvania and Virginia.

This Maryland charter offered no guidelines on religion, although it was assumed that Catholics would not be molested in the new colony. In 1634 two ships, the Ark and the Dove, brought the first settlers to Maryland. Aboard were approximately two hundred people.

Among the passengers were two Catholic priests who had been forced to board surreptitiously to escape the reach of English anti-Catholic laws.

Upon landing in Maryland the Catholics, led spiritually by the Jesuits, were transported by a profound reverence, similar to that experienced by John Winthrop and the Puritans when they set foot in New England. Catholic fortunes fluctuated in Maryland during the rest of the seventeenth century, as they became an increasingly smaller minority of the population.

After the Glorious Revolution of 1689 in England, the Church of England was legally established in the colony and English penal laws, which deprived Catholics of the right to vote, hold office, or worship publicly, were enforced.

Until the American Revolution, Catholics in Maryland were dissenters in their own country, living at times under a state of siege, but keeping loyal to their convictions, a faithful remnant, awaiting better times