Diocese of Erie
Established 1853; embraces the thirteen counties of North-Western Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
Erie, Diocese of (ERIENSIS), established 1853; it embraces the thirteen counties of North-Western Pennsylvania, U.S.A.: Erie, Crawford, Warren, McKean, Potter, Mercer, Venango, Forest, Elk, Cameron, Clarion, Jeferson, and Clearfield, an area of 10,027 square miles.
This territory enjoys the distinction of having been under three different national and ecclesiastical governments: under the French flag and the See of Quebec from 1753 to 1758; under the English flag and the Vicariate Apostolic of London from 1758 to the Treaty of Paris, September 3, 1783, and the erection of the See of Baltimore in 1789; under the American flag since the Treaty of Paris and a part of the See of Baltimore until the establishment of the Diocese of Philadelphia in 1808. In August, 1843, when the Diocese of Pittsburg was formed, it included all that part of the State of Pennsylvania west of a line running along the eastern border of Bedford, Huntingdon, Clearfield, Elk, McKean, and Potter counties, and consequently, the territory of the present Diocese of Erie.
In 1853 the Right Rev. Michael O’Connor, the first Bishop of Pittsburg, petitioned the Holy See, through the Fifth Provincial Council of Baltimore, for a division of his diocese, and took for himself the poorest part, and thus became the first Bishop of the Diocese of Erie. When Bishop O’Connor assumed the government of the diocese, July 29, 1853, there were only twenty-eight churches with eleven secular priests and three Benedictine Fathers to attend to the wants of the Catholics scattered throughout the thirteen counties. At the urgent request and petition of the priests and people of Pittsburg, Bishop O’Connor was restored to them, having governed the Diocese of Erie for the short period of seven months.
His successor at Erie was the Rev. Josue Moody Young, a member of an old Puritan, New England family, born October 29, 1808, at Shapleigh, Maine. He became a convert from Congregationalism and was baptized in October, 1828, by the famous New England missionary, Father Charles D. Ffrench, O.P., when he then changed the Moody of his name to Maria. He was ordained priest April 1, 1838, and consecrated second Bishop of Erie, in Cincinnati, by Archbishop Purcell, on April 23, 1854. The outlook at his accession was gloomy. Many of the priests who were affiliated with Pittsburg before the division, returned there with Bishop O’Connor. Among those who cast their lot with the new diocese the most noteworthy were the Very Rev. John D. Coady, Revs. Anthony Reek, Joseph Hartman, M. A. De La Roque, John Berbegier, Andrew Skopez, Kieran O’Brannigan, and also Messrs. John Koch and Thomas Lonnergan, at that time studying for the priesthood. There were but two churches in Erie city, St. Patrick’s, the pro-cathedral, and St. Mary’s, built for a German congregation by Rev. Joseph Hartman. Outside the city there were twenty-eight churches, with eleven secular priests and three Benedictines for a Catholic population of 12,000. The church buildings outside the city of Erie were mostly wooden structures. There was only one Catholic school. The discovery of petroleum on Oil Creek, August 28, 1859, gave a great impetus to both secular and religious progress throughout the diocese. To accommodate the settlers that located in the valleys of Oil Creek and the Allegheny River, where towns sprang up as by magic, churches were hastily erected, but the number of priests was still inadequate. As there were no railroads Bishop Young’s labors were in the beginning very heavy. He died suddenly September 18, 1866. At his death the Catholic population had more than doubled, and several new churches and schools had sprung into existence.
The vicar-general, Very Rev. John D. Coady, governed the diocese during the interregnum until the third bishop, the Rev. Tobias Mullen, was consecrated, August 2, 1868. He was born in the County Tyrone, Ireland, March 4, 1818, and was ordained priest at Pittsburg, September 1, 1844, having gone there with Bishop O’Connor from Maynooth the previous year as a volunteer for the American mission. Under his direction a new era began, priests were ordained, new parishes sprang up, churches and schools were built, regular conferences for the clergy were held. Religious orders were introduced and new institutions arose for the maintenance and spread of religion, and for the enlightenment, and comfort, and shelter of suffering humanity. The frame churches gave place to brick and stone structures. The bishop himself was a tireless worker and infused his own spirit into his priests. A Catholic weekly, the “Lake Shore Visitor”, was issued, edited mostly by the bishop himself, in the midst of labors that called him to every part of his extensive diocese. The Poles, the Slays, the Hungarians, and the Italians had churches and priests provided for them, the orphans a large new home, the sick were provided with two large hospitals, and finally his crowning work, St. Peter’s Cathedral, was finished, clear of debt, and consecrated in 1893, the twenty-fifth anniversary of his consecration. In the following year he celebrated the golden jubilee of his priesthood. His strong active mind and body began to fail and on May 19, 1897, he suffered a paralytic stroke and a coadjutor, the Rev. John E. Fitz Maurice, president of St. Charles’s Seminary, Overbrook, Philadelphia, was chosen by the Holy See and consecrated titular Bishop of Amisus with right of succession in Philadelphia, February 24, 1898. Bishop Mullen resigned, August 10, 1899, and died, April 22, 1900. Bishop Fitz Maurice succeeded as fourth bishop of the diocese, on September 19, 1899, and the good work inaugurated under the late bishop went on quietly and steadily. He was born at Newtown-Sandes, County Kerry, Ireland, January 9, 1840, and ordained priest in Philadelphia, December 21, 1862. After officiating in several parishes he was appointed rector of the diocesan seminary in 1886.
The religious orders in the diocese are the Benedictines, the Redemptorists, the Brothers of Mary, the Benedictine Nuns, the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Sisters of Mercy, and the Felician Sisters. At one time the Franciscans, the Bridgettines, and the Sistersof the Humility of Mary had houses in the diocese. The Benedictines settled at St. Mary’s, Elk county, under Bishop O’Connor and in 1858 took charge of St. Mary’s, Erie. The Redemptorists in 1875 began their foundation, purchasing a Presbyterian college—at Northeast—which they made a seminary and college for young men who intended to join their order. They have 142 students.
The Sisters of St. Joseph entered the diocese in 1860, and have charge of the orphan asylum, the home for the aged, the two hospitals, the Academy of Villa Maria, the motherhouse in the diocese, and of fifteen parochial schools. The Sisters of Mercy, who entered the diocese September 24, 1870, besides the academy in Titusville, the motherhouse, have charge of eight parochial schools. The Sisters of St. Benedict (St. Mary’s, Penn.) (July 22, 1852) have St. Benedict’s Academy, the motherhouse at St. Mary’s, and teach seven schools. The (Erie) Sisters of St. Benedict, besides the academy and school of St. Mary’s Church, teach five parochial schools, and also conduct an academy in Sharon. The Felician Sisters teach St. Stanislaus’ Polish school, in the city of Erie.
There are in the diocese 100 churches, with resident priests, 46 missions with churches, and 11 chapels; 160 priests—135 secular, 25 regular; 45 parochial schools, 3 academies for young ladies, 1 orphan asylum with 216 orphans, making a total of young people under the care of the Church, 10,385; two hospitals, and one home for the aged. The Catholic population of the diocese is estimated at 121,108.
JAMES J. DUNN