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Diocese of Hartford

Established by Gregory XVI, Sept. 18, 1843

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Hartford, Diocese of, established by Gregory XVI, September 18, 1843. When erected it embraced the States of Connecticut and Rhode Island. As Providence was the most considerable city, the Bishop of Hartford resided there until 1872, when a new see was erected (see Diocese of Providence). As now constituted, the Diocese of Hartford is coextensive with the State of Connecticut. It has an area of about five thousand square miles and a Catholic population of 375,000, or one-third of the total population of Connecticut.

EARLY HISTORY.—The vestiges of Catholic travellers and sojourners in the territory now embraced by the Diocese of Hartford are numerous. Irish immigrants were scattered throughout the colony, and they rendered notable service during the Pequot war of 1637. Their movements are chronicled in the governorship of Theophilus Eaton (1639-57). Their numbers became considerably augmented during the century which followed. In the War of Independence they took an important part, but they were deprived of the consolations of their religion. Throughout the Colonial period Spanish, Portuguese, and French sail-ors and adventurers landed at New London and the other ports of the State, and some remained to spend their lives and lose their faith among those by whom the Catholic Church was hated or feared. In the year 1756 four hundred Acadians were scattered through-out the State, but, bereft of priests, and plunged into a hostile atmosphere, they and their descendants made shipwreck of the faith so much cherished by their ancestors. Now and again priests visited Connecticut, coming either as emissaries or chaplains to the French troops, but they took no part in the upbuilding of the future diocese. The attitude of the white settlers was decidedly hostile to the Catholic Church, and the few confessors who persevered are lost in oblivion. Bishop Cheverus, of Boston (1810-23), and Bishop Fenwick, his successor, made occasional missionary journeys to Connecticut. At the request of the latter, the Rev. R. D. Woodley, of Providence, visited and ministered to the Catholics of the section during the earlier months of 1828. In August of that year the Rev. Bernard O’Cavanaugh was appointed first resident priest of the present Diocese of Hartford. His parish comprised the State of Connecticut, and he made Hartford his home. July, 1829, was a memorable month for the Catholics of the future diocese. On the 10th of that month Bishop Fenwick came to Hartford; on the 11th the first number of the “Catholic Press” appeared; on the evening of that day the visiting prelate preached to a fine concourse of people, and before departing answered an attack made upon the Catholics by the “Episcopalian Watchman” He also gave directions for the purchase of the old Episcopalian church which was subsequently moved to Talcott Street. Bishop Fenwick was pleased with the visit and wrote in his journal: “Splendid prospects for religion in Hartford”. Father O’Cavanaugh labored alone in Hartford until July 1, 1830, when he was joined by the Rev. James Fitton. Father Fitton continued to serve in Connecticut, sometimes alone and sometimes with one or two assistants, for six years. On the erection of the diocese in 1843, there were but three resident priests in Connecticut. Hartford and New Haven had pastors, but Bridgeport was attended from the latter place. Father Fitton ministered to the Catholics in New London, going to them from Worcester, where he was then stationed.

BISHOPS OF HARTFORD.—(I) WILLIAM TYLER was born at Derby, Vt., June 5, 1806. He was from a family of converts. His parents, with their seven children, like the family of his maternal cousin, the Rev. Virgil Barber, renounced Protestantism for the Catholic Church, the future bishop embracing the Faith in his sixteenth year. Having completed his classical course at Mr. Barber’s academy at Claremont, N. H., young Tyler became a member of the household of Bishop Fenwick in 1826. He was ordained three years later, and immediately distinguished himself for zeal on the missions of Massachusetts and Maine. He held the office of Vicar-General of Boston until his promotion to the Bishopric of Hartford. He was consecrated March 17, 1844, and installed at Holy Trinity Church April 14. At his advent the entire diocese contained 9937 Catholics, of whom only 4817 resided in Connecticut. At that time Hartford was a city of 13,000 inhabitants, and of these only 600 were adult Catholics. Providence, however, could boast of 23,000 inhabitants, 2000 of whom were adherents of the Catholic Faith. The bishop accordingly petitioned Rome to move his see from Hartford to Providence, where he took up his residence in June, 1844. So poor was the Diocese of Hartford at its inception that Bishop Kendrick of Philadelphia, in writing to the rector of the Irish College at Rome, was constrained to make the following complaint: “The unfortunate haste with which Little Rock and Hartford were made sees in a former council should make us pause when a new see is to be erected”. The chief anxiety of the new bishop was to provide priests and care for the instruction of the young. His episcopal residence was a mere shanty, “which could be easily drawn by oxen from one end of Providence to the other”. Bishop Tyler appealed successfully for priests to All Hallows College, Dublin; he likewise received substantial aid from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, Lyons, France, and from The Leopold Society, Vienna. He attended the Seventh Provincial Council of Baltimore which convened May 5, 1849. Never robust, his health was broken by consumption, and he petitioned the Fathers of the council to accept his resignation. They refused to accede to his wishes, but requested the Holy See to grant him a coadjutor in the person of the Very Rev. Bernard O’Reilly, Vicar-General of the Diocese of Buffalo. But it was a successor and not a coadjutor that the good bishop needed, for he was called to his reward July 18, 1849. His episcopate covered five years. Bishop Fitzpatrick characterized him as “a man of saintly life consumed with true sacerdotal zeal”.

(2) BERNARD O’REILLY was a native of Columkille, County Longford, Ireland, where he was born in 1803. He made his classical studies before coming to America, and completed his course of theology at St. Mary’s, Baltimore. He was ordained in New York, October 13, 1831. He began his priestly life in the metropolis, the city of Brooklyn being his out-mission. The future bishop distinguished himself by devoted heroism during the plague which swept over New York in 1832. He was later on transferred to Rochester, where he served with great success for fifteen years. On the erection of the Diocese of Buffalo, in 1847, Father O’Reilly was made vicar-general, and remained in that capacity until appointed Bishop of Hartford. He was consecrated at St. Patrick’s church, Rochester, N. Y., November 10, 1850. Dearth of priests was the chief anxiety which weighed upon him in his new field. “A short time since”, he wrote in 1852, “our affliction was very great, when, from almost every section of the State, the faithful were asking for priests, and we had none to give them.” On his accession there were but seven priests in Connecticut, and five churches. The zealous bishop at once opened a seminary in his own house, over which he placed the Rev. Hugh Carmody. The institution prospered, and the clerical body was considerably augmented. Two years after his consecration, Bishop O’Reilly visited Europe, and at All Hallows, Dublin, he secured several priests for his growing mission. Among these was a young man named Thomas Hendricken who labored with distinction in Connecticut, and later on became the first Bishop of Providence. To provide for the education of the young, Bishop O’Reilly brought to his diocese the Sisters of Mercy, establishing them in his episcopal city in 1851. When Knownothingism was raging, a mob assembled to demolish their convent. The bishop came to the rescue, making use of these words: “The Sisters are in their home; they shall not leave it for an hour. I shall protect them while I have life, and if needs be, register their safety with my blood.” The mob was not prepared for such heroism. Intent upon the welfare of the young, Bishop O’Reilly went to Europe again in 1854 in order to secure the aid of the Christian Brothers. He sailed for home January 23, 1856, on the ill-fated “Pacific”. He perished with all on board. The activity of Bishop O’Reilly may be realized when it is recalled that during the six years of his episcopate he added to the equipment of the diocese 34 churches, 28 priests, 5 academies, 9 parochial schools, and 3 orphan asylums. At his death there were within the present limits of the Diocese of Hartford 27 churches, 26 priests, 2 academies, and 2 orphan asylums.

(3) FRANCIS PATRICK MCFARLAND was born at Franklin, Penn., April 16, 1819. He studied at Mt. St. Mary’s, Emmitsburg, Md., and was ordained by Archbishop Hughes in New York. After teaching for a year at Fordham College, he was made pastor of Watertown, N. Y. On March 1, 1851, he was sent to preside over the parish of Utica. He was appointed Vicar-Apostolic of Florida June 9, 1857. He declined the honor, and was made Bishop of Hartford in March, 1858. The same labors that consumed the energies of his predecessor confronted the new bishop: the building of churches and schools, the securing of priests and religious women. The devoted prelate multiplied himself, visiting all corners of his extensive diocese, preaching, lecturing, and examining every child whom he admitted to confirmation. He went to Rome in 1869 to attend the Vatican Council. His health failing, he asked to be relieved from the cares of his office, or to be granted a coadjutor. Neither request was granted. But, as a compromise, the diocese was divided, the State of Rhode Island being cut off. Dr. McFarland retained his title of Bishop of Hartford, and came to reside in his episcopal city in February, 1872. He immediately addressed himself to the labor of erecting a cathedral, an episcopal residence, and a mother-house for the Sisters of Mercy, who were already engaged in educational work throughout the State. Two of these works he lived to complete. The third, the stately edifice of which the faithful of the Diocese of Hartford are so justly proud, was well started before his death. He departed this life October 2, 1874, in the fifty-sixth year of his age and the seventeenth of his episcopate. He was a scholar and a man of rare sanctity.

THOMAS GALSERRY was likewise born outside of the diocese, coming from Ireland with his parents at the tender age of three years. He was educated at Villanova College, and was called from the presidency of that institution to the See of Hartford in 1875. When notified of his elevation, he declined the honor, and begged the Holy See to relieve him of the burden. A mandamus was returned February 17, 1876. He then proceeded to prepare for his consecration. On coming to Hartford he selected St. Peter’s church for his pro-cathedral, pushing forward the erection of the new edifice with energy. He set out for his ad limina visit in May, 1876. Returning in autumn, his health began to fail, but he ceased not to provide churches and schools, priests and religious teachers for his rapidly developing diocese. Seeking rest, he set out for Villanova College October 10, 1878. On the way to New York he was stricken with a haemorrhage and died in the Grand Union Hotel a few hours later. During his episcopate “The Connecticut Catholic” was established, and since that memorable day, in 1876, the Diocese of Hartford has never been without a Catholic paper.

LAWRENCE S. MCMAHON, the fifth Bishop of Hartford, though a native of St. John’s, N. B., spent his childhood and youth in Cambridge, Mass. He entered Holy Cross College, Worcester, Mass., at the age of fifteen. He pursued his higher studies in France and Italy, and was ordained at Rome March 24, 1860. He was serving as assistant at the cathedral at Boston when the 28th Massachusetts called from the swamps of South Carolina for a chaplain. Father McMahon volunteered, and served with distinction until his health completely failed him. After the war he became pastor successively of Bridgewater and New Bedford. He was the first Vicar-General of the Diocese of Providence and was consecrated Bishop of Hartford August 10, 1879. His great work in his new field was the erection and the adornment of St. Joseph‘s Cathedral. In ten years he collected more than $500,000, and on May 8, 1892, he consecrated the splendid edifice free from all debt. While engaged in this work, he gave direction for the wise development of his diocese, organizing 48 new parishes, dedicating 70 churches, and establishing 16 parochial schools, as well as 16 convents. He died at Lakeville, August 21, 1893, and was interred in the great cathedral to erect which he had labored so hard and with such distinguished success.

MICHAEL TIERNEY was consecrated Bishop of Hartford February 22, 1894. Born in Ireland, he spent his youth at Norwalk, in the diocese over which he was destined to preside with such fruit. After completing his studies at Bardstown, at Montreal, and at Troy, New York, he was ordained in May, 1866. Bishop McFarland immediately made the young priest his chancellor and the rector of his cathedral, which offices he held until his appointment as pastor of New London. After a year in that post he was transferred to Stamford, and three years later he was promoted to the rectorship of St. Peter’s church, Hartford. Here, besides his parochial duties, he was charged with the responsible office of inspecting the erection of the new cathedral—a post for which he was admirably fitted by his aptitude for the technical details of the building art as well as by his experience at Providence, New London, and Stamford, where he was called upon successively to erect a school, to rebuild a church, and to push to completion one of the stateliest ecclesiastical edifices in New England. Previously to the episcopate of Bishop Tierney, the resources at the disposal of the bishop were mainly absorbed in the erection of the cathedral, and so it happened that there were within the confines of the State but few charitable institutions. The new bishop felt the need of a preparatory college for boys destined for the priesthood, and proceeded to erect one in his episcopal city. The foundation flourished, and before his death, that is, during the first decade of its existence, St. Thomas’s Seminary could boast of 100 students. Other charitable works established under Bishop Tierney’s inspiration are St. Mary’s Home for the Aged, St. John’s Industrial School, the hospitals at Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Waterbury, Willimantic, and the numerous charitable enterprises conducted by the Sisters of the Holy Ghost and the Little Sisters of the Poor. Bishop Tierney was a man of tireless activity. He multiplied himself, visiting every parish and every school-room in his diocese at least once a year. During his episcopate he confirmed 85,000 children and administered to every one of them the total-abstinence pledge. He was a patron of literature and established a diocesan missionary band to preach retreats to Catholics and non-Catholics. He died on October 5, 1908, universally mourned.

PRESENT CONDITION OF THE DIOCESE.—Within the limits of the State of Connecticut there are now at least 375,000 Catholics. They are ministered to by 350 priests. The number of parishes in the diocese (July 9, 1909) is 173; of these 121 are English-speaking churches, 13 French, 6 German, 8 Italian, 13 Polish, 4 Lithuanian, 2 Hungarian, 2 Slavonian, and 4 Ruthenian. There are 1250 religious women in the diocese. The religious orders of men represented are the Dominican Friars at New Haven, Franciscan Friars Minor at Winsted, Franciscan Conventuals at Bridgeport, Jesuits at South Norwalk, Missionaries of La Salette at Hartford and Danielson, Fathers of the Congregation of St. Charles at New Haven and Bridgeport, Vincentian Fathers at Derby and New Haven, Fathers of the Holy Ghost at Darien. The Brothers of the Christian Schools have a house at Hartford, and the Xaverian Brothers conduct an industrial school at Deep River. The Sisters of Mercy have 3 mother-houses in Connecticut; that at Hartford has 440 sisters affiliated to it. They conduct a high school and an academy at Hartford, an academy at Putnam, and furnish the teaching staff for St. Francis Orphan Asylum at New Haven, for St. Augustine’s Preparatory School for Boys at West Hartford, and for 21 parochial schools throughout the diocese. A second at Meriden numbers 133 sisters teaching 4100 children. The sisters of this community conduct an academy for young ladies at Milford. The third mother-house is situated at Middletown. It has 90 sisters who are responsible for the education of 2100 children. The Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame conduct an academy at Waterbury, the Sisters of St. Dominic at New Haven, and the Sisters of Charity at Baltic.


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