Once in the Renaissance we cut back from the Biblical sense of time (cumulative), and flattened it out, we lost our capacity to understand and deal with time. Therefore, we try cannot understand the primitive church, because we only understand the contemporary.
Reform movements always have to be centered and move into the mystery of the present, which is based on the cumulative nature of the past, of God’s relationship to His people.
We are deepening our appreciation of God’s presence in our contemporary world, because it contains everything about God and us, and is therefore beyond ourselves. Anything less will always lead us into delusion.
This was the one place where early American Catholics did not view themselves as an immigrant Church, but rather participated in the creation of the nation itself, side by side with all others.
At the time of the Council of Trent there was tremendous disruption … for example, as many as 75% of all priests left. So with the assistance of St. Charles Borromeo and others they set up new seminaries, everywhere except France.
In France they set up apprenticeship and training, which included a ten week seminar at the end (for instruction and testing on doctrines). This gradually became the Salesians, which began formal seminary training in France.
This was enormously disrupted by the French Revolution in 1789. For example, the civil government demanded that each priest swore allegiance to the revolutionary government over Rome.
Some fled the country, and one of the destinations was the US.
John Carroll was a Jesuit for 20 years, in 1773 Pope Clement the XIV suppressed the Jesuits (resulting from pressure from the French monarchy), so he became something else.
Property struggles were a constant theme, eventually leading to trusteeism in the US.
After the Revolutionary War, the question of how to be Catholic in the US came to the fore. Only three states – Maryland and 2 others, were open to Catholics. This made the frontier very appealing.
In 1784 the priests got together, and there weren’t many – less than 25 – and Bishop Caroll realized what a bleak situation we faced.
Btw, there were only 2 Catholics in Virginia.
Within a few years they did need a Bishop (because of the Salesians), which became Bishop Carroll.
In 1785 the first Catholic Church was built in Holy Cross, KY. The settlers had a very rough life, but this area quickly became a center of Catholic life.
Fr. Stephen Baden was the first priest ordained in the US, ordained by Bishop Carrol. In Sept 1793 he was sent to KY, and was the first priest to stay (an earlier Franciscan had left because of the rigors of the life).
His territory included KY, Indiana, Ohio, and parts of Illinois.Fr. Baden was alone for 14 years, traveling constantly. Probably travelled over 100,000 miles in his 14 years! Local people eventually donated land, but it was a long, long struggle.
Fr. Baden loathed dancing, which became one of his life-long battles with the locals. This was part of the French ethos (look at the Cure de Ars, for example).
In 1805 Fr. Baden was joined by another Salesian, Fr. Nerinx.
In 1808, Bishop Carroll appoints a Bishop west of the Alleghenies, now Bishop Flaget. He centered his new diocese in Bardstown, KY. Though first he fled the US and hid in France for two years … eventually his superior ordered him to accept. Pope Pius VII was a prisoner of Napoleon during this time.
Upon accepting he had to walk from Baltimore to Pittsburg, waited in Pittsburgh until the spring rains, then ride a flatboat most of the way, then horseback the rest of the way. Along with the delay, this all took 3 years.
He ran into a whole series of conflicts in trying to setup the episcopacy, often in lawsuits with Fr. Baden. Bishop Flaget tried to consolidate property, for example, and that exemplified the real struggle of consolidation and growth.
Growth and Establishment
The first thing they began to do was open a seminary (Thomas Howard), natural for a Salesian. The first indigenous man to enter the seminary was Guy Shabrot.
The second thing was to begin teaching the children (i.e., a Catholic school), so they founded two communities of Sisters (Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross) to begin supplying teachers for these new Catholic schools. They looked to Mother Ann Seaton for guidance.
Note that they started Webster College.
I.e., they did whatever they had to do to encourage the growth of the Church … this is very similar to the challenges that we face today. A Church interacting with a very hostile dominant culture.
Lessons That We Can Learn From Their Struggle
First, this education of children is not done with pure professionalism, but rather sacrifice. Without sacrifice, without the cross, we will not communicate the faith.
Second, there must be a fount of those young men who will take up the cross (the seminary).
Without the cross there is no revival; without the cross there is no regeneration. In other words, what am I willing to give for the mission of the church?
It was the sacrifice of people giving of their lives that firmly established the presence of the Church in frontier America.
These lessons apply today.
One more thing – in all of the struggles, in all of the crisis, it did not matter how particular battles turned out; rather, it mattered how they fought the fight. When fought sacrificially, the Church became vital and living.
Pray for the Church; pray for a spirit of wisdom and sacrifice; an authentic prayer of renewal; assume the obligation of the cross; as modernity unfolds that cross might become heavier and heavier; so be it.
Reflect on these pioneers of the faith, and what fruit that bore.
Let us together resolve, that with the Cross of Christ, we will face it together to the greater glory of God, and face it in wonder to the great salvation of our world.
There is a bit of additional history in the wiki article on the Archdiocese of Louisville.