Bishop Fenwick explains Catholicism

By Robert Johnson Lally
Archdiocesan Archivist and Records Manager

An 1829 entry from Bishop Fenwick’s journal mentions the first edition of the ‘‘Jesuit’’ newspaper.
In the early days of our nation, the Church in Boston saw many changes. The time from when it was unlawful for Catholics to openly practice the faith, to the establishment of schools, hospitals, and a growing community of sisters, was only about 50 years. But while the faith community in Boston was growing, so was anti-Catholic sentiment.

It is important to note the connection between anti-Catholicism and anti-immigrant. In Boston at the time, Catholicism was synonymous with foreign. A movement called Nativism, an antipathy toward things foreign, had emerged.

Benedict Joseph Fenwick, named bishop of Boston in 1828, did much to combat Nativism. Three activities in particular stand out. First, he founded a Catholic newspaper in 1829. It went through a number of name changes. You know it today as our own The Pilot, the oldest, continuous Catholic publication in the country. Second, Bishop Fenwick arranged for the publication of a number of pamphlets designed to explain the true nature of Catholicism, which was being misrepresented. And finally, he created a series of Catholic lectures, which were held at the Cathedral.

By speaking up publicly, Bishop Fenwick helped lessen the impact of Nativism and set the stage for better times to come.

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